Daily Light July 7, 2020

Let Your Heart Take Courage

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

If we consider all the things we could be afraid of, we can quickly see why don’t be afraid, in one form or another, is one of the most repeated commands in Scripture. Put positively, God calls us to “be strong and of good courage” (Daniel 10:19).

But how can we become courageous?

Fear is often our natural response. We don’t have to think of all our reasons to be afraid; fear comes unbidden. But being strong and courageous doesn’t come naturally. Often, we have to think through different reasons why we ought to overcome our fears with courage. God calls us to take courage because it doesn’t just come naturally; we have to fight for it. Confronted with fears on every side and even from within, courage must be seized.

Lineage of Godly Courage

Scripture is full of men and women of remarkable courage.

Abraham showed courage in obeying God’s directive to leave Haran for a land he would show him (Genesis 12:1). He left all that he knew, “and he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). Later, he shows more strength on the side of Mount Moriah as he obediently prepares to sacrifice his only son, the son of God’s promise (Genesis 22; Hebrews 11:17–19).

Jacob showed courage while facing a brother who had vowed to kill him (Genesis 32–33). Joseph displayed courage while enduring prison for a false charge (Genesis 39–40), then facing Pharaoh who wanted him to interpret his dreams (Genesis 41).

Then there’s Moses who repeatedly faced a hostile Pharaoh (Exodus 5–12) and later led the newly-liberated Hebrews through the Red Sea “as on dry land” (Hebrews 11:29). There’s Joshua leading one military campaign after another against entrenched foes. There’s Rahab risking everything on Yahweh being the true God (Hebrews 11:31).

There’s Gideon facing an overwhelming Midianite army (Judges 7). There’s David facing an overwhelming Goliath (1 Samuel 17). There’s Joab and Abishai facing overwhelming Syrian and Ammonite armies (2 Samuel 10:11–12). There’s Esther facing a royal husband with the power and proven precedent of punishing a queen unwilling to follow protocol (Esther 4:13–5:2). There’s Daniel facing a den of lions (Daniel 6).

Then there’s Jesus, who faced a terrible force far greater than all of the dangers above combined, indeed greater than all of the combined mortal dangers ever faced by every person who has ever lived: the wrath of God against the sin of mankind (Romans 1:18). For him to live with the knowledge of this approaching event (John 12:27), to deliberately walk into it (Luke 9:51), and to willingly and faithfully endure its horrors (Hebrews 12:2), even when he had the power to stop it at any moment (Matthew 26:53), required unfathomable courage.

Each of these biblical saints had to take the courage their actions required. They took the action they believed was right, in spite of the fear they experienced at the thought of taking it.

What Fuels Courage?

What fueled their courage? Faith. Courage is an act of faith, because the courageous person acts on what he believes to be right despite the threat of real or apparent danger.

One doesn’t have to believe in the triune God to take courageous action. History is full of stories of great acts of courage by people of other faiths or no religious faith. Their action was still fueled by faith of some sort because they believed it would result in a greater good, or at least, for conscience and reputation’s sake, represent a higher moral good than capitulating to the fearful alternative.

However, from God’s perspective, “whatever does not proceed from faith [in him, the actual God who exists] is sin” (Romans 14:23). That’s the difference between the faith that fueled the biblical saints’ courageous acts and the faith that fuels nonbelievers’ courageous acts: in whom they placed their faith. Faith that is not ultimately rooted in ultimate reality is not ultimately good faith. It’s ultimately false faith that unconsciously ignores or consciously rejects the God who is (Exodus 3:14). Therefore, courage that is not fueled by faith in what’s ultimately real is not ultimately good courage.

Good Courage

What does “good courage” look like? Paul gives a clear illustration:

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:6–7)

What does Paul say fuels “good courage”? God’s promise of eternal life and the final resurrection to those who believe in Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:16–5:5). And seeing this by faith (not physical sight) gives us courage to face the fear-inducing “wasting away” of our mortal bodies and the various forms of “affliction” we experience in this fallen world (2 Corinthians 4:16–17).

In other words, good courage is fueled by faith in ultimate reality: what God promises his people. We are to be encouraged by God’s promises to forgive all our sins (1 John 1:9), to never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), to cause light to dawn in our darkness (Psalm 112:4), to provide for all we really need (Philippians 4:19), to provide an escape in every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13), to work all things, even the worst things, for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28), to cause us to ultimately overcome our worst enemies (Romans 16:20), to make us live, though we die (John 11:25), to someday wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4), and to give us fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore in his presence — because of his presence (Psalm 16:11). And many, many more such promises.

Let Your Heart Take Courage

Since courage is fueled by faith, and faith is believing God’s promises — or as John Piper more precisely puts it, believing all that God promises to be for us in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20) — biblical courage, “good courage,” results directly from taking hold of these promises. We must take courage.

This is exactly what David was doing when, faced with dangerous opposition, wrote,

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:13–14)

David poured out his longings for God (Psalm 27:4), pled for God’s help (Psalm 27:7–12), and encouraged his soul by remembering how God had kept his promises and would continue to keep his promises to him (Psalm 27:1–35–6). Based on what he believed (Psalm 27:13), he exhorted himself to “let [his] heart take courage” (Psalm 27:14). By faith, he resisted the temptation to overestimate what threatened him and underestimate God’s power or willingness to keep his promises. Letting his heart take courage meant letting himself believe God’s promises.

Courage is always fueled by faith. Good courage is fueled by faith in the ultimate good of the real God and all he promises to be for us in Jesus. Therefore, good courage must be taken — we must take hold of real promises given by the real God so that having done all, we can stand firm in the evil day (Ephesians 6:13). Come what may, we know that we “shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the [eternal] land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

Since all the promises of God are yes to us in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20), we must not be cowards but let our hearts take courage by believing that what God has already promised is yes to us.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities.

Daily Light – July 6, 2020

Why Unbelievers Are Probably More ‘Christian’ Than They Realize

Article by Joshua Chatraw, Theologian and Author

At one time in the West, Christianity seemed plausible because elements of the Christian story were woven into the fabric of everyday life. Leading institutions, daily practices, and common communication assumed realities such as a heavenly realm, a transcendent moral code, sin, divine judgment, and the possibility of ultimate redemption. These formed the tacit background of much of the culture’s everyday stories, the tapestry of meaning by which people lived. At the very least, belief in God—and, more specifically, the God of the Bible—seemed a viable option for most and was generally viewed as a positive influence on society. For many believers, Christianity had an assumed credibility that allayed doubts. The critiques were still there; they just didn’t feel as weighty. 

Now the cultural narratives that seep into our psyches have changed, and with this shift, what people view as “common sense” has changed as well. Things like an invisible heavenly realm, divine judgment, a good God who would also call us to die to self, and an exclusive way to salvation, now seem much less plausible. In many cases, the gospel is presumed to be not only false, but also an oppressive leftover from the past. No wonder many of us are anxious about the thought of engaging our neighbors with the gospel! The playing field has rapidly changed.

Yet this isn’t the first time the church has faced a destabilizing cultural shift that led to collective fear and confusion. While many of his fellow church leaders and congregants who had pinned their ultimate hopes on a powerful Christianized empire were panicking over the sack of Rome, Augustine responded without caving to reactionary fears. In City of God, he cast Rome’s fall within the bigger picture of God’s story. This gave him the confidence and calm to approach the massive societal shifts and respond to the charges against Christianity. His approach was to address the real pressures, not just as challenges to be put down, but as opportunities. For buried within his pagan challengers he recognized aspirations that only the story of Christ could fulfill. 

No wonder many of us are anxious about the thought of engaging our neighbors with the gospel! The playing field has rapidly changed.

Augustine’s steady theological hand in the face of serious cultural challenges brings me to our current situation in the West, and to one of my favorite Walker Percy quotes:

It is for this reason that the present age is better than Christendom. In the old Christendom, everyone was a Christian and hardly anyone thought twice about it. But in the present age the survivor of theory and consumption becomes a wayfarer in the desert, like St. Anthony; which is to say, open to signs.

Cultural Traces of the Gospel

Now is the time to look at not only the challenges, but also the opportunities within a post-Christian West. For even—or better yet, especially—in societies where Christianity has been relegated to an out-of-date relic of yesteryear, people are surprised to find that what they love about their favorite stories is that in them they encounter traces of the gospel.

To give just one example, the success of the Harry Potter franchise is illustrative of how gospel echoes persist in many of our culture’s most beloved stories. Although many factors have contributed to making the series a worldwide phenomenon, Constance Grady and Aja Romano observe that the driving force of the series’ success is straightforward: “The Harry Potter series is a phenomenon because it tells a story that millions of people loved, and it introduced the world to an enormous and magical world that millions of people have dreamed of escaping into.”

But it’s not just magic spells and quidditch matches that make this story so enticing. As author J. K. Rowling explains about her story, “To me [the religious parallels have] always been obvious.” She comments on two biblical citations—“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26) and “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21)—found in the final book on the tombstones of Harry’s parents and Dumbledore’s mother and sister: “I think those two particular quotations he finds on the tombstones at Godric’s Hollow, they sum up—they almost epitomize the whole series.” The story is, after all, framed by two acts of sacrificial love—a mother who gave her life to save her son, and the son who willingly goes to his death so that all those he loves would live. The savior of the story is, of course, Harry Potter, the young wizard whose life had always been leading to the moment he would allow himself to be struck by evil unto death—only to live and return to defeat evil. 

Once the gospel has entered the bloodstream of a culture, even skeptics and doubters can’t help but at times be taken by the story. For all the talk of repressive Christian ethics and the confidence in our ability to reason and use common sense to guide how we should live, the reality is the Western world’s moral sensibilities are still living off the fumes of the Christian story. This is why Friedrich Nietzsche, the scathing critic of Christianity at the end of the 19th century, also turned his sights on the atheists of his day. For he realized that even these “secular” men weren’t free from the story. Still today, fully escaping it proves elusive. 

Western (Christian) Mind

The historian Tom Holland, a longtime secular progressive, recently wrote that despite his faith in God fading during his teen years, he now realizes his most fundamental instincts about life only make sense as an inheritance from the Christian story. Holland’s book Dominion is a journey through Western history to narrate how our culture’s moral ideals derive “ultimately from claims made in the Bible: that humans are made in God’s image; that his Son died equally for everyone; that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” Human rights, a universal concern for the vulnerable, human equality, sexual restraint, reverence for humility, and the notion of moral progress itself are just a few of our common ideals that have developed in light of the Christian story. Holland can’t get past the irony: “The West, increasingly empty though the pews may be, remains firmly moored to its Christian past.” (Listen to Collin Hansen’s Gospelbound interview with Holland.)

For all the talk of repressive Christian ethics and the confidence in our ability to reason and use common sense to guide how we should live, the reality is the Western world’s moral sensibilities are still living off the fumes of the Christian story.

Simply put, your unbelieving friends are probably more “Christian” than they realize. That is, they embrace certain Christian ideals and beliefs, but these assumptions don’t make much sense within their current script. They need a better story. 

Holland himself recognizes how much the Western civilization’s future depends on our coming to grips with the history of our shared ideals. As he puts it, since our modern moral aspirations are “not from reason or from science, but from the distinctive course of Christianity’s evolution—a course that, in the opinion of growing numbers in Europe and America, has left God dead—then how are its values anything more than the shadow of a corpse? What are the foundations of its morality, if not a myth?”

This is the right question. As Holland goes on to suggest, though, not all myths are untrue. But what if the “myth became fact”?

Gripped by the Christian Imagination

Despite the cries of those who claim we as modern enlightened people should come of age, story remains our lingua franca. And more than just stories in general, our culture continues to be captured by imaginative stories that point to our inherent longing for another world. The stories we love to tell and hear—from liberal humanism’s moral tale of universal love to Rowling’s story of sacrificial death and resurrection—remind us that, even in post-Christian cultures, we can’t seem to escape the echoes and, at times, the allure of the gospel story. 

Why do themes of guilt, moral courage, sacrifice, redemption, and resurrection remain palpable in even the most secular corners of our contemporary world? The work of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien help us answer this question. As Tolkien says, we are “sub-creators” subconsciously mirroring our Creator and even echoing the ultimate story that broke into history. Human potentiality is reached not by giving up on stories, but by embracing the world’s true story—the one that elucidates all the others. The good news is that there is something in the human heart, even amid the culture shifts and our disordered fallen condition, that longs for the better story—the true story of the gospel. 

The good news is that there is something in the human heart, even amid the culture shifts and our disordered fallen condition, that longs for the better story—the true story of the gospel.

The secular storylines on offer today have too many holes in their plotline to survive the long haul. I once heard the atheist philosopher John Gray tell a secular humanist—who was searching for a way to ground high moral ideals, such as human rights—that the humanist myth was borrowing from religion, wasn’t very old, and likely wouldn’t last long. Hearing a leading atheist intellectual acknowledge the likely short shelf-life of present-day secular myths, I couldn’t help but feel a little hopeful.

Be Ready to Give the Story

And yet, we shouldn’t be unprepared. We have some difficult challenges ahead, but fear isn’t a Christian option. For we have the true story—the greatest story ever told—and we know how it ends. It has lasted long past the prevailing pagan stories Augustine faced 1,500 years ago, and it will outlast today’s rival secular myths. 

With faith, hope, and love, our calling is to learn an invitational apologetic, which welcomes others to “come, taste and see” the true story of reality. I’ve written Telling a Better Story to provide a practical framework called “Inside Out” to help the church do just that. For, as Percy reminds us, the plot holes in today’s secular stories have left many in search of something beyond the shallow scripts of secularism; these people are now “open to signs.” So just maybe the collapse of Christendom isn’t all bad. Our late-modern opportunity is to dig out the gospel from underneath the rubble and tell Christ’s story as the fulfillment of what these signs have been pointing to all along.

Joshua Chatraw is the director of the Center for Public Christianity and theologian-in-residence at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. Some of his books include Telling a Better StoryApologetics at the Cross (co-authored with Mark Allen), and The History of Apologetics (co-edited with Alister McGrath and Benjamin Forrest).

Daily Light – July 3, 2020

What do we really believe about God?

Devotional study from David Niednagel, Evansville, IN.  David is a pastor/teacher and uses the S.O.A.P method for his morning devotional time.  (study, observe, apply, pray).

Deuteronomy 5:6-10   

5:6  “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. 7 “You must not have any other god but me.

8 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind, or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 9 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. 10 But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.   NLT

Since these people were little children, or not even born when God gave the Law at Mt Sinai 38 years before, Moses needed to review and re-command it before they went into the Land. Keeping it was going to be essential if they were to have God’s blessing. And without that help they were finished! Moses started with the 10 Commandments:

Yahweh had freed them from at least a century of slavery in Egypt, and it was 100% miraculous. There was no political uprising, no demonstrations – it was 10 supernatural plagues, one right after another. Each one affected the Egyptians while sparing the Jews. There was nothing else like it in history. No other nation claimed anything like that or ascribed anything like it to their gods. That was reason enough for Israel to give Yahweh 100% of their allegiance. Even the name “Yahweh” means the one who “IS” – the real one. He is not just a local deity, but the Creator of the entire universe. Whoever that God is – the Creator of everything and their Rescuer/Redeemer should have 100% loyalty.

Second, Yahweh commanded them not to make any physical image representing Him. He is not material, He is Spirit, so He did not want anyone to make an image of Him like all the nations did for their gods. He is not like other gods. And once people make a representation of their gods, they being to worship those representations, and not just use them as reminders of the god. Their parents made that mistake worshipping a golden calf when Moses was on Mt Sinai, and Israel did it later worshipping the bronze serpent that Moses made in Num 21. “Orthodoxy” has done the same thing with icons. Humans have a tendency to make physical manifestations of their hearts affections, because it is difficult to worship a spirit. A corollary of that is that humans “look on the outward appearance, But God looks at the heart”. (1Sam 16:7) It is easier for us to judge someone by outward actions than by heart motivation, but God doesn’t. He reverses that. And even if we don’t make “idols” of our “gods”, we have a strong tendency to value/worship physical objects that we can see (cars, houses, etc) more than qualities of a person’s heart (kindness, humility, love). This second Commandment speaks to a basic human inclination towards an “idolatry” beyond carving a stone and bowing down to it. 

And God said He would not tolerate allegiance to something other than Himself. Israel had no excuse for idolatry. They experienced Yahweh’s direct deliverance, protection and provision every day for the last 40 years! If they turned from Him, their children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren would all suffer. The decisions of parents do affect their children – as every child of an alcoholic, or lazy person, or angry person, etc knows. God’s ways are Light and Life. If we think we are smarter than God, and that our way is better, we will discover that we are not God, and will regret our foolishness. Moses was trying to prevent that for a whole nation.

Wonderful Lord, I praise You that You are the Creator of everything and therefore smart enough that that I/we should trust You in everything. And You are the Redeemer/Savior of Israel and of us. There is no other who loves us like You. I desire to gladly trust You, serve You and love You today. Help me remember You even though I cannot see you. Help me do better than Israel did! Amen

Daily Light – July 2, 2020

HOW THE BOOK OF REVELATION EXPLAINS OUR CRISES

June 30, 2020

Article by Ben C. Dunson, Minister/Teacher of New Testament Studies

Two Part Article:  Part II

Making Sense of Judgment

So, where does judgment fit into all of this? Does Revelation have anything to tell us about tribulations the world is currently experiencing? Yes, but perhaps not in the way we might expect. When many people ask the question “Is this disaster God’s judgment on the world?” what they really are asking is whether a specific disaster can be said to be a specific punishment from God for specific sins of a specific group of people. Despite how common it is for some to speak about judgment this way, the Bible gives us no grounds after the close of the canon of Scripture for being able to tie specific disasters closely to specific sins of specific peoples. This would require new revelation from the Lord that he has not given us.

But there is another common way of talking about the tribulations the world faces that (perhaps in reaction to this first way of speaking) swings the pendulum in the exact opposite direction. For a variety of reasons, many have adopted the lingo (if not the sentiments) of modern materialism. In this way of thinking, hurricanes, earthquakes, famines, pandemics, and so on are nothing more than “natural disasters,” essentially random events that have little or nothing to do with God. That is not what we see in Revelation either.

The Seven Scrolls and Trumpets

In Revelation 5:1, we read about “a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.” An angel asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” (Revelation 5:2). No creature in all the earth is worthy, so John begins to weep (Revelation 5:3–4). Why is this so devasting to him? Clearly, what is written on the scroll is of the utmost importance. John’s sadness lasts only a moment before he is told to cease his weeping because “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5).

What is written on the scroll? We learn the answer as each of the seven seals is opened (in Revelation 6:1–17 and 8:1–5). The first four have to do with judgments on the earth: persecution (Revelation 6:1–2), war (Revelation 6:3–4), economic disaster (Revelation 6:5–6), and death by sword, famine, and disease (Revelation 6:7–8). The fifth seal is an assurance to those who have suffered for Christ that they will be vindicated (Revelation 6:9–11), while the sixth seal portends the final judgment (Revelation 6:12–17), which arrives with the opening of the seventh seal (Revelation 8:1–5).

When do these judgments begin? We have every reason to believe that they are included within the things “that are to take place after this” of Revelation 1:19. This means that the tribulations of the first four seals, rather than occurring only immediately before Christ returns, are in fact the kinds of tribulations that the original audience of Revelation will soon face. In fact, John opened his letter by reminding his readers that he is a partner with them “in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). Tribulation and hardship are to be expected throughout this age. The churches of Revelation 2–3 are already seen to be experiencing many such difficulties.

Readers of Revelation quickly notice how important the number seven is in the letter (seven is the biblical number of completion). Just as there are seven seals on the scroll, so we encounter seven trumpets in Revelation 8:6–9:21 and 11:15–19. A scroll is a biblical image of revelation; a trumpet is one of judgment (think Jericho). What kind of judgments do we come across with the seven trumpets?

The first four trumpets cover the entirety of the created order: earth (Revelation 8:6–7), oceans (Revelation 8:8–9), fresh water (Revelation 8:10–11), and the sky (Revelation 8:12–13). With each trumpet judgment, only a third of the designated realm is affected. These are not, in other words, pictures of total judgment, the kind we will see when Christ returns. These are limited judgments that will fall upon the earth throughout this age.

The fifth through seventh trumpets are called “woes” (Revelation 8:13) because they all are focused on the effects of judgment upon humanity (who will cry out, “Woe!” under the force of the judgments). The fifth trumpet judgment (Revelation 9:1–12) is one that afflicts only unbelievers (Revelation 9:4) and is therefore probably one of inner turmoil and despair (see Revelation 9:6). The sixth trumpet unleashes angels who kill “a third of mankind” (Revelation 9:1518), showing us again that these judgments are not comprehensive and final. The seventh trumpet brings with it the arrival of the kingdom of God in its fullness: “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). After this comes the final judgment (Revelation 11:19).

The Seven Bowls

In Revelation 16, we encounter a final sevenfold cycle, “the seven bowls of the wrath of God” (Revelation 16:1). The seven bowls are clearly patterned after the seven trumpets. The first four bowls exactly match the realms of the created order in the first four trumpets: earth (Revelation 16:2), oceans (Revelation 16:3), fresh water (Revelation 16:4–7), and sky (Revelation 16:8–9). The fifth bowl (Revelation 16:10–11), like the fifth trumpet, centers on the anguish of those who do not trust in Jesus. The sixth bowl (Revelation 16:12–16), matching the sixth trumpet, begins at the river Euphrates and is also focused on the destructiveness of war. The seventh bowl (Revelation 16:17–21) brings us to the final judgment.

Careful readers, once they notice the way that the seven bowls are patterned after the seven trumpets, also will notice striking differences. The similarities and differences reveal equally important things to the reader. The main similarity — that each judgment is in the same creational realm — shows us that the trumpets and seals convey the same basic truth: this world is a world under God’s judgment. The main dissimilarity, however, is equally important: with the seven bowls, we have left the realm of partial and limited judgments from the Lord, and have arrived at the final judgment.

As we saw, the seven trumpets affect only a limited portion of the world and its inhabitants. There is no such restriction when it comes to the seven bowls.

With the second bowl “every living thing died that was in the sea” (Revelation 16:3).

The third bowl turns all freshwater rivers and springs into blood (Revelation 16:4).

When the fourth bowl is poured out, the sun becomes supercharged with scorching heat (Revelation 16:8–9).

The fifth bowl plunges the whole world into darkness and leads unbelievers into deep anguish and misery, without the limitation seen in the fifth trumpet (Revelation 9:5: “for five months”).

The sixth bowl, like the sixth trumpet, brings war to the earth, but it does so as it assembles “the kings of the whole world . . . for battle on the great day of God the Almighty” (Revelation 16:14). This is the battle of Armageddon, a battle that will end with the final triumph of Christ over all of his enemies on the last day (Revelation 19:11–21).

Finally, the seventh bowl, very clearly patterned after the seventh trumpet, is described in such a way that it can refer only to the full and final manifestation of the wrath of God: “A loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’” (Revelation 16:17). Babylon, representing all the enemies of God’s people, is made to drink “the cup of the wine of the fury of [God’s] wrath” to the full (Revelation 16:19). When the seventh bowl is poured out, the time of God’s patience is finished.

What About Our Current Troubles?

So, should we say that COVID-19, worldwide civic unrest, and the international economic troubles we are facing today are God’s judgment on the world? As we have seen, we have no grounds for saying yes to this question if we mean that we know that these crises are God’s judgment on one group of people for one specific sin. We simply don’t have access to God’s mind on this. But we have also seen that the answer is most definitely yes, that this is God’s judgment on the world in the way that Revelation explains judgments from God.

Revelation gives us the eyes to see that all of the wars, famines, diseases, hurricanes, earthquakes (and so on) that occur in the time between Christ’s advent and return come directly from the hand of God. The scroll with the plan of God for the ages (which includes many tribulations) is “in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne” (Revelation 5:1). The trials that come with each of the seven trumpets fall upon the world after an angel takes a censer and fills it “with fire from the altar” and throws it down to the earth (Revelation 8:5). The angels who pour out the seven bowls come out of God’s temple and of course are pouring out God’s wrath (Revelation 16:1). These events are not random. They are not “natural disasters.” They are acts of God (a fact our homeowners insurance policies dimly still reflect).

This fact has a twofold significance for our world. For those who do not have saving faith in Jesus Christ, these trials are in fact judgments from the Lord, although they are limited during this time of God’s patience (seen particularly in the limited scope of the first five trumpets). They are a wake-up call to a lost world, and they are a foretaste of the greater and final judgment still to come (that is why the bowls are patterned after the limited trumpet judgments). Apart from the radically transformative power of the Holy Spirit, even Revelation tells us that these limited judgments do not by themselves produce repentance (see Revelation 9:2116:9). But by God’s grace they may be the very means the Spirit uses to open the eyes of the lost so that they might come to Christ and be saved.

For the believer, however, we see that even though we too must go through almost all of the exact same trials and tribulations as unbelievers, these sufferings cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. These trials come from the hand of God, who in the midst of them keeps his children near to himself. Without this knowledge, these trials would surely overwhelm us. But in knowing God’s purpose and his power to keep us, we can confidently face them all.

Revelation shows us that God has not abandoned us, but rather that the day of salvation draws nearer and nearer. We know that all of the troubles we must endure are part of the Lord’s perfect and loving plan for us, a plan that brings all of the glory to God (Revelation 4:11). And we know how all of this will end, when we will see Christ face to face and “he will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Come, Lord Jesus!  (End of article)

For more resources on reading Revelation as I have outlined it above, I would recommend the following:

Beginning level: The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation, by Vern S. Poythress

Intermediate level: Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation by Dennis E. Johnson

Advanced level: The Book of Revelation (New International Greek Testament Commentary) by G.K. Beale

Ben C. Dunson is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. He has taught New Testament at several institutions, including Reformed Theological Seminary (Dallas), and is the author of Individual and Community in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. He lives in the northern suburbs of Dallas, TX, with his wife, Martha, and four boys.

Daily Light – July 1, 2020

Friends:   I find Ben Dunson’s article very helpful and comforting in how he correlates ‘crises’ in relationship to the book of Revelation.  We all hear and see so much focus and information on the various interpretations related to the what is referred to as the ‘end time events’ (es·cha·tol·o·gythe part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind. “Christian hope is concerned with eschatology, or the science of last things” – Oxford Dictionary)  Such variety of interpretation within current eschatological views can be confusing and even disturbing.  I appreciate how Ben Dunson provides a wonderful and balanced overview and makes his emphasis that ‘we’, as believers, are safe in ‘ALL’ crises and ‘All’ circumstances.  Amen.  dh

HOW THE BOOK OF REVELATION EXPLAINS OUR CRISES

June 30, 2020

Article by Ben C. Dunson, Minister/Teacher of New Testament Studies

Two Part Article:  Part I

ABSTRACT: Are our current crises God’s judgment on the world? The answer to that question depends on the meaning of the word judgment. Crises such as the coronavirus may not be specific judgments against specific people for specific sins, but neither are they mere “natural disasters.” According to the book of Revelation, calamities like hurricanes, earthquakes, famines, and pandemics are indeed judgments for those outside of Christ, but they are limited. As foretastes of the final judgment to come, they sound a wake-up call to a world lost in rebellion, inviting all to come to Christ and be saved.

Is this the end? Our world is in turmoil. Civic unrest is occurring across the world. We are still facing a pandemic that is frightening as much for what we don’t know about it as what we do. The world economy is shattered. Visions of apocalypse dance in our heads.

Even non-Christians can hardly describe COVID-19 without invoking the notion of judgment. Sarah, Duchess of York, for example, is convinced that Nature itself is judging us. She recently tweeted that “Mother Nature has sent us to our rooms . . . like the spoilt children we are. She gave us time and she gave us warnings. She was so patient with us. She gave us fire and floods, she tried to warn us but in the end she took back control.” It has been hard for people to process what is going on around them in any other way. Catastrophe is in the air.

Is God judging the world? Are all the troubles the world is currently facing punishments from above? The simple answer is yes . . . and no. Charles Spurgeon once quipped that “only fools and madmen are positive in their interpretation of the Apocalypse” (The Sword and the Trowel, October 1867). Perhaps you will bear with me in a little foolishness as I explain myself, with the book of Revelation as our guide.

Apocalypse Now

Revelation is an apocalypse. In fact, “apocalypse” (apocalypsis) is the very first word in the Greek text of the letter. “Apocalypse” means an “opening up” or “revelation,” hence the English title to the letter. The whole letter is a revelation of God’s plan for his creation, although many read it in the exact opposite way, as if it were a book of mysteries meant to be concealed from us. For this reason, many believers find Revelation intimidating and even overwhelming. They fear they will never be able to make sense of it all.

But God wants you to understand this book. In Revelation, God is opening up (revealing!) his wonderful plan for the ages. He promises that he will bless those who read and hear what is written in the letter (Revelation 1:3). You can’t be blessed by what you can’t understand. And do you think God intends that for his people? Surely not.

What Is Revelation?

To understand Revelation, we must know what it is. And God has not left us in the dark. Revelation is a word from God the Father, given to God the Son, “to show to his servants the things that must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1) in this world. How does Jesus Christ reveal these truths? He sends “his angel to his servant John,” and John bears “witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (Revelation 1:1–2). The last phrase in verse 2 gives us the key to making sense of everything that follows: God reveals his plan for the ages to John in a series of things that John sees, that is, in a series of visions (the visions are called “signs” throughout Revelation).

How do you make sense of a vision or sign? Praise God he didn’t leave us to figure this out on our own. In addition to the numerous visions of the Old Testament prophets (many of which are interpreted for us, like Daniel’s four beasts in Daniel 7), the first sign in Revelation is also explained for us. The seven golden lampstands (Revelation 1:12) that John sees “are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20) that John writes to in the letter. Signs, then, are just that. They are signs. They are not the thing itself, but images that help us understand something else.

The rest of Revelation is a series of signs shown to John that reveal to God’s people “the things . . . that are and those that are to take place after this” (Revelation 1:19). Through these signs, God unveils the true state of this world, both at the moment of John’s writing and throughout the remainder of this age as it draws near to its close with the return of Jesus Christ.

Readers of Revelation can easily get off track if they fail to recognize the visionary nature of the letter. The question is not “Is Revelation literally true?” but rather “How is God revealing his truth?” God reveals himself in many ways in the Bible — in laws, in histories, in songs, in proverbs, in letters, and, as in Revelation, in visions.

When we recognize this vital fact, we will read the letter differently than many people do today. By far, the most common way of reading Revelation is to assume that it is more or less a continuous narrative from Revelation 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. It is to approach Revelation as if we were watching a movie from start to finish. It is easy to see why someone might read the letter in this way. Once John finishes recording Christ’s word to each of the seven churches (Revelation 2–3), he moves on to a vision of “a door standing open in heaven,” introducing it with the words “after this I looked” (Revelation 4:1). Some variation of this phrase introduces all of the remaining visions in the letter (see, for example, Revelation 4:15:17:1915:518:119:1111720:141121:19–1022:1). Do these time indicators mean that each vision unfolds sequentially, much as the plot of a movie would unfold?

Not at all. Instead, John is shown a series of visions one after the other. First he is shown a door open into heaven (Revelation 4), and then he is shown a scroll in the hand of “him who was seated on the throne” (Revelation 5:7), and he watches as the seven seals on the scroll are opened (Revelation 7). “After this” John see four angels “holding back the four winds of the earth” (Revelation 7:1), and on and on it goes throughout the letter. It is not that the visions show us a series of things that (necessarily) happen in time one after the other, but that the visions are shown to John one after the other. When the events recorded in each vision may occur in the history of this age has to be determined within each vision itself. For example, Revelation 12:5 is about the birth (and life, death, resurrection, and ascension) of Jesus Christ, even though this event obviously occurred before the situation of the seven churches described in Revelation 2–3.

Rather than thinking of Revelation as a single unfolding narrative (like a movie or novel), we would be much better off thinking of it like a series of paintings in an art gallery. You take one painting in, and then you move on to the next until you have had a look at every painting in the whole gallery (or until your wife has become exasperated with you for reading every single detailed description of each of the paintings . . . but I wouldn’t know about that). In the same way, John is shown one vision, and “after that” shown another, until the Lord has shown him every vision to be passed on to Christ’s church. To figure out how each vision maps on to time in this world requires us to take the visions one by one. Some visions take place outside of time (the heavenly throne room of chapter 4), some cover the whole of this age (the trials of Christ and his church in Revelation 12), some refer to the time immediately leading up to the final judgment (Revelation 20:11–15), and so on. Each painting (as it were) reveals something absolutely vital for God’s people to know about the plan of God in this age.

What Is Revelation About?

What is that plan? To understand Revelation, we must know what it is, but we must also know what it is about. Here too God has not left us to flounder in darkness. Revelation is about the things “that are and those that are to take place after this” (Revelation 1:19). And John is told to “write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches” (Revelation 1:11). But what is this letter to the church about? What are the things “that are and those that are to take place after this”? Although we obviously can’t answer this question exhaustively in this article, God has given us a key in Revelation 2 and 3 that enables us to make sense of everything that follows: each of the words from Christ to the seven churches foreshadows the central themes of the whole letter.

The word to Ephesus mentions the patience necessary (Revelation 2:2–3; see Revelation 13:1014:12) to arrive at the day when God’s people can eat of the tree of life and live forever (Revelation 2:7; see Revelation 22:2).

Smyrna is told of how to avoid “the second death” of hell (Revelation 2:11; see Revelation 20:61421:8).

Pergamum’s exhortation gives us a glimpse of the mission of the church, which is to bear faithful testimony to Christ (Revelation 2:13; see Revelation 11:37), fighting a spiritual war with Christ’s sharp sword (Revelation 2:1216; see Revelation 19:15).

To Thyatira is held out the authority that the saints will exercise in Christ over the nations for all eternity (Revelation 2:26–27; see Revelation 12:519:15), an authority paradoxically exercised in the midst of suffering (Revelation 1:65:10), even as it will be consummated in victory on the last day (Revelation 20:4622:5).

To Sardis is given a warning that Christ’s return in judgment will be like a thief breaking into the house of one unprepared (Revelation 3:3; see Revelation 16:15). Furthermore, it is said of those who conquer (that is, persevere in faith) that they “will be clothed thus in white garments” (Revelation 3:5; see Revelation 4:46:117:913–1419:14). The book of life recurs many times in the letter as well (Revelation 3:5; see Revelation 13:817:8), being the only solid basis for hope on the last day (Revelation 20:121521:27).

Philadelphia is reminded that Christ is coming soon (Revelation 3:11; see Revelation 1:522:71220) and that the New Jerusalem awaits all the saints (Revelation 3:12; see Revelation 21:22–22:5), a place where they will be pillars in the temple of God (Revelation 3:12; see Revelation 7:1511:1–21914:151716:11721:22).

Finally, to Laodicea, the saints are told that they will one day sit with Christ on his throne (Revelation 3:21), which throughout the Bible is associated with the ark of the covenant (thus the place of worship). God’s throne appears in Revelation over 35 times, culminating in the worship of God in the new creation (Revelation 22:3) where we will feast with Christ (Revelation 3:20; see Revelation 19:6–10).

Chapters 2–3, in other words, give us the key that opens up the meaning of the whole letter: this age is an age of spiritual battle in which Christ and his people reign and triumph in the midst of suffering. It is an age in which the saints must long patiently for the age to come, sustained by worship at God’s throne. And in the midst of the trials and tribulations of this age, God’s people are given the grace to endure by glorious visions of what awaits them on the other side of their suffering: the marriage supper of the Lamb, eating from the tree of life, not being harmed by hell (the second death), having their names written in the book of life, entering into the majestic and eternally secure New Jerusalem, where the temple presence of God fills all.

(Part II tomorrow) 🙂

Daily Light – June 30, 2020

Your Inner War Will End

How Heaven Frees Us from Sin

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

Imagine a life without your sin. If you hope in Christ, one day you will walk out into a world in which it will not be possible for you to sin anymore. Not only will temptation itself have fallen extinct, but any molecule in you that might have possibly been drawn to sin will have been surgically removed, never to materialize again. Your new body — new heart, new hands, new mouth — will never meet the sin you knew so long. Your lifelong plague will be lifted.

You cannot imagine how sinless you will be, and just how exhilarating it will be to be finally free. The sin that remains in us has made us deeply, unshakably suspicious of ourselves. To date, we have lived only on the unstable ground of a real but unfinished righteousness. Every thought, every word, every act of good has been tinged by the dying coals of our iniquity. Some part of us, however small, has pulled the other way — selfishness, laziness, insecurity, fear of man, greed, lust, doubt.

But imagine, for a moment, a world without your particular besetting sins. Without any of your sin. Not only will you never again commit these sins, but no one else will either — ever.

Nothing Unclean Will Enter

When we walk the streets of the new and lasting earth, we will search, high and low, in vain for sin.

We will roam neighborhoods, and never envy our neighbor — or be envied by him. We will walk in and out of homes, in and out of conversations, and never encounter another whiff of anger. We will eat meal after meal, each more delicious and meaningful than any we tasted on earth, and yet never feel another unhealthy craving for more (or another stomach full of guilt).

We will visit city after city filled with activity, creativity, and industry, and yet never uncover even an impulse toward selfishness or greed. We will wander through the whole world, and yet never resent what we do not have or have not done yet, and we’ll never wish we had more than someone else. We will live through weeks, in and out of work and rest, and never again be tempted to laziness. We will work, but never toil. We will enjoy rest, but never slide into sloth.

We might browse the Internet (or whatever glorified technology we have), and yet after a billion searches never find anything online (or in us!) that would lead to lust. In fact, we would never find anything that did not give our hearts far more pleasure in Jesus than anyone ever found in pornography.

“Nothing unclean will ever enter it,” Revelation 21:27 says of the new earth, “nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” John saw the home God will build for us, and it was immaculately free from sin. Nothing unclean will ever enter or disturb our eternity with Christ.

All Causes of Sin

The sin that once ruined the world has already lost the war for the universe, and one day it will be forcibly removed from every home and family, from every neighborhood, from every government and nation, from the whole earth — and from you. When Jesus describes the end of the age, he says,

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:41–43)

The Son will not only exile sin from his new kingdom, but he will remove even every cause of sin. Nothing in heaven will ever tempt us to sin.

If we will be sinless, never even tempted to sin, why would God have to remove the causes? Because, in his wise plan and perfect jealousy, the glory of a world without any temptations must exceed one filled with conquered ones. The staggering silencing of all temptation will forever prove just how sovereign our King is over every movement and desire in his kingdom.

Before we take even one step onto the new earth, everything that might have destroyed us will have already been destroyed. The blessings we enjoy in Christ here will come to fuller, deeper, stronger fruition. And all the warnings against sin will fall away — not because sin would be any less serious, but because sin will have been wiped out completely.

Oh, That Day

And not only the sin out there — in our relationships, at our workplaces, on the Internet — but the sin in here. Each of our sins really does come, not from some brokenness out in the world or in someone else, but from within us (Mark 7:20–23). Sexual immorality, adultery, and lust; murder and anger; coveting and envy; deceit, gossip, and pride — they all find their root, their cause of causes, inside our own hearts. And when we see our King, he will hurl every wayward impulse or desire or habit into his fiery furnace.

It’s no wonder, at all, why the words of Robert Robinson still resonate so deeply in us three hundred years later:

Oh, that day when freed from sinning
I shall see Thy lovely face
Clothed then in the blood-washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy wondrous grace
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry
Take my ransomed soul away
Send Thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day

Perhaps the sweetest hope of a sinless heaven is a sinless me. This work-in-process, often-wandering son of God knows how tenacious sin can be, even forgiven sin. So I savor the words of 1 John 3:2: “We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Actually seeing King Jesus — real shoulders, strong enough to bear the world, real eyes, filled with electrifying fire, real hands and feet, pierced to pay our debt, a real smile, warm and wise and sure — seeing him, really seeing him, will be so surprising, so exhilarating, so satisfying, that it will be purifying.

Seeing him as he is now will make us someone we have never been before.

Oh, Today When Freed from Sinning

Knowing that we will see him one day will make us someone different today. John’s next line connects the hope of future sinlessness with our current fight against temptation.

And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:3)

Or as Jesus says in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart [today!], for they shall see God” — and be made purer still. The hope of heaven has everything to do with the war against sin, because we know how this war ends and who we will one day be. Every inch of progress we make is an inbreaking of our great hope, our future self, our promised land.

As we wait for heaven and fight our sin, we are meant to look back, in horror, at how God has hated and judged sin throughout the Bible (1 Corinthians 10:6). And God means for us to look forward at just how sinless we will be, knowing that nothing impure in us will survive seeing him. And then, with eyes behind us and before us, and with God for us and in us by his Spirit, to go and sin no more.

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 – June 29, 2020

What Sin Will Never Quench

Why We Trust in Broken Cisterns

Article from Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

What exactly is “evil”? Given that the first manifestation of human evil recorded in Scripture involved a desire for this kind of knowledge, the question itself should inspire some trembling. Only God has the capacity to comprehend and the wisdom to administrate the depths, dimensions, expressions, and purposes of evil.

Yet Scripture makes clear that God wants us to understand what it means for us to commit evil. The whole Bible, from the fall in Eden onward, is one long account of the catastrophic fallout of evil’s infection of the human race and God’s unfolding plan to ultimately overcome that unfathomable evil with an even more unfathomably wonderful good. God can give us the strength to sufficiently comprehend what he wants us to comprehend (Ephesians 3:18). In fact, God wants our “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14) so that we might “turn away from evil and do good” (Psalm 34:14).

One of the wonderful things Scripture teaches us is that turning away from evil is not, at its essence, mastering a long list of bad things to stop doing and good things to start doing. Rather, at its essence, God is inviting us to abandon what will ultimately impoverish us and increase our misery, and to choose instead what will ultimately enrich us and increase our joy.

Essence of Evil

One of God’s clearest explanations of this reality comes through the prophet Jeremiah. This man had a very hard calling, spending his forty-year public ministry preaching to stubborn, stony hearts and weeping as God brought his long-forewarned judgment on Israel for centuries of idolatrous rebellion (2 Kings 17:7–14). Through Jeremiah, God expressed his profound dismay and grief over how, in spite of all he had done to create, redeem, establish, protect, and provide for them, as well as warn them over and over, his people had abandoned him and sought their protection and prosperity in the false “gods” of the nations around them:

Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see, or send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. (Jeremiah 2:10–11)

Not even the pagan nations, whose gods didn’t even exist, had done what Israel had done. Which led God to exclaim in pained exasperation,

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:12–13)

This is a remarkable statement. God lays open the human heart and shows us what evil really looks like. Evil is when the creatures of God, his own image-bearers, forsake him, their very source of life, the source of all that quenches their deepest thirsts, and try to quench those thirsts apart from him. Evil is trying to find life anywhere but in God.

We hear echoes of Eden in the Lord’s words. Like Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, Israel’s sin wasn’t merely that they disobeyed God’s commands. Their disobedience exposed a deeper, deadly problem: treachery against God had taken root in the deepest places of their hearts. Sin revealed that they placed their trust, pledged their allegiance, and sought their satisfaction in something or someone other than God. They exchanged God for things that were no gods (Romans 1:23).

And this has always been the core evil of every sin — of all our sins: forsaking the Source of greatest joy (Psalm 16:11), believing we’ll find more joy elsewhere.

Broken-Cistern Builders Meet the Fountain

But God did not leave us to perish beside our broken cisterns. Although we forsook the Source of living water to slake our thirst in empty wells, the Source, rich in mercy, sent the Fountain to bring us living water.

On a hot Samaritan midday, just outside of Sychar, an experienced builder of broken cisterns was on her way to Jacob’s well. In her heart were the ruins of five relational cisterns she had tried so hard to make, each now desolate and bone-dry. If nothing changed, soon there would be a sixth.

When she arrived at the well, she found the Fountain sitting beside it. The Fountain was waiting for her. He had come to save her from all her futile hewing and to give her “living water” that would “become in [her] a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:1014). She was skeptical till he gave her a taste. Then she drank deeply, and for joy went and told all her fellow townsfolk about the Fountain. Many of them drank deeply too.

In the woman at the well, we see ourselves. The cisterns she tried to make may be different than ours, but ours are no less futile and empty. Apart from God, everything becomes a dry well. Nothing in this world can channel or store the water we long for most. Everything here leaks and eventually breaks apart and ends. And choosing such broken cisterns over the Fountain of living water is the essence of human evil, evil that appalls the heavens.

But in Jesus’s encounter with this woman, we see the heart of God for broken-cistern builders. Like ancient Israel, we all are warned that a judgment is coming upon those who prefer arid dirt to God’s living water (2 Corinthians 5:10). The Fountain has come first, though, not to bring judgment, but to seek and save all who will repent of the evil of forsaking God, turn away from their dry wells, and receive the water the Fountain will give them (John 12:47). And it’s not uncommon that we find the Fountain waiting for us beside one of our ruined wells.

Choose the Greatest Joy

The core evil of the original sin was believing the forbidden knowledge of good and evil would yield more satisfaction than God. The core evil of ancient Israel was believing idols would yield more protection and prosperity than God. The core evil in all our sins is believing some broken cistern will give us greater life and joy than God.

Which means the fight between good and evil in the human heart is a fountain-fight: Which fountain do we believe will really satisfy us — right now, in this moment of temptation? The struggle to discern good from evil is a joy-struggle: Which well has the most real and longest-lasting joy in it? Christian Hedonism is a serious and essential enterprise, because everything hangs on choosing the superior joy.

Which is what the Fountain of living water holds out to us. He offers us the deepest satisfaction, the sweetest refreshment, and life forever (John 4:15), and he offers to fully pay the wages of our sin, the appalling evil of our futile broken-cistern hewing (Romans 6:23). And as with the man who found a treasure in a field or the merchant who found the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44–46), what he essentially requires of us is almost unbelievably wonderful: to forsake what will lead us only to misery and despair, and to choose the greatest joy.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities.

Daily Light – June 19, 2020

(Friends:   I will be away from my computer next week.  I pray that you will have a great week, stay safe, love well, and remember each day how much your heavenly Father loves you.  You are special!)  dh

The War Means You Are Real

Four Ways to Fight Indwelling Sin

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

It matters little how much strength and skill an army has if, on the day of battle, it underestimates the power of its opponent. Put the wisest generals at its head and the best firepower in its arsenal — still, if such an army misjudges its adversary, it may find itself fleeing in retreat.

So too with us. In the “fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12), every Christian has an almighty force at his disposal, even the Lord of armies himself, who has never lost a battle (Psalm 46:711). Yet if we underestimate the enemy that lives within us — those “passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11) — we may find ourselves face down on the field of war.

The stakes could not be higher. For though our Lord Jesus has gone before us as our great Captain, and though he has disarmed our enemies at his cross and empty tomb, a battlefield still stands between every Christian and God’s kingdom (Romans 8:13). And the banner flying over it reads, “Conquer or be conquered.”

Danger Within

Consider for a moment the enemy we call “indwelling sin.” Remember, first, the position of this enemy. The danger we are up against is not a danger ahead or a danger behind, but a danger within. However holy we may be, we carry with us, wherever we go, “sin that dwells within” (Romans 7:20), a force that fights “against the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17). At work and at home, in public and in private, at midnight and at noon, this enemy is always with us.

Remember also the strength of this enemy. It was indwelling sin that lured Demas back to the world after years of service to Christ (2 Timothy 4:10). It was indwelling sin that disgraced so many kings of Israel after such wonderful beginnings (see, for example, 2 Chronicles 26:16). It was indwelling sin that gravely wounded even the mightiest of men: Noah and Moses, David and Hezekiah, Peter and Barnabas. No matter how long we have walked with Christ, and no matter how firm our faith, every Christian is within the firing range of indwelling sin.

Consider, finally, the stamina of this enemy. The apostle Paul waited until the end of his life to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Among the slain are many who, contrary to Paul’s example, rested in victory before its time — whose early successes misled them to give up watching, give up praying, give up confessing, until they found themselves giving up altogether.

Weapons for the War

Remembering the power of our indwelling sin is not pleasant. Far more comfortable to talk of Christian victory and pretend that all is well. Yes, far more comfortable — and far more deadly. For if we refuse to look our foe in the face, we will likely refuse to face it with the weapons God provides.

If, on the other hand, we regularly consider the power of our indwelling sin, we will walk onto the battlefield clad with the armor of God. We will learn to expect a daily battle, to walk humbly, to kill sin at the start, and to keep near our Captain.

Expect a daily battle.

Our enemy’s position within us reminds us that our battle is a daily one. Unlike some armies, we cannot retreat for a season to escape the clamor of conflict. Every morning, we wake up to war.

This reminder, so disheartening at first, ought to cheer every embattled saint. For if we feel the clash of armies inside of us, and find our best resolves opposed at every step, and yet still press on ahead — well then, as J.C. Ryle writes, “We are evidently no friends of Satan. Like the kings of this world, he wars not against his own subjects” (Holiness, 72).

Expect, then, to rise up from a moving hour in Scripture and prayer, only to find your mind assaulted and your affections thrown off course. Expect the ground you gained yesterday to be challenged again today. Expect to be startled and confounded by dark impulses rising from within. And know that such opposition does not signal your defeat, but rather marks the beginning of the battle.

God’s Spirit makes himself known in us not by the absence of enemies, but by the presence of our warfare against them (Galatians 5:17–18).

Walk humbly.

As we consider the men and women stronger than we whom sin has successfully defeated, humility is the only sane response. Better to face our foe trembling and dismayed than to face him proud. Better to think ourselves capable of every sin, and to perpetually stand our guard, than to fancy ourselves strong in our own strength. For in the battle against sin, as in everything else, pride comes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

Those who walk humbly are not ashamed to pray every morning, “Lead [me] not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13). Their ears are awake to the warnings, strewn everywhere in Scripture, to “take heed lest [you] fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12), “be on your guard” (Luke 12:15), and “be watchful” (1 Peter 5:8). They are not too proud to stay near their brothers in arms, confessing their failures and asking for help.

The safest soldiers on the battlefield are the humblest ones: those who feel deep down that without Christ they can win no war (John 15:5) — yet with him, every war (Philippians 4:13).

Kill sin at the start.

Perhaps nothing shows more clearly what we think of sin’s strength than how we handle its first approaches. An army may take its time in rising up against a small army — but if the enemy is mighty, the watchmen sound the alarm long before the first shot is fired.

John Owen writes,

The great wisdom and security of the soul in dealing with indwelling sin is to put a violent stop unto its beginnings, its first motions and actings. Venture all on the first attempt. Die rather than yield one step unto it. (Indwelling Sin, 208)

Venture all upon the first attempt: dispel the first wisp of a fantasy, crush the first impulse toward greed, attack the first inclination toward gossip, oppose the first craving for another drink, douse the first flame of anger. In other words, “make no provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14).

Killing sin in these first moments may seem like a small victory, but the narrow way to heaven is filled with small victories — and the broad road to hell is paved with small compromises. So don’t despise the small battles you face again today.

Keep near your Captain.

All our expectations, humility, and efforts will prove vain, however, unless we keep near our Captain. Apart from Christ, all our weapons against sin are just so many plastic swords. But in Christ, we handle real swords in our warfare.

We would do well to despair if we faced our enemies on our own. But what need have we for fear if our Lord Jesus is with us? Why shrink away if we stand behind the shield of our greater David? The King who will one day slay the lawless one with the breath of his mouth is more than able to subdue our enemies within (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

All our safety, all our wisdom, all our peace and comfort rests in this: keep near Christ. Keep near his cross, where he canceled all our guilt. Keep near his empty tomb, where he broke sin’s power and reign. Keep near his nail-scarred hands, where he pleads his brothers’ cause. Keep near his throne of grace, where he holds well-timed help for every crisis (Hebrews 4:16).

All Who Fight Conquer

Conquer or be conquered: this is the prospect before us all this side of glory. But we dare not imagine that the conquering rests on us, much less that Christ watches, unconcerned, to see the outcome of the battle. Richard Sibbes writes,

The victory lies neither in our own strength to get it, nor in our enemies’ strength to defeat it. If it lay with us, we might justly fear. But Christ will maintain his own government in us and take our part against our corruptions. They are his enemies as well as ours. . . . We have more for us than against us. What coward would not fight when he is sure of victory? None is here overcome but he that will not fight. (The Bruised Reed, 122)

Wherever you are in the fight against sin — whether in the thrill of victory or the throes of defeat — remember: as many as your foes are, you have far more for you than against you if you are Christ’s (2 Kings 6:161 John 4:4), and you cannot be conquered if you only keep fighting. So come again to your Captain, take fresh courage, and go forth to battle.

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

Daily Light – July 18, 2020

(Happy Birthday to the best person I know…my wife…. Jean Marie Browning Hester.)

Nature Is Anything But Natural

Enjoying Creation Through the Psalms

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

Some years ago, as I visited my future wife in Southern California, the ocean began teaching me to notice the supernatural in all I had called natural, to widen my eyes to the world God has made, to recover some of the wonder I once had. The ocean quiets me unlike anything else in creation.

I say creation with deep conviction and purpose because it was — all of it everywhere — conceived and performed by a real, divine imagination. As T.M. Moore writes, “One of the central teachings of Scripture is that the natural world is not at all natural. It is the creation of a supernatural God. What we routinely call ‘nature’ is in fact ‘creation’” (Consider the Lilies, 100).

Nothing we encounter is purposeless, or gloryless, or truly “natural.” We may notice the purpose and glory more in the grander aspects of creation, like oceans, lions, or mountains, but as Scripture teaches, even birds and lilies teach us about God.

Has the natural world lost some of its wonder in your eyes? Have you started to take for granted things God himself literally breathed into existence and sustains with his whispers? Does anything God made still quiet you?

We Need Infinity

But we were talking about oceans. Steve DeWitt beautifully captures how oceans have silenced me:

We need infinity. Not that we can understand it. But only with it does life make sense. That’s why I like walking ocean beaches. Because for me, the infinity of the horizon is a glimpse at what the God who made it is like. (Eyes Wide Open, 128)

Almost anyone standing before the Pacific Ocean can feel the mystery in its enormity. Even mountains usually give us some clear glimpse of where they begin and end, but oceans stretch beyond the frail horizons of our humanity, forcing us to admit how small we really are. As the psalms sing, “Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it” (Psalm 104:25–26) — minnows and manta rays, blue tangs and blue whales, seahorses and great white sharks, all made by God so that we would see God.

The ocean’s mighty and relentless waves wash away our illusions of invincibility, and replace them with honesty, before God, about our own fragility. Its depths, beyond what we can measure, hint at how long and wide are his loving arms (Psalm 33:7). Its shores, where water gently tickles our feet, betray just how wise and sovereign is its architect (Proverbs 8:29). He makes its currents toss and rage, if only so his Son could quiet them (Mark 4:39) — and me (Isaiah 26:3).

Do you still stop to wonder at all God is saying in what he has made? Do you want to start again?

Let the Word Open the World

We can start developing wider eyes for the world God has made by reading nature through what he says all over Scripture — in Psalms and Proverbs, in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, in the Gospels, especially the words of Jesus, and in Revelation. Again, Moore writes,

How often the Scriptures urge us to use our sense to perceive and experience the goodness, greatness, and mercy of God, and to learn something of how we should relate to him. Sparrows, lilies, mountains, rivers; coins, fallen towers, millstones; people marrying, burying their dead, or paying their alms; sounds, tastes, and all manner of sensations — all these and much, much more offer us the opportunity for precious insights into the ways and will of God. But we are too busy, too much in a hurry, or too distracted by the mundaneness of it all to think more deeply about what God may be trying to say to us. (Consider the Lilies, 119)

The Psalms, in particular, are filled with streams and valleys, predators and prey, honeycombs and green pastures, sun and moon and stars. Try removing creation from the Psalms, and ask what is lost from the truth and beauty and depth of what God is saying. If we only saw what the psalmists saw, we would get to behold far more of God than we typically do today.

Walk Through Psalms

When the sun rises each morning, God means for that flaming ball of ferocity, a star the size of one hundred earths and heated to ten thousand degrees, to remind us that he is strong, massive, reliable, and radiating with joy.

He has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. (Psalm 19:4–684:11)

When we see the stars scattered in a clear night sky, an estimated one hundred billion in our galaxy alone, God wants us to see how detailed and personal he is. “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (Psalm 147:4). Why would he name stars? Not for their sake (they’re stars!), but for ours — so that we would know that he knows and attends to each and every one of us, especially the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3) and the humble (Psalm 147:6).

When clouds crawl across the sky and over our heads, they are not meant to be massive, miraculous afterthoughts (or depressing inconveniences, for that matter). They should draw our attention into heaven and stretch our imaginations, far beyond them, into the faithfulness of God. “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5).

When we make out a mountain in the distance, or drive through them as my family did on vacation earlier this year, we are meant to see enormous shadows of the majesty of God. “Glorious are you,” we sing, “more majestic than the mountains full of prey” (Psalm 76:4). Our God is stronger than the mountains (Psalm 104:32), older than the mountains (Psalm 90:2), and more reliable than the mountains (Psalm 46:2–3).

When we hear the rush of a river or stream, it can inspire us to drink more deeply from all that God is for us in Christ, the well who quenches every thirst forever (John 4:13–14). “They feast on the abundance of your house,” David writes, “and you give them drink from the river of your delights” (Psalm 36:8). The pouring of water between the banks is its own applause to the satisfying goodness of God. “Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together” (Psalm 98:8).

When we come across a rock too heavy to carry and big enough to stand on, its weight and strength anchor a deeper reality. Where does a poet look for language to describe all that God is for him? “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).

Even the deer peeking through the trees declares how deeply satisfying God is. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2). And each deer, some thirty million around the world, tells us how God protects, strengthens, and stabilizes us through treacherous circumstances (Psalm 18:33).

All Creation Is Preaching

All of that is to say nothing of all we see and experience of God in the boom of thunder (Psalm 29:3–4), the ruthlessness of lions (Psalm 7:1–2), the fragility of sheep (Psalm 78:52), the sweetness of honey (Psalm 19:10), the strength of horses (Psalm 20:7), the defenselessness of snails (Psalm 58:8), and the lushness of fields after rain (Psalm 23:2). The heavens and the earth, and all that fills them, are declaring the glory of God to us. What might we hear, and see, and experience if we were willing to stop and look?

“Created reality brings God’s perfections home to us in ways that are visible, concrete, and particular,” writes Joe Rigney. “They keep God’s attributes and characteristics from being mere abstractions, because it’s impossible for us to love a list of qualities” (The Things of Earth, 65). Everything God has made is preaching, with loudspeakers, cranked high and embedded everywhere we turn, and yet we often have our heads down, scrolling on our phones, almost nodding off.

There is hope, always hope, for eyes that have grown dim. Creation will never stop declaring the excellencies of our King, and we will never exhaust all that makes him excellent. So, let yourself stop, and watch, and listen a little longer before something God has made, and expect to see something supernatural.

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 – June 17, 2020

What Do You See When You Look at the Sky?

Friends:  Here in Indiana, it is early summer, the flowers are in full bloom, the beauty of the sunsets, the morning chorus of the birds, all proclaiming the wonder of our Creator.  And ‘that’ is wherein the beauty of the changing of seasons lies…another ‘fresh’ opportunity to behold Him who is the Glory of Life as He speaks to us.  I love what John Piper wrote here back in 1990 about the Glory of God in the stars and in creation.  Soak it in and then use the perspective to rekindle you weary bones so that you can hear and see the Glory of our Great God who is absolutely in control and rules over all..chaos and all.  And we are safe ‘in’ Him.  Wow.   dh

Article by John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

What you see when you look up outdoors speaks. It tells; it proclaims. You see those verbs in Psalm 19. But here’s the verb I like best in Psalm 19:2: “Day to day pours out speech.” Now, I looked that verb up in Hebrew, just to check it out, and it is a very exciting word. It means “gush forth,” “spew out” knowledge and speech.

So, fix this truth very firmly in your minds: every time the sun rises, or every time the stars come up, or every time the thunder rolls and the lightning strikes, every time there is a lavender, gold, yellow sunrise or sunset, God is gushing forth speech to you. And he means for you to hear it. And he means for you to be ministered to by it. He means for you to be helped by it.

From God to You

Do you believe God speaks in vain? Do you believe God speaks without love? Do you believe he just rambles on with no purpose like some people do? No. Whenever God speaks, every word is designed for your good. And so the point is simply this: when you look up, God is speaking to you. And we need to learn to hear it. We need to learn to interpret and be helped by what he’s saying. The message comes without words, without speech, without voice.

This is difficult because most of us are so word dependent — I am — that thinking of something coming from God’s heart to my heart minus words is very difficult. And that’s what’s happening when you look up: something is being communicated from God’s mind and heart to your mind and heart without any vehicle of language — no reasonings, no arguments, no words.

Now, you can tell how hard this is because David has to use paradox to get it across. Look at the paradox between Psalm 19:2 and Psalm 19:3. Verse 2 says, “Day to day pours out speech.” Then look at verse 3: “There is no speech.” That’s the same Hebrew word for speech, by the way. There’s no different word there, no fancy meaning. It’s the same thing in English that it is in Hebrew. Speech is being poured forth, and there is no speech. Do you get it? It’s not easy to get. We are not good at it; I’m not good at it: getting messages from God, not through words, but through light, color, shape, contrast, proportion, design, magnitude, and a lot of other things I’m sure I can’t think of that make up what the eye inhales when it looks up. God is communicating without words, without voice, without speech.

And yet verse 4 goes right back to verse 2 and says, yet, “Their line has gone out through all the earth” (NASB). That may be written line, may be plumb line, sound, voice. There’s a lot of uncertainty about what that word means, but we get the idea. “And their words to the end of the world” (Psalm 19:4). There it is: words. “Hey, I thought there were no words.” Well, there aren’t, but there are: words to the end of the world — wordless words, speechless speech, voiceless voice from God’s heart to your heart to minister healing and wholeness and happiness and humility and hope. Are you good at it? Do you get it? Or are you too busy even to look up and listen? The message that comes without words through the sky is about God. Day and night, everywhere in the world, God is speaking about God. You see in verse 1: “The heavens declare the glory of God.”

Always More Glory

We are not pantheists. Let’s get this real clear. We are not New Age pantheists. In the beginning, God — who always was without nature, full and complete in his triune happiness — said, “Let there be nature,” and there was nature. And it is not God. We are not pantheists. We believe in God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. We are light-years away from the kind of being that the New Age puts forth, calling all “God.”

There were mornings on the study leave — the cottage was at the bottom of the hill. And about twenty or thirty yards into the woods was this little trailer where I sat most of the days working on a book. And mornings I would walk, and I would just stop about halfway in the woods. And I would look down through the pine trees, which were probably eighty or a hundred years old, to the little four-acre lake that’s down there.

And I would see the sun spangled with its diamonds, dancing across the water. You know how it does on the lake in the morning. And then I would begin to look up. It’s about 9:00am. The sun’s at an angle, just blazing through. And there’s this shield of hickory and oak and sweet gum and maple leaves all swaying in the breeze. And they’re all yellow, green, and gold. And then I looked on up, and there was the big, broad, expansive blue, and the cool morning breeze was hitting me in the face. And all I could do was say, “Glory, glory, glory.” And I didn’t reason it out either. I didn’t lecture myself. It was just there; it’s just there. When you open your eyes to see what God has done, you see glory.

The glory of God is not something that can be transferred merely by words. It is transferred by words in the gospel, by gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, by the Scriptures, and by the skies, but it is only being transferred. The glory of God is always something more than sky. It’s always something more than Scripture. It’s always something more than gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit. The glory of God is tasted by spiritual perception within. It is perceived by the gift of God’s revelation. It is an awesome thing to behold the glory of God in the sky.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.