Daily Light – September 28, 2018

You Won’t Make It Alone

Five Reasons You Need Good Friends

Article by Drew Hunter (Pastor, Zionsville, Indiana)

you-won-t-make-it-alone-kfsk6umm-cd84718fea86a74ba0deb1520038ce4fAs Australian nurse Bronnie Ware cared for the dying, she heard them express five common regrets again and again. So, what is one of the deepest regrets of the dying? Not prioritizing friendship. On our deathbeds, most of us will wish we connected more often, and more deeply, with friends.

We’re experiencing a friendship famine in our day. As individualism increases, social bonds decrease. And we replace flesh-and-blood relationships with digital illusions of the same. Studies show that Americans have fewer and fewer close friends. Many people don’t feel lonely, but when they stop to think about the depth of their relationships, they often realize that they are more isolated than they thought.

I want to plead with you to live the rest of your days rightly valuing this gift of true friendship. But if we’re going to value friendship as we should, we need to know why it’s so valuable. Why is friendship worth all the effort we can give it?

1. You Are Human

Most foundationally, you need friendship because you are inescapably communal. You are made in God’s image, and God is not solitary — he eternally exists as a triune fellowship of love. This is why “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Our triune God made us to reflect him, and one beautiful implication is that we are wired for lives of relational fullness with other people.

God planted the longing for true friendship in our DNA. We won’t be able to live a fully flourishing life without it.

2. Friendship Is the ‘Highest Happiness’

“True friendship is an affectionate bond forged between people as they persevere in the faith with truth and trust.”

Jonathan Edwards reflected deeply and often about true joy. Look at how he connects our happiness and friendship: “The well-being and happiness of society is friendship. ’Tis the highest happiness of all moral agents” (Works, 23:350). Edwards was a deep thinker. He was precise with words. He was a faithful pastor and theologian. When he claims that friendship is our highest happiness, I wonder: Why do we not seem to think or speak about friendship that way?

And Edwards is not alone. See how some of our other Christian heroes thought of this relationship:

Augustine: “In this world two things are essential: life and friendship. Both should be highly prized and we must not undervalue them” (Sermon 299D).

John Newton: “I think to a feeling mind there is no temporal pleasure equal to the pleasure of friendship” (Letters, 331).

C.S. Lewis: “Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life” (Collected Letters, 174).

We have lost something of the joyful wonder of this gift — experienced vertically with God and horizontally with one another. Which means we have a great opportunity to recover our forgotten heritage.

3. You Won’t Make It Alone

God brings us to faith, and he will cause us to persevere in this faith (Philippians 1:6). And he uses means, and one of his primary instruments is his people.

The author of Hebrews calls us to “exhort one another every day” (Hebrews 3:13) and to “encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25). You and I need more than weekly meetings. We need relationships filled with discipleship intentionality. True friendship is an affectionate bond forged between people as they persevere in the faith with truth and trust.

Frodo carried the ring to Mordor, but he never would have made it without Sam.

4. Friendship Halves Your Sorrows

We need companions who sit with us in days of darkness. We need them to embody and remind us of Christ’s heart for sinners and sufferers. One of the greatest gifts we can give one another in depression is our companionship.

J.C. Ryle wrote, “This world is full of sorrow because it is full of sin. It is a dark place. It is a lonely place. It is a disappointing place. The brightest sunbeam in it is a friend. Friendship halves our sorrows and doubles our joys” (“The Best Friend!”). Many of us carry around great pain and sorrow. True companions cut those sorrows in half, often with just their mere presence and the rightly placed words.

5. Friendship Points to the Meaning of the Universe

“The single greatest moment in history, where we see God’s glory shine most brightly, is a cosmic act of friendship.”

Friendship points to the ultimate end of our existence. God doesn’t just forgive us through Christ; he befriends us (John 15:13–15). He saves us to glorify him by enjoying fellowship with him forever. We are headed toward an eternal world of fellowship — with God and with all whom he’s befriended through Christ.

Friendship is also the means to this end, because the cross is the most heroic act of friendship history has ever known. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The cross is the greatest expression of love, and Jesus wants us to understand it as a sacrifice for friends. The single greatest moment in history, where we see God’s glory shine most brightly, is a cosmic act of friendship.

Forging Friendship

Let’s treasure God above friendship, thank God for friendship, and enjoy God through friendship. Admittedly, true friends can be hard to find, and many of us can recall friendships that disappointed or injured us deeply. But these five reasons show why friendship, despite all the mess and pain, is worth more effort than we often give it.

What next steps might you take to cultivate deeper friendships? Identify a few people and plan time to get together, such as a weekly rhythm of coffee or lunch. Reach out to a friend you’ve lost regular contact with. Plunge your conversations below the shallows and into the deeper waters of life. Oxygenate your friendships with affirmation and encouragement.

God helping us, let’s make it to our deathbeds without relational regret.

Daily Light – September 27, 2018

How to Know God Loves You 

(Excerpt from message by John Piper)

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God’s love is not his sparing us suffering and death. His love is mainly his showing us and giving us himself in his glory. God loves us mainly by giving us himself and all that he is for us in Jesus. Jesus loves us mainly by giving us himself and all that God is for us in him.

That’s mainly the way he loves us. He loves us other ways, but mainly everything is moving toward that. You are loved by Jesus when God gives you Jesus and all that God is for you in Jesus. So please, do not measure God’s love for you by how much health, wealth, and comfort he brings into your life. If that were the measure of God’s love, then he hated the apostle Paul.

“God’s love is not his sparing us suffering and death. His love is mainly his showing us and giving us himself in his glory.”

Measure God’s love for you by how much of himself he shows you. Measure the love of God for you by how much of himself he gives you to know and enjoy through it all — and then into everlasting glory in due time. You’ve tasted it, haven’t you? You know what I mean.

Let’s just confirm this because this is huge. I hope you can feel how huge this is. This is huge, so I want you to get this really deep down so you feel loved in the way God means for you to feel love. So let’s confirm it with two passages in John.

Surely someone will say to me rightly, “Well, when I think about the love of God for me, I think about John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’  And to that I say, “Yes, yes, yes.  Me too. All my life long, me too.”

Now let me ask you this: What’s eternal life? What’s this gift that cost him his Son’s life? Let Jesus define it. Do you know where he defines it in John’s Gospel? There’s a crystal clear definition in John 17:3“This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”  Period. That’s eternal life: to know him, to know him forever, to know him with increasing knowledge, and increasing admiration, and increasing wonder, and increasing joy. That’s eternal life.

Eternal life is not eternal golf or anything else. No, it’s eternal him — more and more and more, like a great Alpine range. And you crawl up over the first range after 10,000 years, and there’s another one to climb. And you crawl up over that range of glory after 10,000 years, and there’s another one to climb. And you’re never, ever bored. It’s all him.

Eternal life is God revealed in his glory, satisfying this cavernous longing that’s in your heart that you’re trying to fill up with television or internet or whatever. It’s God. You are amazing creatures — the only ones on the planet made to do this: know him.

In John 14:21, Jesus says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” I love that phrase: “I will love them and manifest myself to them.” That’s what love is. I want you to feel loved by Jesus when he does that for you. You have to have a different view of love than the world.

But we are born again. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are new creatures. We don’t think like the world. To be loved for the Christian is to get more of him. “Go ahead, Jesus. Manifest yourself to me, and I will feel loved.”

“Measure God’s love for you by how much of himself he shows you.”

Oh, how many of us can testify to this reality with thankfulness and joy in the days of suffering, in the days of loss, in the days of darkness. When it seemed that everything around our soul gave way, he showed up. That was what it meant to be loved — not that the suffering went away quick, not that the loss ever went away. Christ came. Christ revealed himself to me.

When I was 28 years old, standing in the bookstore, ready to do the funeral for my mom on the day after Christmas in 1974, Jesus showed up. I wouldn’t trade that moment for her life, and she understood that. I didn’t get her back. I can cry about my mom’s death in thirty seconds. All I have to do is remember a few things, and there it comes. Nobody meant more to me in those days when I was growing up than my mom, and God took her in a bus wreck when I was 28.

But Jesus showed up and manifested things to me about himself I have never outgrown. You’ve tasted it. You know what I’m talking about. And I hope that for those of you who haven’t, God will use this message to awaken the taste.

Daily Light – September 26, 2018

What To Do While You Wait  (article by Scott Hubbard)

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I was awake for only a few forgetful seconds before disappointment crashed in through the door.

The past months had turned into a painful season of relational heartache, and the routine had become familiar. Each night, yesterday’s disappointment would leave for a few sleeping hours, only to return moments after my waking. The day’s hopes, fragile but sincere, were trampled morning after morning.

Each sunrise reminded me of hopes deferred. I often walked into my days with little relish or expectation. The world may have been moving all around me, but I felt stranded on life’s train platform — stuck, stalled, motionless, waiting. Life could begin again if only this wait would end.

In moments like those, I needed a different perspective on my waiting, one that lifted my eyes from all my disappointed hopes, freed me from merely watching the present pass by, and handed me a different agenda for my days. In Psalm 37, David gives four sets of commands to transform how we wait: Don’t fret. Commit your way to the Lord. Do good. Delight yourself in the Lord.

Don’t Fret

Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! (Psalm 37:1)

Before David tells us what we ought to do while we wait, he warns us about what not to do. “Fret not yourself,” he says. In other words, don’t worry about other people — especially other people who are enjoying the gifts we are waiting for.

In the psalm, David is thinking particularly of “evildoers” and “wrongdoers,” people who get ahead in life by casting God’s commands behind their back. But we can apply David’s repeated command to “fret not” (Psalm 37:17–8) to our friends as well as our enemies. God knows where our minds are tempted to run while we wait. We not only daydream about what we wish life were like; we also remember — often with a stab of longing — what life really is like for so many. Waiting eats away at us not only because our lives feel so empty, but also because others’ seem so full.

When we allow our minds to churn away with thoughts about others, we open our hearts to a bitter temptation: envy. Envy’s words sound so justified. “Why did God give her a husband? She hasn’t waited as long as I have.” “Why do they have a child? They haven’t wanted one as much as we have.” “Why did God heal him? He hasn’t prayed as much as I have.”

Envy may gratify us for the moment, but it will soon rot our bones away (Proverbs 14:30). God has better ways for us to spend our waiting.

Commit Your Way to the Lord

Trust in the Lord. . . . Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. (Psalm 37:35)

If we refuse to fix our eyes on others, where will we fix them? On God, who walks alongside us in our waiting.

David’s word for commit comes from the image of rolling something away. Moses uses the same word when he writes, “Jacob came near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth” (Genesis 29:10). And Isaiah tells us that the skies will “roll up like a scroll” (Isaiah 34:4).

When we commit our way to God, we lift all the burdens of our waiting from our frail shoulders and roll them onto our Father. We wake up each morning, feel the dull weight of disappointment settle over us, and then go to our Father in prayer. We set each hope, anxiety, and sorrow before him. We name them specifically. And then, by faith, we roll them upon God: “Father, will you please carry these for me? I know you can. I believe you will. Please help my unbelief.”

And we walk away with this great assurance: “He will act” (Psalm 37:5). He may not give the gift we’re waiting for. But he will shelter us with his presence (Psalm 37:28). He will uphold our fainting souls (Psalm 37:1724). And he will give us the grace to be content with what we have, however little (Psalm 37:16).

In the end, we will see that he has withheld no good thing (Psalm 84:11). Our futures are never safer than when we roll them into God’s hands.

Do Good

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. (Psalm 37:3)

When we make it our daily business to roll every burden onto God, we will find ourselves envying others less, and dreaming more about how to do them good. We will not let our waiting keep us from usefulness, but will instead take whatever comfort we are receiving from God, and begin searching for others who need it.

Gladys Aylward, a twentieth-century English missionary to China, knew how to do good while she waited. Early in her career as a single missionary, she began to desire a husband. Elisabeth Elliot writes, “Being a woman of prayer she prayed — a straightforward request that God would call a man from England, send him straight out to China, and have him propose” (“Virginity”). And then she waited.

Well, the man never came. But in the meantime, Aylward did not sit on the shores of China, waiting for his boat to arrive. She instead gave herself to China’s orphans — teaching, adopting, protecting, and leading many to Jesus. While she waited to become a wife, she became a mother to hundreds of Chinese children.

Regardless of our situation, God has work for us to do in our waiting. We have lonely people to befriend, refugees to welcome, Sunday school classes to teach, and younger believers to disciple. We may still carry the ache of unfulfilled longing with us wherever we go. But with our own futures secure in God’s hands, we can give ourselves to doing good.

Delight Yourself in the Lord

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

Finally, David gives a command that seems to stretch the limits of possibility. When you walk through a season of painful waiting, don’t merely roll your burdens into God’s hands, and don’t merely do good to others. Also brim with delight in God.

Waiting, agonizing as it often feels, can remind us where true delight comes from. In Deuteronomy 8, as Moses looks back on the Israelites’ forty-year wait to enter the Promised Land, he says,  “He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)

God withheld normal bread from the Israelites so that they might know that life does not come from bread. Life comes from God, our only source of lasting delight. Similarly with us, God often sends us into the wilderness of waiting to show us again where our life comes from. Life does not come from marriage. Life does not come from health. Life does not come from a good job. Life comes from Christ.

Waiting forces us to answer the question, “Where is your chief delight?” If our chief delight is in whatever we see at the end of our wait, then this wilderness will begin to feel like a death trap. But if our chief delight is in God himself, then we will find that he knows how to make rivers flow in the desert. And we will learn how to wait well.

Daily Light – September 21, 2018

Should I Ever Take an Action That I Don’t ‘Have Peace’ About?

(interview with John Piper)

pondering

We get loads of email questions about decision making, like this question today from a longtime listener to the podcast named Zach. “Pastor John, please help. Should there always be a peace and calm about decisions before we make those decisions with confidence?”

Lacking Peace

I’m not sure Zach is asking this exactly the way he wants to. Not to read Zach’s mind — I know I could be misunderstanding him. But it sounds like he wants to know whether he can choose “with confidence” that something is right to do if he doesn’t have peace and calm before he chooses.

“We should have perfect peace all the time, and we don’t. But we should fight for it, pray for it, aspire to it.”

But acting with confidence, by its very nature, seems to imply the conscience is clear. That’s how you have this confidence. There is a kind of peace if you’re acting with confidence. The way he puts the question seems already to contain the answer. You can only act with confidence if your action is untroubled by doubt and guilt. That’s what “with confidence” means.

But I won’t be too picky, because I don’t think that’s what Zach is really asking. I think what he means is, and this is a harder question, should you choose an action if there is a lack of peace? What should you do if there is a lack of calm in your heart about the decision?

I think that’s what he’s asking, and that’s a good question.

God-Given Peace

My guess is that behind that question are a couple passages of Scripture that he has been taught or read over the years:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7).

If we put those two texts from Colossians and Philippians together, then it seems like the “peace of Christ,” or the “peace of God” should function in our minds and hearts and hold sway there. It should protect and guard the mind and the heart from forces that would ruin the ability of the mind and the heart to trust God and to think rightly about his character and his will.

Zach is right to connect the peace that Christ gives to his followers and the decisions that we have to make. There’s a connection. So the question remains, and it now it has some biblical support behind it to make it all the more crucial: Should we act on an action if there is a lack of peace or a lack of calm in our heart about the decision?  Let me make just several observations to point to an answer.

Obeying Without Peace

First, what Paul does not say in those two texts is that peace and calm are the only factors in determining what one ought to do.

“Peace and calm are not the only factors in determining what one ought to do.”  The point of peace ruling in the heart is not to help you decide whether to obey explicit commands of the apostle. For example, when Paul says in Romans 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them,” he does not mean that this command is optional when you happen not to have peace about it.

The explicit commands of Scripture are to be obeyed. Yes, ideally with a heart of great peace and great calm. But in the absence of that peace, we should confess our sinful anxiety and obey anyway. So that’s the first observation.

Peace and the Conscience

Second, when it comes to choices that are not explicitly commanded or prohibited in Scripture but depend on wisdom in the situation, the state of our hearts and our minds — the presence or absence of peace and calm — does matter. For example, Paul said in Romans 14:23, “Whatever does not proceed from faith” — whatever behavior does not proceed from faith — “is sin.”

Now, I think that means that if you act against your conscience, even if what you do is not objectively wrong, it is sin for you to do it.

Insofar as peace and calm are missing as a fruit of faith, when you have doubts about a decision, then going ahead with the decision is sin. Let me just throw out a recommendation here for a book by Andrew Naselli and J.D. Crowely called Conscience. It tackles this topic.

Peace in Danger

Third, remember that our peace and calm can be disturbed as we make a decision. Our peace can be disturbed not only by whether the decision is right or wrong, but our peace and calm can be disturbed by whether the decision will be costly or not.  “Lack of peace over possible danger and lack of peace over possible sinning are not the same.”

If you’re about to make a decision to do something good for somebody, and you’re conscience is not disturbed that it might be wrong, but your heart is disturbed that it might be painful, do it. Lack of peace over possible danger and lack of peace over possible sinning are not the same.

Longing for Peace

Finally, it is always right to be free from anxiety, if you can be. You should be. We are commanded not to be anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6). We will not arrive at this perfect state in this life. That’s my view of sanctification.

We should have perfect peace all the time, and we don’t. But we should fight for it, pray for it, aspire to it. It should be something we lay hold on, if we can, by faith. In fact, the closer we come to peaceful, cheerful, loving acts — even in the face of loss and pain — the more clearly the light of Christ’s worth will shine through us.

 

Daily Light – September 20, 2018

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I Will Mediate On ‘You’ In The Morning    (article by Marshall Segal)

When I have lost passion or devotion in my time alone with God, I have simply lost sight of him. I’m still reading and praying, but I’m not seeing him, not as clearly. A fog has blown in slowly over days or weeks, covering his beauty from the eyes of my heart, numbing me to my need for him, and depriving me of a deeper and stronger happiness in him.

Maybe you’ve known the fog. King David did. And he longed for what he would see, and feel, when the clouds finally parted:

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night
.
 (Psalm 63:5–6)

David teaches us to cut through the fog with meditation. And not just meditation on words, but on God himself — “I remember you upon my bed . . . and meditate on you.” Meditation means to linger longer over God in Scripture for the sake of our hearts.

“When we meditate on the words of God, we meditate on God himself.”

When we steep our souls in the exodus, the Levitical laws, the Psalms, the Minor Prophets, the Gospels, the early church, and Paul’s letters, we are meditating not merely on words on a page but on God. He reveals himself through words. We are seeing him in radiant glory, hearing from him in infinite wisdom, tasting him in his unique ability to satisfy the human soul.

We do not wake up early simply to study God or to exercise discipline. We wake up early to meet God. “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate” (Psalm 145:5). When we sit down to meditate — early in the morning, in the middle of the afternoon, during the watches of the night — we can expect glory, splendor, and majesty. We can expect God.

More Important Than Sleep

The watches of the night were stretches when a guard or lookout was posted to watch for enemies. Safety was more important than sleep, so someone went without to keep the rest of the city safe.

Many Christians, especially in the West, are not left wondering if someone will break in to kill us overnight, but something is still more important than sleep. The psalmist says,

I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I hope in your words.
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night,
that I may meditate on your promise. 
(
Psalm 119:147–148)

As precious as rest is, he knew that meditation was even more satisfying. He would gladly forgo sleep to get a little more of God.

If we consistently skip time with God in his word and prayer because we love sleep, our hearts have fallen out of sync. Sleep is important (Psalm 127:2). But it is not most important. Food is important (1 Timothy 4:46:8). But it is not most important. Marriage and family are important (Proverbs 18:22Psalm 127:3). But they are not most important. Communion with God — knowing and enjoying him in actual unhurried moments meditating on and praying to him — is more important than anything else we do, no matter how urgent everything else feels.

If God keeps us up late at night, or wakes us before the sun comes up, it may be because something is more important than sleep. He knows when we need to rest, and he knows when we need to meditate and pray. He may graciously open our eyes long before the alarm goes off, to give us another glimpse of his majesty to enjoy or to open his ears wide to the burdens we brought to bed.

We might assume we’re awake because of stress, indigestion, or some other imbalance, but it may simply be grace. God may be beckoning us from bed to something more nourishing and satisfying than sleep.

With Focused Affection

However, meditation will not feel like grace if we’ve lost the ability to focus. For the most part, the Internet does not encourage extended meditation. Almost every site we visit is ruthlessly wired to keep us clicking, moving, shifting — relentlessly looking for the next thing, and therefore rarely truly focused on whatever is in front of us. Even when God himself is speaking to us.

“Communion with God is more important than anything else we do, no matter how urgent everything else feels.”

Again, the psalmist says, “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways” (Psalm 119:15). When was the last time you gave that kind of attention to anything? When did you fix your eyes on something, and refuse to look away — not for notifications, not for a snack, not for breaking news or sports scores? If all the joy in the Psalms seems unfamiliar or even unattainable in our everyday life, it might be because we have estranged ourselves from meditation — from diligently searching for God. Have we lost our hunger for going hard after him?

Meditation is not just about focused mental attention — reading and thinking without distraction. Passionate desire, not cold compliance, fuels our pursuit of God: “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:48). Meditation is focused, thoughtful, even tenacious affection. Blessed is the man whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1–2).

For Hard and Heavy Mornings

Meditation may seem to require quiet, uninterrupted, predictable mornings — “normal” days — but few of us know what quiet, uninterrupted, predictable mornings feel like. We’re much more acquainted with busy and unpredictable ones. Abnormal is our normal. We make plans, buy journals, set our alarms, and then life happens again. We end up with less time than we thought, or seemingly no time at all. Someone needs us unexpectedly. We begin to understand why David chose the watches of the night, when everyone else was asleep.

Some days, and even seasons of life, will be more conducive than others for ideal meditation, but the Psalms show us that we cannot wait for a conducive time to meditate. In fact, meditation becomes even more valuable when the ideal circumstances for meditation crumble around us. In the midst of trials and opposition, the psalmist says, “Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:23). David was also driven from his home, surrounded by enemies, and confronted with danger, but he would not surrender meditation. In psalm after psalm, when he was forced to leave everything else behind, he did not forsake thinking and praying with focused affection for God.

You Are Not Alone

If you wake up early tomorrow to meditate on God in his word, he wants to meet you there — not just to be understood and admired, but to help you understand and admire him. Paul says to his disciple Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). True meditation is an exercise in killing self-reliance, because the wisdom of God confounds and offends even the wisest human minds apart from grace.

“When you open your Bible, lay down your need to be strong, smart, and independent.”

When you open your Bible, lay down your need to be strong, smart, and independent. Pray with the psalmist, “Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works” (Psalm 119:27). We bring focused affection and prayerful dependence, and he gives the understanding — the comfort and healing for a lingering wound, the breakthrough in fighting sin, the insight for difficult relationships or situations, and most of all, the awe of beholding his beauty again.

When God moves in our meditation, we will say with Robert Murray McCheyne, “Rose early to seek God and found Him whom my soul loveth. Who would not rise early to meet such company?” God is sitting next to us when we read, even within us by his Spirit. When we meditate on God with God, the one our souls love meditates for us and through us, showing us glimpses of himself we never would have seen on our own.

Daily Light – September 19, 2018

You Can Improve Your Relationship With God (article by Tim Chester)

Tim is the pastor of Grace Church Boroughbridge in England and a faculty member of Crosslands Training. His latest book, Enjoying God: Experience the Power and Love of God in Everyday Life, is a 21st-century version of Owen’s Communion with God.

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Can you improve your relationship with God? People are often unsure how to respond. The promises of grace suggest one answer; the experience of life often suggest another. In the confusion, we often do nothing. We stagnate.

But there is a way forward. Can you improve your relationship with God? Yes. Let’s turn for help to the seventeenth-century Puritan John Owen. In his classic book Communion with God, Owen says,  “Our communion with God consists in his communication of himself to us, with our return to him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him.” (Works, Vol. 2, 8–9, modernized)

Note how Owen makes a distinction between “union” and “communion.” In the gospel, through faith, we have union with God in Christ. From start to finish this union is God’s gracious work toward us. But this union leads to communion with God — a genuine, two-way relationship of give-and-take in which our involvement matters.

This provides us with a great incentive and a great assurance:

The great incentive is this: If we respond to the circumstances of our lives with faith, if we resist the lies of temptation, if we make use of the means of grace, then we will have greater joy in Christ — our communion with God will improve.

The great assurance is this: Whenever we sin and fail, we can fall back on divine grace. If we have true union with God, it is not affected by the ebbs and flows of our battle with sin. The union forms the great foundation of our lives.

You Can’t Improve the Union

This simple distinction between union and communion helps us resolve a common problem. When we want to stress God’s grace to us in Christ, we often say that nothing can make our relationship with God stronger or weaker than it is. We cannot make God love us any more than he does already. After all, God first loved us when we were deep in sin (Romans 5:8). He didn’t love us because of any beauty or goodness within us. Can you improve your relationship with God? In this sense — the union sense — the answer must surely be no. For we are loved in the Son (Ephesians 1:4–6), and we cannot be more loved than the Son. God’s love is not contingent on our actions.

One of the tests we sometimes use to check whether a person has really grasped the grace of God is to pose two scenarios.

Scenario One: One day a person has a great morning devotional time in the word. By midday they have shared their faith with three unbelievers. In the evening they go to the church prayer meeting.

Scenario Two: Another day, the same person gets up late and misses their morning devotions. At work they join in ungodly banter and duck opportunities to share their faith along the way. They feel too tired to attend the evening prayer meeting at church, yet manage to summon up the energy to have a blazing argument with their spouse. At night they turn to God in prayer.

Test question: Is God more likely to hear their prayer in scenario one? Is he less likely to receive them and accept them in scenario two?

The correct answer, of course, is, no. For we do not draw near to God in prayer on the basis of our works. We draw near to the throne of grace through the blood of God’s Son. And the blood of Christ does not require our good works in order to work more effectively for us. The person in scenario two has just as much access to God as the person in scenario one. They can come with as much confidence, if they come in Christ’s name.

Can you improve your union with God through Christ? No.

You Can Improve Communion

But we know by experience — and the Bible — that what we do does make a difference in our relationship with God. If I spend devotional time with him in the morning, then I typically find I’m less susceptible to temptation and more aware of God’s presence. It’s not an exact correlation, but there seems to be a cause-and-effect connection. In the same kind of way, I know from experience that when I sin, prayer seems harder, church involvement more of a burden, joy in Christ more remote. The apostle Peter does say that what we do and say can hinder our prayers (1 Peter 3:7). Does what I do affect my relationship with God? The answer seems to be yes.

Owen’s distinction between union and communion makes all the difference. Owen says we do have a genuine two-way relationship with God: He spends much of his book Communion with God explaining ways God relates (or “communicates”) to us and how we respond (or “return”) to him. There is a real giving and receiving. There is loving and being loved. There is delighting and being delighted in. God gives real and specific life, hope, freedom, and forgiveness, and we respond with real faith, love, and worship.

Can you improve your communion-based relationship with God? Yes.

Saved to Enjoy God

Salvation is not just about having our sins forgiven and escaping God’s judgment. God doesn’t simply save us from sin and death; he saves us for something. Owen says Christ’s “great undertaking in his life, death, resurrection, ascension, being a mediator between God and us . . . [is] to bring us an enjoyment of God” (Works, Vol. 2, 78). Our relationship with God is not simply an objective fact. It is also a subjective experience. Faith in Christ brings us into a real, two-way relationship of joy with the triune God.

What we do makes a real difference in our experience of this relationship. We can enjoy the relationship, or neglect it. We can pursue God, or avoid him. We can find joy in God, or look for joy in the empty treasures of this world. Our actions make a difference.

But as Owen helps us understand, our communion with God flows “from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him.” Our union with God was initiated by the Father in election, secured by the Son at Calvary, and is applied by the Spirit in regeneration. It is all of grace. We don’t create this relationship, we can’t improve it, and we can’t break it. It rests on God’s electing love and the finished work of Christ. We are secure in him.

If today you feel far from God, do not despair. Like a swimmer in the waves of the sea, reach down by faith and feel the solid ground of your union with God beneath your feet. It will always be there. And then redouble your efforts to pursue the joy of communion with God.

Daily Light – September 18, 2018

Planned. Purchased. Preserved.     How God Saves and Keeps a Sinner

(Article by by Chris Bruno – Professor, Bethlehem College & Seminary)

“Jesus saves!”

This short declaration gives hope and joy to millions. We sing it, shout it, preach it, and put it on our bumper stickers and T-shirts. And so we should. “Jesus saves!” is a faithful way to summarize the gospel message. As Paul writes in Romans 10:13, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But we don’t see many “The Father saves” bumper stickers, or sing many hymns that declare, “The Holy Spirit saves.” I understand why we don’t emphasize the Father and the Spirit as much when we talk about salvation. The work of Christ is truly the way that we are saved. Apart from his death for our sins, we have no good news.

“Apart from the work of the Father and the Holy Spirit, we have no good news.”

But to be faithful to the whole story of salvation, Christians are eager to say, as well, that apart from the work of the Father and the Holy Spirit, we have no good news. If we separate what Christ accomplishes in salvation from what the Father and the Holy Spirit have done (and are doing), then we will quickly find ourselves on shaky ground.

Plot with Three Persons

The moment we lose sight of the work of the Trinity in our salvation, we are drifting away from the whole Bible’s witness to the glory of our salvation.

For example, the plotline of all four Gospel accounts emphasizes the work of all three divine persons. According to his plan throughout history, the Father sent the Son (Matthew 10:40Luke 10:16John 4:34). The Son proclaimed the good news of the kingdom and purchased our great salvation through his death and resurrection (Mark 10:45Luke 19:10John 19:30). He then ascended to his Father and sent the Holy Spirit to dwell with his people as they take the good news of this salvation to the world (Matthew 28:18–20John 14:1626). Without the work of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, we have no good news.

Throughout church history, faithful Christians have consistently emphasized that each person of the Trinity makes an essential contribution to our salvation. But at times we can lose sight of this reality. And when we de-emphasize divine persons, we lose sight of much of the glory of our redemption.

Planned, Purchased, Preserved

If we are looking for a single passage that explains this great work of salvation by the Father, Son, and Spirit, then we’d be hard pressed to find more Trinitarian depth than Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:3–14. Here we see a vivid and glorious description of our triune God’s great work of salvation.

First, the Father planned our salvation. He chose us before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). He predestined us (Ephesians 1:511). In the mysterious working of the Trinity before creation, God the Father chose to save a people through his Son and to make known this great redemption to the universe (Ephesians 1:9–10). He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11), so we can be confident that this great gospel is rooted in the unspeakable wisdom and plan of God.

“The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have conspired since eternity past to save you from your sins.”

Next, the Son purchased our salvation. Paul says, “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:7). “In Christ” we are saved and blessed with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3–47). Jesus saves. Jesus saves gloriously, fully, and freely. And it is not as if the Son is an unwilling participant in this plan, dragged by the Father against his will to the cross, where he reluctantly shed his blood. Later in this letter, Paul reminds us that Christ loved the church and gave himself up for his church to save and sanctify her, because he nourishes and cherishes her (Ephesians 5:25–29). When the Father planned to save a people, the Son set his affection on those people. So we might say that the Son joyfully purchased our salvation.

Finally, the Spirit preserves our salvation. When we put our trust in Jesus, we are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). If you’ve ever had a wooden deck on your house, you know that without some kind of sealer, the weather will do a number to the wood, and it will eventually begin to rot and deteriorate. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit is our “salvation sealer.” But unlike the deck sealer, we don’t need to reapply the Spirit every three years. Once he has been poured out on us, he is our living guarantee of this great salvation (Ephesians 1:14).

‘Abba! Father!’

When we recognize and enjoy the part each person of the Trinity plays in this great work of salvation, our confidence and joy in God deepens. Paul explains that in the fullness of time, or at the time of God’s choosing, the Father sent his Son to redeem us so that we are adopted as his sons (Galatians 4:4–5). Because we are his sons, he sends the Spirit into our hearts, so that we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6).

As we learn to love and hope in this great work of the Trinity for our salvation, the result will be a childlike trust in God. We can count on him. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit have conspired since eternity past to save you from your sins and adopt you into the glorious family of the Trinity. If you believe in Jesus as your Savior, the triune God, who created and sustains all things by his mighty power, is entirely committed to your salvation and eternal good. What else could produce more confidence, hope, and awestruck joy?

Soli Deo Gloria

“The Father plans it, the Son purchases it, the Spirit preserves it, all to the praise of his glory.”

Much more could be said about the work of each person of the Trinity in the plan of redemption, but when we begin to understand what the Bible is saying about our salvation, we will realize that in this great plan God gives us nothing less than his own self. The Father purposes to adopt us into his family. The Son gives himself for our redemption. The Spirit is poured out to us as a seal and guarantee of our final salvation. In other words, as Fred Sanders puts it, God “does not give us something that makes us blessed, but he blesses us by giving us himself” (The Deep Things of God, 125). This is the great blessing that Paul meditates on in Ephesians 1: God has given us himself.

Not only does the Trinity’s work in salvation give us great hope, but this stunning plan gives God himself great glory. Ephesians 1:3–14 culminates with Paul saying that this plan of redemption is “to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:14). The Father plans it, the Son purchases it, the Spirit preserves it, all to the praise of his glory. What greater wisdom and glory could we see in our great redemption? Soli deo gloria!