Daily Light – February 22, 2019

Your Fight Against Sin is Normal

(article by Brian Hedges, Pastor, Niles, Michigan)

Have you hit the wall in your fight for holiness?

Athletes speak of hitting the wall when they experience extreme exhaustion due to depleted reserves of glycogen in the liver and muscles. Many believers feel similar spiritually. If you find yourself in an ongoing cycle of three steps forward, two steps back; if your prayers, resolutions, and frustrated attempts at mortification still leave you struggling with the same old sins; if you are weary in the race set before you and feel ready to quit, you’ve hit the wall.

Don’t stay discouraged. There is hope for weary saints. Take heart from these truths: the conflict is normal, the battle is winnable, and the war is coming to an end.

The Conflict Is Normal

Soldiers should expect combat in wartime. The passions of the flesh are waging war against your soul, and our adversary the devil is a prowling lion hunting fresh prey (1 Peter 2:115:8). Ongoing conflict with both sin and Satan is the common experience of all believers. As J.C. Ryle wrote in his classic book Holiness, “True Christianity is a struggle, a fight, and a warfare. . . . Where there is grace there will be conflict. The believer is a soldier. There is no holiness without a warfare. Saved souls will always be found to have fought a fight” (53–54).

“Take heart: the conflict is normal, the battle is winnable, and the war is coming to an end. ”This should not surprise us. If you feel alone in your experience, take heart. You’re not. Even the apostle Paul knew the misery of a heart divided between indwelling sin and delight in God’s holy law: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18–19; see the context in Romans 7:14–25).

This reality is not an excuse for laziness, but a summons to sober-minded watchfulness. But it is also a humbling reminder that we’re still waiting for final redemption and need the help of others in the good fight of faith.

The Battles Are Winnable

Though inner conflict is normal, you can win more victories in your daily battles with temptation and indwelling sin.

Listen, beloved in Christ. Yesterday’s failures do not determine the outcome of today’s battle. Look to Jesus, your brother, captain, and King. He has already crushed the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). Your bondage to sin was decisively broken by Jesus at the cross (Romans 6:6). You are joined to the crucified and risen Lord by faith and the Spirit (Galatians 2:20). You were baptized into his death and raised to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). You are no longer a slave to sin. You are not a prisoner of war. You are free. This is decisively and irrevocably true for every born-again believer.

Therefore, “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus,” and do not let sin “reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:11–12). You can win the next skirmish against sin and the flesh, however large or small it proves to be. Your victory over the next temptation is the fruit of his triumph.

Make no mistake: today’s battle does matter. As C.S. Lewis said, “The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible” (Mere Christianity, 132). While we shouldn’t be paralyzed by yesterday’s defeat, we must not make light of present and future obedience.

The War Is Coming to an End

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). That grace includes the gifts of perfect sanctification and final glorification. The day is coming when the fight will be finished, the war will be over, and the agonizing conflict against sin and the flesh will be no more. D-Day has come; V-Day is coming. This “blessed hope” is the fuel that powers the engine of our present pursuit of godliness (Titus 2:12–13).

By taking a brief rest and powering up with carbohydrates, athletes can keep running even after hitting the wall. As believers, we also need to “carb up” for the race set before us, by deep meditation on the glorious realities of the gospel.

“Yesterday’s failures do not determine the outcome of today’s battle.”

No one said it better than the sin-fighting seventeenth-century puritan John Owen: “Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and thou wilt die a conqueror; yea, thou wilt, through the good providence of God, live to see thy lust dead at thy feet” (The Mortification of Sin, 79).

The conflict is normal. The battles are winnable. And one day soon, the war will come to an end.

Brian Hedges (@brianghedges) is lead pastor of Redeemer Church in Niles, Michigan. He is a husband, father of four, and author of several books, including Watchfulness: Recovering a Lost Spiritual Discipline and Hit List: Taking Aim at the Seven Deadly Sin

Daily Light – February 21, 2019

We Murder with Words Unsaid

(article by Greg Morse, staff writer desiringGod.org)

Never since have so few words haunted me.

In the dream, I sat in a balcony before the judgment seat of God. Two magnificent beings dragged the man before the throne. He fell in terror. All shivered as the Almighty pronounced judgment upon him. As the powerful beings took the quaking man away, I saw his face — a face I knew well.

I grew up with this man. We played sports together, went to school together, were friends in this life — yet here he stood, alone in death. He looked at me with indescribable horror. All he could say, as they led him away — in a voice I cannot forget — “You knew?”

The two quivering words held both a question and accusation.

We Know

recent study reports that nearly half of all self-professed Christian millennials believe it’s wrong to share their faith with close friends and family members of different beliefs. On average, these millennials had four close, non-believing loved ones — four eternal souls — that would not hear the gospel from them. What a horror. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (Romans 10:14). Incredibly, the eternity of human souls, under God, depends on the instrumentality of fellow human voices. Voices that increasingly will not speak.

But what about the rest of us? How many people in our lives — if they stood before God tonight — could ask us the same question? We’ve had thousands of conversations with them, spent countless hours in their presence, laughed, smiled, and cried with them, allowed them to call us “friend” — and yet — haven’t come around to risking the relationship on topics like sin, eternity, Christ, and hell.

We know they lie dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1–3). We know that their good deeds toward us cannot save them (Romans 3:20). We know they sit in a cell condemned already (John 3:18). We know they wander down the broad path, and, if not interrupted, will plunge headlong into hell (Matthew 25:46). A place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. A place of outer darkness. A place where the smoke of their anguish will rise forever in the presence of the almighty Lamb (Revelation 14:10–11). “And they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). We know.

We Say Nothing

More than this — much more than this — we know who can save them. We know the only name given among men by which they must be saved (Acts 4:12). We know the only Way, the Truth, the Life (John 14:6). We know the one mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5). We know the Lamb of God who takes away sins. We know the power of the gospel for salvation. We know that our God’s heart delights to save, and takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). We know that Jesus’s atoning death made a way of reconciliation, that he can righteously forgive the vilest. We know he sends his Spirit to give new life, new joy, new purpose. We know the meaning of life is reconciliation to God. We know.

But why, then, do we merely smile and wave at them — loved ones, family, friends, co-workers, and strangers — as they prepare to stand unshielded before God’s fury? What do we say of their danger, of their God, or of their opportunity to become his children as they float lifelessly down the river towards judgment? Too often, we say nothing.

How Christians Murder Souls

I awoke from that dream, as Scrooge did in A Christmas Carol, realizing I had more time. I could warn my friend (and others) and tell him about Christ crucified. I could shun that diplomacy that struck so little resemblance to Jesus or his apostles or saints throughout history who, as far as they could help it, refused to hear, “You knew?” I could cease assisting Satan for fear of human shade. My friend needs not slip quietly into judgment.

And my silence needs not help dig his grave. I could avoid some of the culpability that Spurgeon spoke of when he called a minister’s unwillingness to tell the whole truth “soul murder.”

Ho, ho, sir surgeon, you are too delicate to tell the man he is ill! You hope to heal the sick without their knowing it. You therefore flatter them. And what happens? They laugh at you. They dance upon their own graves and at last they die. Your delicacy is cruelty; your flatteries are poisons; you are a murderer. Shall we keep men in a fool’s paradise? Shall we lull them into soft slumber from which they will awake in hell? Are we to become helpers of their damnation by our smooth speeches? In the name of God, we will not.

God said as much to Ezekiel. “If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezekiel 3:18). Paul, the mighty apostle of justification by faith alone, spoke to the same culpability of silence: “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26–27).

Am I an Accomplice?

We warn people in order to save their lives. Paul did not allow his beautiful feet to be betrayed by a timid tongue. He “alarmed” men as he “reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25). The fear of people-pleasing did not control him — lest he disqualify himself from being a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).

Now today we are not first-covenant prophets, or new-covenant apostles. Many of us are not even pastors and teachers who “will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). But does this mean that the rest of us will not be judged by any strictness? Do not our pastors and teachers train us “for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11–12)? Should I appease my own conscience by merely inviting others to church, hoping that someday they might cave in and come and there hear the gospel?

My pastor did not grow up with my people, live next door, text them frequently, watch football games with them, and sit with them in their homes. But I did. And as much as some of us may throw stones at “seeker-driven” churches, the question comes uncomfortably full circle: Do I shrink back from saying the hard truth in order to win souls? Is my delicacy cruelty? My flatteries poison? Am I an accomplice in the murder of souls?

If Not You, Then Who?

Recently, a family we care about nearly died. They went to bed not knowing that carbon monoxide would begin to fill the home. They would have fallen asleep on earth and awoke before God had not an unpleasant sound with an unpleasant message startled them. We, like the carbon detector, cannot stay silent and let lost souls slumber into hell. If they endure in unbelief, let them shake their fists at us, pull pillows over their ears, roll over, turn their back to us, and wake before the throne.

If we have been unfaithful — where our sin of people-pleasing and indifference abound — grace may abound all the more. Repent, rise, and sin no more. Mount your courage and ride like Paul Revere through your sphere to tell them that God is coming. When the time comes to speak, tell them they stand under righteous judgment. Tell them they must repent and believe. Tell them that Jesus already came once. Tell them he bore God’s wrath for sinners. Tell them he rose from the dead. Tell them he reigns over the nations at the Father’s right hand. Tell them that, by faith, they may live. Tell them that they can become children of God.

If we, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his people left here after conversion to proclaim his excellencies (1 Peter 2:9) will not wake them from their fatal dream, who will? God, save us from hearing those agonizing words, “You knew?”

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

Daily Light – February 20, 2019

How Every Father Can Bless His Home

(message excerpt by John Piper)

There are spiritual dangers, brothers, coming at our families from every side today — innumerable and subtle. We need valiant warriors as never before — not with spears and shields, but with biblical discernment and courage.

1. Pray for your wife and children every day without fail.

Pray for them over and over again during the day. Over and over and over, protect them. Protect them. Lead them in paths of righteousness. Don’t let them go into temptation. Guard their lives. Make their marriages work. Make their children strong. Protect them, O my God.

That’s your job: to call down from God, hour by hour, blessing on this family. That’s what headship means: to pray for them.

2. Set standards for your home.

Work them through with your wife. And primary responsibility means talk to her about it. She’s probably got some better ideas than you. But your taking initiative to talk is what she so longs for. Women are not eager to be dominated; they’re eager for their husbands to take initiative to make things happen in the moral sphere of their marriage. “Would you please help me set some standards for these kids, and then help me carry this through?” She shouldn’t have to say that.

She wants you to step up and do it together. Take some initiative. You have to figure out what this kid’s going to watch on TV. You have to figure out what movies they’re going to go to. You have to figure out what music is coming into this house, and you have to figure out how low that neckline is going. And that’s mainly your job, Dad.

On the modesty issue, I’m fully aware that it is mainly a mom and daughter who work that out from age 2 months to 22. And what kind of bathing suit you put on a 2 year old will make a difference in her view of modesty later. It will. However, Dad, they desperately need your input on this. They need you to celebrate when they get it right and look beautiful and modest. And they need you to say, “You’re not going out of the house with that on. Over my dead body.” We have fathers that are simply fearful of their daughters at this point.

Now guys, you know what I mean when I say you know what immodesty is saying, and these little girls don’t know. Now you little girls that are here, ask your daddy, because I promise you, you’re wired like a woman. You do not get it. You might read enough to get it, but guys are wired to get it, see it, feel it.

There is a way to dress that is not helpful in the culture, and there’s a way to dress that is so helpful, and Christian women ought not to think, “Get out of my life. I’ll wear what I want.” That’s not a Christian mentality. A Christian mentality is, How can I bless the world? How can I maximize my life for good in the world?

And dads, you’re a key here, positively and in terms of warning. Sometimes it means what they don’t think it means. Where are they going to find out? Their boyfriend? No, they find out from Dad. That’s where they find out what this means.

3. Always initiate reconciliation.

The Bible is very clear about one of the most dangerous intruders spiritually in a family. Let me read it to you from 

Ephesians 4:26–27:

Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

How is the devil allowed into a teenager’s bedroom? How is the devil allowed at night into a married couple’s bedroom? Answer: when they go to bed angry. If you go to bed angry night after night after night, and that kid is seething at you in there, and no steps at reconciliation have happened, the door is thrown open wide, and the devil can wreak havoc over weeks, months, and years. It will destroy a soul, a marriage, and a family.

So, what are you going to do? I’ll tell you, dads, this is where headship is so hard that no woman would ever want it. This is the hardest thing in the world. Headship means you must initiate reconciliation — no matter how many times it’s been her fault or the kids’ fault. You have not the luxury as head to say, “She did it, and if she doesn’t say she’s sorry, I’m hitting the pillow.”

No way. Justice might say, “Yes, that’s the right way to act.” But let me ask you this: Is that the way Jesus treated his bride? How many times has he come back to her — back to you? How many times has he come back to you and back to you, saying, “Here I am, ready to make up”? A thousand times. Seventy times seven times seven times seven he has come back to you when it’s your fault and not his. And he took the initiative to make it right. He died to make it right.

Will we as husbands just say, “It’s her turn”? Yes, we will without the Holy Spirit. This is impossible without Christ. You don’t want to be heads, women, because I’m holding the men accountable that his family does not go to bed angry at night. You knock on that teenager’s door. Oh, this can be sweet, brothers. This is as hard as it gets.

You knock on that door and any little increment of fault that you bear over against his many faults, you confess it. Not many things will break a teenager, but that might: to walk in and say, “Son, my reaction to what you did was over the top. What you did was wrong. That’s not the issue here. But my reaction to it was over the top. I’d like to apologize and say it wasn’t in love. I just got out of control, and I’m sorry, and I’d like you to forgive me.”

You talk about sweet sleep. You talk about healing balms in the mind and the soul, dads. Now, I’m not naïve. I’ve been married for 38 years. There are attempts at peace that don’t work. But you’ve got to try.

Noël and I have knelt beside each other and we have hardly been able to pray. We just kneel there in silence. Who’s going to pray first? Neither of us feel like praying. We’re so upset, and these hinder your prayers big time, and you can just eke out, “God help us. I want it to be better.”

That’s your job, Dad. It’s the hardest thing in the world. Keep the devil out of the bedroom and out of the kids’ rooms by not letting the sun go down on your anger, inasmuch as it lies within you.

Daily Light – February 18, 2019

Is Jesus God?

(An article from “Going Farther’ website, PeaceWithGod.net)

Some say Jesus Christ was just a man, or maybe a great teacher. But He was and is much more than that. The Bible says Jesus is unique in both His person and His purpose. He wasn’t just some spiritual individual during His time on earth; He was both God’s Son (John 3:16) and God Himself—God in human flesh (I Timothy 3:16). Yes, He was fully man, but He was also fully God (Colossians 2:9).

The claims

Jesus claimed to be God.  It might be hard to understand how this could be true, but it’s important to remember that God is much bigger and more powerful than we can comprehend. We do know that Jesus said He existed before Abraham (John 8:58). He claimed that He and His Father are one (John 10:30), and that He is equal with the Father (John 5:17-18).

Not only did He claim to be God, but He also claimed to have the power of God. He said He has the authority to judge the nations (Matthew 25:31-46). He claims the authority to raise people from the dead (John 5:25-29) and to forgive sins (Mark 2:5-7)—things only God can do (I Samuel 2:6Isaiah 43:25).

Further, Jesus says He has the power to answer prayers (John 14:13-14), and that He will be with His followers always (Matthew 28:20). The New Testament equates Jesus to the creator of the universe (John 1:3), and in John 16:15, He says, “All that belongs to the Father is mine.”

But where’s the proof?

Claiming to be something, as Jesus claimed to be God, doesn’t make it true. Where’s the evidence that He is God?

Jesus’ identity isn’t based solely on what He says, but on what He does. And He has left a lot of evidence that He is God. That evidence includes fulfilled prophecy and recorded miracles in which Jesus reversed the laws of nature. He also lived a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15), something no one else has done.

The ultimate proof of His divinity, however, was His resurrection from the dead after His death on the cross. No one else has ever risen from the dead on his own.

Did Jesus ever say, ‘I am God’?

If someone said to you, “I am God,” would you believe him? Many people who believe in one God would think the person is blaspheming. Even if Jesus said the exact words, “I am God,” many people would not have believed Him or even heard what He had to say. Yet, He did give us reasons to believe such a claim without using these words.

In Luke 4:8, Jesus says, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’” He said and showed many times that He is the Lord. Jesus says, for example, that He is “the first and the last” (Revelation 1:17, 22:13), which God the Father says in Isaiah 44:6.

But maybe you’re looking for a place in the Bible where Jesus says, “I am God; worship me” in those exact words. If we suggest that Jesus could only claim to be God by saying that one sentence, we might also ask where He says, “I am a great teacher, but not God,” or, “I am just a prophet; don’t worship me.” The Bible doesn’t say that, either.

The good news is that Jesus told us He is God in many different ways! He has made it clear that He and God the Father are one (John 10:30), and says in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Who else could claim these things except God?

Does that mean there are multiple gods?

Believing Jesus is God doesn’t mean there are multiple gods. Followers of Jesus believe in one God in three persons.

As Billy Graham once explained, “God has shown Himself to us in three ways—as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each has a separate function—and yet they are all united as one God.

“Let me illustrate it this way. Have you ever thought of some of the things we see around us that are both three—and yet also one? Centuries ago, St. Patrick used a clover leaf to teach the Irish about this—it has three leaves, and yet is still only one leaf. Or think of water. A quart of water can be ice, water, or steam—but it’s still the same quart of water.”

How can Jesus be God if He is God’s Son?

If Jesus is God’s Son, does that mean God had a wife?

God has never had a wife. Calling Jesus God’s Son is an expression of His role in relation to God the Father. Unlike us, Jesus was not conceived by two earthly parents; He was born of a virgin through a miraculous work of God. He was born holy, without sin.

Being born of a virgin might seem impossible—even Jesus’ mother, Mary, asked, “How will this be? (Luke 1:34)—yet God is all-powerful and made a way for the holy Jesus to be born a human. In Matthew 1:20, an angel tells Mary’s fiancé, Joseph, that what is conceived in Mary “is from the Holy Spirit.” Jesus was not born out of a sexual relationship between God and Mary, but instead out of a miracle by God through the Holy Spirit. Jesus was both fully God and fully human.

It is also significant that the most thorough Gospel account of the virgin birth was written by Luke, a medical doctor. If anyone knew the impossibility of a virgin birth, it was Luke—yet, after careful research, he concluded that it was a fact. The God who was powerful enough to create the universe was also powerful enough to bring Jesus into the world without a human father. His miraculous birth is just one more testament to His deity.

Why should we care who Jesus is?

There is one way to heaven, one way to be free from your sin and to have a relationship with God. That’s through Jesus Christ. Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” To have eternal life in heaven, you must put your trust in Jesus. Here’s why:

We all sin, meaning we all fall short of God’s perfect standard. The consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23). That means eternal separation from God. But because Jesus lived a sinless life, His death on the cross provided the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Because He defeated death by rising again, we can have eternal life in the presence of God when we put our trust in Him.

Hundreds of people saw and believed in the risen Christ after His death and resurrection, and countless people in the past 2,000 years have discovered that only Jesus can meet the deepest longings and needs of the human heart. In Jesus Christ alone “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

Can we trust what the Bible says about Him?

The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is God, and there are many reasons we can trust the Bible. (Find “Is the Bible true?” under the Common Questions section for five of them.)

Not only do we have many reasons to believe that the text of the Bible is true, but many will find that reading the Bible allows God to speak to them—perhaps not audibly, but through His words.

While there are different translations of the Bible, the same core message is the same—that God loves us and freely offers us eternal life if we accept Jesus as our Savior. Different translations exist in an effort to make the Bible understandable to various audiences; however, the major doctrines—and the person of Jesus Christ—remain the same.

If you’re curious about Jesus or what the Bible says about Him, read the book of John in the Bible. It’s a great place to start.

Daily Light – February 15, 2019

Friends:  I send you this belated Valentine’s Day gift…in this article by Ann Voskamp  (thanks to Jenifer)

Dear Us: Why We Can Give Up on a “Happy Marriage”: 3 Secrets to Grow Something Far Better

Dear Us:

So — where along the line did we give up on trying to have a happy marriage?

I guess it was when you and I looked long into each other’s eyes and realized:

Marriage isn’t about staying happy — marriage is about staying growing.

So maybe — tossing that whole sham of always-happiness was good riddance?

Happiness-centered marriages implode —because that shifting centre won’t hold.

But I’d written down what my therapist said and we keep talking about it over the early caffeine:

Any ecosystem that remains always the same, never changes — is stagnant. Is dying.If a relationship isn’t changing, growing — it’s dying.

The bottom line is: Pursuing an unchangeable state of happiness will lead you to a stagnant state of despair.

There’s no such thing as unchanging happiness — happiness comes and goes like passing weather fronts — and the only thing that is unchanging is change itself.

Health means always growing — which means always changing. And nothing changes — unless what is — is broken out of.

Healthy relationships have a healthy relationship with breaking and changing, with dyings and risings — with the status quo shell breakings — and steadily new emergings.

You and I, we can trace the break lines — and I can still feel the pain stitched together with thanks:

The suffering of a breaking seed — is what grows growth.

Haven’t we known the pain and the truth of just that? Crushing suffering breaks open a seed of growth.

The two become one not to become settled, but to become stronger — to persevere and suffer and grow a new life together.

I have found you and we can testify: Marriage isn’t a playground.

Marriage is a field — where the hard places are broken up by suffering, and the dry places are softened by a rain of tears, and what dies falls into the shattered, surrendered earth — and there is patient nourishing and cultivating and praying in the long waiting — until the field yields.

Marriage is a field — and we are here to be yielded ground broken open — until this field yields.

So this is what we’ve done, in our giving up being happily married — to be honestly growing-in-grace in our marriage:

1. Cupping Each Other. Daily.

You know, we could have gotten bogged down in all the life-logistics — the kids and the bills and the car-pooling that can drown — we could have very well let the pace of things dupe us into staying in the shallows.

But there’s this rhythm that you’ve stumbled into, that we’ve found that lets us keep finding each other, keep holding each other, keep letting go to let their be growth.

You find a steaming cup of warm — and you come find me — bring me my own cup — and it’s our rhythm:

Drink a cup of warm together and cup each other — no logistical shallows allowed —— only the deep end of fears and dreams and pain and hopes. “What are you afraid of? What are you hoping for? Where are you hurting? How are you dreaming?”

Drink and cup each other in the deep end of bare vulnerability. At least once a day — an early morning or late night cupping.

You drinking me in — my heartbreaks, my hopes, my disappointments and my dreams — has quenched my thirst to be known, for a deeper intimacy.

2. Connection Cues. Constantly.

And how long had I missed it?

You telling me about mileage on the pickup, or about what came in the mail, or what the weather looks on the radar,  — isn’t something for me to shrug or dismiss — it’s a beckoning, an invitation, a Connection Cue.

Me asking if these jeans fit right, or what to think of the thesis of this book, or when works for the next doctor’s appointments for the kids  — isn’t something for you throw me a passing glance and an apathetic nod — it’s a call to come closer, a Connection Cue.

In every conversation, every line — is a Connection Cue. A cue to come closer, a cue to attend, a cue to bond deeper, to attach more intimately.

I wish I had known sooner — and we are learning:

Attend to every Connection Cue wholeheartedly — or you end up with a broken heart.

The rich relationships are the ones that pay attention.

If you want relational healthiness, practice attentiveness.

You are the story I want to read again every night, the story I never tire of hearing again and again, and you have loved me, day after faithful day, line after line, back to hope, and ours is the story that I never want to end.

3. Care-full. Always.

You know what you’ve done? What we are doing? In a world full of cares — we are care-full with each other.

I see how you do it in a thousand everyday ways, how we are growing: Full of care for each other’s needs, full of care for each other’s challenges, full of care for each other’s hardest and most fragile places. We are care-full with our asks — and each other’s asks. We are care-full with our words, care-full with our support, care-full with our presence.

The way you have covered my brokenness with tenderness, the way you have known my rawest shames, and have bound them up, instead of lauding them over me. A thousand times you could have said things that destroyed me — but you’ve chosen to be care-full with me, grow me, heal me, strengthen me, because you: only speak words that make souls stronger.

(And things you have said in hard moments that have haunted me? We have revisited and kept revisiting— until that ghost has finally given up the ghost.)

Care-full relationships know hearts are actually fragile — and relationship can painfully break.

Being care-full with another’s heart — is believing they have a soft heart — and not a hard heart of stone. Soft hearts — break. Soft hearts require that we be care-full.

Being care-full with each other — is how we care for each other.

Your grace is my oxygen and your kindness is my healing and I’d shrivel up and die without your love.

I smiled over at you this morning. Why want a happy marriage when you could have a growing-in-grace marriage?

And this is who we are growing into:

We are cultivating a growing marriage by:

Cupping each other. Daily.

Connecting to Cues. Constantly.

Care-full. Always.

It’s true — I have just about broke us.

But when I watch you last week, bent over that snapped fine gold chain of mine, wielding a pair of pliars, trying with those huge Dutch hands of yours to repair my broken necklace with that pendant engraved with “Beloved” — I realize:

The way we stay each other’s beloved forever — is to keep breaking, changing, and growing together.

And I brim and blur, watching you trying to repair my strand of broken belovedness, and I keep telling you, still with your winter work coat on, that you don’t have time for this, that you have more important things to do than trying to find and fix the busted links — but you look up at me:

“I’ll take as long as it takes — to fix and change whatever I have to — so you get to wear — your Belovedness.”

And I read your eyes reading mine.

Read your eyes searching mine, saying more, saying all the things that don’t need to be said again — and neither of us move but the space between us evaporates, and there is a closeness, a belovedness, that says everything:

We get to be the person who does this for the other, who get to cup each other’s vulnerability, who get to read all the connection cues, who get to be the care-full, who care enough to cultivate and grow love large.

When you hand me the necklace, broken and repaired, I nod, your eyes holding mine.

The real romantics are always the boring ones — who let another heart bore a hole deep into theirs.

You nod slowly:  Real love is making whole decades of every moment tell the whole truth about the whole growing-in-grace gospel. 

And in that moment, your eyes smiling into mine, I could feel it all over again:

How marriage is two people who keep reaching and stretching and unfurling and growing in a thousand little ways, grace growing us into the deepest joy that lasts forever.

Ann Voskamp is the author of the New York Times Best Sellers: The Broken WayOne Thousand GiftsThe Greatest Gift & Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

Daily Light – February 14, 2019

Today’s Daily Light 

The ‘I AM’s’ of Jesus

(The following is a sermon Billy Graham preached at Pure Heart Church, in Shanghai, China, April 24, 1988.)

The mighty God of the universe calls Himself I AM. In Exodus 3:14, the Bible says, “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM” (KJV). Moses had said, “When I go down to Egypt and the people ask me who sent me, what shall I tell them” (Cf. Exodus 3:13). God said, “You tell them that I AM sent you.”

Jesus completed the statement that was given to Moses. Seven times in the Gospel of John He uses the expression, “I am.” First He said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger” (John 6:35).

In China I know you have a lot of rice, but you also have bread. Without bread or rice, a meal would not seem like a meal. Jesus fed the physically hungry. But Jesus’ greatest concern was for people with spiritual hunger.

A doctor in America said some time ago that more people die of loneliness and guilt and depression and insecurity and heart hunger than die of physical starvation. Bread in the Bible is the symbol of spiritual life. People all over the world are the same; they have an inborn hunger for something, and that something is Christ. People cannot be satisfied with anything less than Christ. Jesus said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven” (Cf. John 6:33). “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51).

How do you receive this living bread? In America in years past, we had a terrible disease called polio. It left people crippled for life. Many people died from it. Then a vaccine was discovered, and polio was almost wiped out. When I took a vaccination for polio, they gave me a little white wafer. They put a little bit of medicine on it, and I ate it and swallowed it. That was the vaccination. It seemed so simple, such a painless act.

To receive Christ into your heart seems so simple. You just open your heart and say, “Lord Jesus, come in. I’m willing to turn from my sins and receive You as my Lord and Savior.” Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger” (John 6:35). This bread satisfies the inner longings and hungers of the human heart. Have you taken of that bread? You must repent of your sins, change your mind, turn your back on sin and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

Second, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). Scientists say they do not know what light is. We know the effects of the sun, but we don’t exactly know all about it. We know that no plant or animal or human life on this earth can live without light.

God put the sun a precise distance from the earth. If the sun were a few kilometers closer to us, we would all be burned up. If it were farther from us, we would freeze to death.

What the sun is to the earth, Jesus Christ is to the human heart. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). As I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve seen the light of thousands of Christian hospitals and Christian educational institutions; I see this light shining across the world, extending our Christian hand of compassion to a needy world. But more than helping the body, I see it coming into the souls of people. You have a body. But the Bible also says you have a soul, a spirit living inside of you. When you die, your body goes to the grave. But the spirit, the real you, lives on forever. Jesus said if you come to Him, you will live with Him.

In America many people are stumbling like blind people, going through life searching for something that they don’t have. Oh, they have money. They have television sets. They may have an automobile. They have all those things, but they’re not happy. Peace is not in their heart. Why? Because they don’t know Christ. Jesus Christ is the One that brings peace in our hearts. He turns His light on in our hearts.

Third, Jesus said, “I am the door” (John 10:9). Every building I’ve ever been in has an entrance somewhere. The Kingdom of God also has an entrance. It is Jesus Christ. Jesus was probably familiar with doors because He was the son of a carpenter. He had probably made many doors. Now, a building may have many doors. But God has only one door to His Kingdom, and that door is Jesus Christ.

Fourth, Jesus said, “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). It was close to the time when He was to die, and He was having a last meal with His disciples. He said some wonderful things to them. He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (John 15:5).

When you receive Christ, He gives you the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit produces fruit in your life. What kind of fruit? Love. He gives you supernatural power to love even people you don’t like. Joy is another fruit. Joy in the midst of all kinds of problems and suffering. There’s peace. You have peace in your heart. And then you have patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control. These are produced by the Holy Spirit. And you can live that kind of life with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Fifth, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Sheep could not exist without a shepherd. The wolves and the wild dogs and the thieves would get them. And they would wander off, because sheep cannot see very far. The Bible says, “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). Man is like sheep. We wander around blind; we get lost. We’re lost from God. We’ve strayed from God.

My family and I live in a mountain log cabin in the southern part of the United States. We have a lawn and a pasture, so we decided we were going to get three sheep to help chew the grass. We put up a fence, hoping they wouldn’t get lost, but sometimes they got out and couldn’t find their way back.

Jesus tells a story of a lost sheep. This farmer had 99 sheep that were safe, but one had wandered away. He was lost. So this shepherd decided that he was going to go after the one lost sheep. After much searching, he found the sheep. And he called all of his friends together, and they rejoiced because he had found the sheep (Luke 15:4-6).

Are you that one lost sheep? Jesus Christ would have died on the cross if no one had been lost but you. God loves you and He’s searching for you.

The shepherd lives with his sheep. He gives them food and protection and security. Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Whatever happens, however sick you may get–you may lose a child, you may lose a father or a mother–Jesus is with you. You’re the sheep; He’s the shepherd. He loves you, and He gave His life for you. When He died on the cross, God took all of our sins and laid them on Him.

Sixth, Jesus said in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He offers us eternal life. One day one of Jesus’ friends died, and Jesus raised him from the dead. He said to Lazarus, “Lazarus, come forth!” And Lazarus came out of the grave (John 11:11-44). This is an example of what Jesus can do for us spiritually. We can become new creatures. Jesus said we can be born again, and we don’t have to enter our mother’s womb to be born again (John 3:3-7). We are born again spiritually. That could happen to you. It could start tonight.

Seventh, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). In John 6:44, He says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” This is how we come to God. The Holy Spirit will use an incident in your life to speak to you. It may be when you’re quietly meditating or thinking. Or it may be when you’re walking down the street with thousands of people. In the midst of all those people God can speak to you. He uses the Holy Spirit to convict people of their need of God. He draws us. He urges us to receive His Son, Jesus Christ, as the fulfillment of our life, the One who can forgive our sins, the One who can give us eternal life. Will you make that commitment?

Daily Light – February 13, 2019

How Soon Will Jesus Return

Living in the Last Days

(article by John Bloom, staff writer, desiringGod.org)

The “last days” began with the first coming of Jesus (Hebrews 1:2). From the time of Jesus’s ascension to the closing of the New Testament canon, the apostles believed Jesus’s return would be “soon” (Acts 1:10–11Revelation 22:20). They lived with their eyes to the skies. And this belief informed the way they instructed the early Christians to live. For example, Paul says,

This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. . . . For the present form of this world is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7:2931)

Now it’s been nearly two thousand years since Paul urgently put quill to papyrus and wrote those Spirit-inspired words. And here we are. The world has not yet passed away — but about a hundred human generations have. A “very short” time has turned out to be much longer than nearly everyone, except the Father, expected (Mark 13:32).

As a result, many of us struggle to feel the urgency Paul felt, and live like he instructed. How do we live in the last days that have lasted so long and may last for generations longer? The Bible addresses this question clearly so all Christians may know how to live without cynicism or apathy in these last days. We need to remember a few important truths.

Remember We Live in God-Time

The first truth to keep in mind is that God marks time differently than we do. Moses wrote, “A thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4). And the apostle Peter wrote, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). It’s only been two God-days since Jesus ascended and Paul wrote.

The better we know our Bibles, the more we grasp that the Ancient of Days’s soon is typically not our soon (Daniel 7:9Revelation 22:7). What seems slow to us is not slow to God. Nothing in the New Testament demands that these last days be fewer than they’ve been.

Yes, many people have said and still say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). Here we are duly warned that Jesus’s return will seem ridiculously delayed — but he is not late.

Remember the Bridegroom’s Delay

Jesus himself warned us of this. First, he listed off some signs he said must take place before he returned:

An accrual of very compelling, powerful false prophets who lead many astray on a scale large enough to be recognized by the church everywhere (Matthew 24:4–51124–28);

A remarkable and frightening amount of natural and national calamities (Matthew 24:7–8);

An unprecedented level of persecution of Christians, along with an imminent threat of global human extinction (Matthew 24:21–22);

And the “gospel of the kingdom [would] be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations” (Matthew 24:14).

Jesus said he would not return until these (and other) conditions are met. Which is why he told the parable of the ten virgins. Jesus described the bridegroom as being “delayed” — so delayed that the wedding attendants “became drowsy” (Matthew 25:5). In other words, Jesus wanted us to expect his coming to take longer than expected.

And it’s important to remember that the Bridegroom “delays” out of unsurpassed love for his bride. Hear his heart: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The Bridegroom will not allow a single person who is part of his Bride to be abandoned. His is a patient, purposeful, passionate procrastination.

Remember Life Is Short

If Jesus does not return during our lifetimes, we’re all going to meet him soon — sooner than we expect. Most of us will find this meeting as surprising as suddenly seeing him in the clouds.

Listen to this sampling of the Bible’s descriptions of our lifespans: “a breath” (Job 7:7); “a few handbreadths” (Psalm 39:5); “grass” that lasts a day (Psalm 90:5–6); “smoke” (Psalm 102:3); “a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:4); “a [vanishing] mist” (James 4:14). We do not know whether our souls will be required of us tonight (Luke 12:20) or whether we will live to see next year (James 4:13–14).

If Jesus’s return is not “very short” to us, our lifespans will be — whether we live to be twenty or ninety. In these last days — the world’s or ours — we need to pray often that God would “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Our days are infected with evil and often consumed with “toil and trouble” (Psalm 90:10); we really need God’s wisdom to spend what brief time we have on what really matters most (Ephesians 5:15–17).

Remember the Fig Leaves

Jesus told another parable to help us to watch the signs of the times with discerning eyes.

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. (Matthew 24:32–33)

We may not know the day or the hour of Jesus’s return, but he expects us to watch for the signs he gave and discern them. He does not intend his coming to be a complete shock to us. He wants us to notice the changing of the leaves:

Have you noticed the proliferation of influential false prophets (not all religious)?

Have you noticed the scale of natural and national calamities over the past 120 years and the rising “fear and . . . foreboding of what is coming on the world” (Luke 21:25–26)?

Have you noticed the increasing levels of global hostility toward Christians as well as the increasing approval of the kinds of depravity Paul said would characterize people living in the last days (2 Timothy 3:1–5)?

Have you noticed the fresh reminders of the existent powers’ ability to eradicate humanity?

Have you noticed the unprecedented, nearly incredible advances of the gospel over the past 290 years — especially the past 120 years? There’s been nothing like the explosive growth of the Christian movement since 1900 in the history of religion — all the more amazing when we consider the ethnic, cultural, and geographical diversity of this growth.

Are you watching the leaves?

Watch, Pray, and Travel Light

“Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44). Jesus meant for his return to feel potentially imminent in each generation, while also helping each generation anticipate his potential delay.

Jesus is coming back when the God-days are full, when the conditions are met, when his bride is ready, and when the summer leaves have reached their peak. It won’t be long before God’s soon is surprisingly soon to us. But even if we meet death before we meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17), we will meet him soon.

Living the last days now is not really any different than it was for the first-generation Christians. We stay ready the same way they were to stay ready:

We watch the signs.

We pray for laborers to be sent into the harvest (Luke 10:2) — and say with Isaiah, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8) — and pray for the Lord to return (Revelation 22:20).

We encourage one another with our hope of resurrection and the Lord’s return (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18).

We travel light. We are exiles and sojourners here. We must not encumber ourselves with unnecessary baggage and treasures here because our real homeland and our real Treasure is up ahead (Matthew 6:19–20). And that’s where we want our hearts to be (Matthew 6:21).

Four thousand years ago, our ancestors in the faith began to live like “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). That was two thousand years before Jesus came and launched the last days. And we who live two thousand years after he came are no less strangers and exiles, because we too “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). And we’re going to be there soon — sooner than we expect.

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.