Daily Light – May 31, 2019

What Christians Care About (Most)?

From a message given by John Piper

I have two sentences that I want to commend to you as biblical and true and loving. My persuasion is that if you embrace these two sentences — if you treasure them and are unashamed of them — they will have three long-term effects on your life.

They will help you be formed decisively by Scripture rather than by culture.

They will help you clarify how Christians are of use to the world while being radically different from the world.

And they will help you keep God supreme in the forefront of your life and hold fast to Christ as absolutely crucial.

Christians Care

Both of the sentences, below, are designed to prick the conscience of one group of Christians and call out the unbelief of another group of Christians, and, I hope, bring clarity and conviction and courage and joy to you. I’ll mention both sentences and then try to show how the Bible points to them.

Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.

Christians care about all injustice, especially injustice against God.

I use the phrase “care about” — care about suffering, care about injustice — because I am not saying that all Christians agree on the best strategies for how to address all suffering and all injustice. We will debate those strategies until Jesus comes.

What I am saying is more basic: Christians care. Suffering and injustice move us. Touch us. Awaken some measure of compassion, or indignation, or both.

“Christians care about all suffering, all injustice. ”

You can see this caring in John 10:13. The hired hand who is not a shepherd “cares nothing for the sheep.” He just wants to get his pay and live his self-absorbed life. He does not care.

Or you can see it again in what John said about Judas when Judas complained about money spent on Jesus’s anointing: He complained about this “waste,” John said, “not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief” (John 12:6).

Christians are not like hired hands, and they are not like hypocritical, religious thieves. Christians care about all suffering, all injustice. We are touched. We are moved. Our hearts lean in toward relief and protection and justice. If we don’t, we are not acting like Christians.

Suffering Stirs Us

Let’s consider these two sentences one at a time.

Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.

Christians care about all suffering. All is intended to prick the conscience of Christians who believe that caring about the suffering of disease, malnutrition, disability, mental illness, injury, abuse, assault, loneliness, rejection, calamity — this caring has to be restricted, because caring about these kinds of suffering might distract from, and diminish, our commitment to the gospel of Christ crucified and risen, and from the greater need of rescuing people from eternal suffering through faith in Jesus.

Go and Do Like Jesus

And the first point of this sentence is to say, No. Christians care about all suffering. Jesus is our model. Over and over in the Gospels it says, Jesus cared, he felt compassion on the harassed crowds (Matthew 9:36), and on the sick (Matthew 14:14), and on the hungry (Matthew 15:32), and on the blind (Matthew 20:34), and on the leper (Mark 1:41), and on the demon-possessed (Mark 9:22), and on the bereaved (Luke 7:13).

And when he told a parable to teach us what he meant by “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27) he said, “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion” (Luke 10:33). He cared. This disposition of the soul to care is included in the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Eternal Suffering

So, Christians care about all suffering. And the sentence ends, especially eternal suffering.

Especially — this is intended to call out the practical unbelief of those Christians who either don’t believe there is such a thing as eternal suffering, or who convince themselves that it is more loving not to warn people about it and not to plead with them to escape it through the provision God himself has made in the cross of Christ. In either case, practically, they don’t care about eternal suffering.

But Jesus did. In Matthew 25 he warned us that it was coming: “Then the King will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ . . . And these [on his left] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:4146).

And Paul shared the same conviction and warned us, “Those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus . . . will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:8–9). And John — the apostle of love — warns with the strongest language of all: “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Revelation 14:11). They really cared about whether people suffer eternally or rejoice eternally.

How Much Hate?

Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) once asked, “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them?” Millions of Christians, including many missionaries, have convinced themselves that they are loving lost people by caring mostly about their suffering in this world, and little about how they will spend eternity.

“Christians do care about all injustice. Because all justice is rooted in God.”

I just read an article about reaching an unreached people group. It began by foregrounding the beneficial earthly effects of missionary work — education, medicine, prosperity, written language — and ended with a focus on earthly human flourishing, with one passing mention of Jesus in the middle.

No God. No wrath. No cross. No salvation. No forgiveness of sins. No faith. No hell. No heaven. No eternal joy with God. Whether the article was accurate or not, this is what was held up as a model of missionary success.

My prayer for you is that you will absolutely reject this either-or: either relieve suffering now or plead with people to escape eternal suffering into eternal joy through the gospel of Christ. I hope you will say No to that soul-destroying dichotomy — and even the prioritizing of temporal well-being over eternal well-being. I hope you will say — and display — for the rest of your life: Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.

Injustice Incites Us

Christians care about all injustice, especially injustice against God.

Christians care about all injustice. All is intended to prick the conscience of Christians who, because of self-indulgence or fear, have dulled the capacities of their hearts to care about the injustices of the world — all the countless ways that people, all over the world, are treated by other people worse than they deserve.

I say this is from “self-indulgence” because I think most indifference to injustice among professing Christians is not owing to convictional partiality or opposition, but rather to the moral stupor that comes over us when we are satiated with the comforts of this world.

But the dulling of our care about injustice also comes from fear of man — fear that some group will put a theological or political label on us that would be misleading and offensive. And so, we convince ourselves that indifference to injustice is a price worth paying to maintain a certain reputation.

Justice Rooted in God

But in fact, Christians do care about all injustice. Because all justice is rooted in God.

“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)

“The King in his might loves justice.” (Psalm 99:4; see also Psalm 33:5)

“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!” (Revelation 15:3)

“Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” (Revelation 16:7)

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until [Jesus] brings justice to victory.” (Matthew 12:20)

And from the justice of our God and Savior flow his commands to us:

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

“By the help of your God . . . hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” (Hosea 12:6)

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

“Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God.” (Luke 11:42)

If we neglect justice, if we do not care about all injustice, we are not acting like Christians. Because Christians care about all injustice.

Injustice Against God

And we care about all injustice, especially injustice against God. Especially — this half of the sentence is intended to call out the practical unbelief of Christians for whom injustices against humans ignite more passion in their hearts and in their mouths than the global tragedy of injustice against God. And it aims to call out the practical unbelief of Christians who are so anesthetized by the comforts and entertainments of this world that they don’t care about injustice against man or God.

“God is infinitely deserving of complete worship and trust and obedience.”

Injustice is to treat someone worse than they deserve from other people. And the more respect they deserve, and the less we render, the greater the injustice. God alone deserves the highest respect and honor and praise and love and fear and devotion and allegiance and obedience. Yet every single human being has fallen short of this worship, and exchanged the glory of God for the creation (Romans 3:231:23).

Therefore, every human is guilty of an injustice that is infinitely worse than all injustices against man put together. God is infinitely deserving of complete worship and trust and obedience. Therefore, in treating God as unworthy of our total allegiance, every human is guilty of an infinite injustice against God.

Denied Justice for Us

This injustice against God came to a climax in the very moment when God himself, in great mercy, and without compromising his justice, came in human flesh to save us from the just penalty of our own injustice against him.

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
   and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
   so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him. (Acts 8:32–33)

And as God embraced infinite injustice against himself, he purchased a people who would prize above all things Christ crucified as the vindication of God’s justice, and the forgiveness of our injustice against him. He embraced injustice against himself to create a brokenhearted, bold people called Christians who would be marked by these two God-centered, Christ-exalting sentences:

Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.

Christians care about all injustice, especially injustice against God.

I pray that you will treasure them and be unashamed of them for the rest of your life.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.

Daily Light – May 30, 2019

The Night That Took My Wife

How Grief Imprisoned Us to Grace

Article by Reid Karr

If I could have known somehow that the Lord would call my wife, Kyra, home to be with him, I would have begged him to take me instead. Our girls were only six, four, and two. What hope did I have of raising them alone? The thought was unthinkable. It simply didn’t make sense.

But, as we know all too well, the Lord’s ways are often not our ways. So, on August 14, 2015, I woke up to a new reality and a new, previously unthinkable world, one which did not include my precious wife to live and walk and parent alongside.

The Day We Lost Kyra

The day prior, Kyra and I were packing up and preparing to return to Rome, Italy, where we had been living, working, and serving the evangelical church for six years. We had been in Georgia visiting family and were excited to get back home, returning to our friends and the work the Lord had called us to.

Since it was our last evening together with family, we went out to dinner and then elsewhere for dessert. While we enjoyed each other’s company, no one could have imagined the events that were about to unfold, how that evening would conclude. No one dared to think that those would be the final words we would exchange with Kyra, at least here on this earth.

The ride home was pensive and quiet. I was driving, Kyra was in the passenger seat, and our two youngest daughters were in car seats behind us. Our oldest daughter rode home with her grandparents. Unbeknownst to us, up ahead on the road we were traveling, a truck driver was checking his cargo and preparing to depart for West Virginia.

Before leaving, he exited his truck to inspect his vehicle. In doing so, he failed to set the parking brake. Immediately the truck began to roll down the ramp that led to the highway where we were traveling.

The timing was such that the fully loaded semi entered the highway the exact moment we were passing the truck ramp and collided with our vehicle. The impact was tremendous. Our vehicle was pushed across the northbound lanes of traffic, the median, and then the southbound lanes of traffic before crashing against the guardrails on the far side of the road. Kyra took the brunt of the impact and was killed immediately.

Our Unexpected New Journey

Passing motorists stopped and helped the best they could by pulling one of our daughters from the car to safety. Her leg was broken and her head cut badly. I and our youngest daughter remained trapped for approximately two hours before rescue workers could free us from the wreckage. Miraculously, we both suffered only minor injuries. Kyra was trapped in the vehicle with us, but I was aware the Lord had taken her.

We were taken to different hospitals, and family slowly began to arrive. Our oldest daughter came to visit me where I had been taken, but was not yet aware of what had happened. I remember, like it was yesterday, having to tell her that Mommy wouldn’t be coming home. I can still see the tears she cried in sadness and confusion.

I was released that evening and traveled to the hospital where our other two daughters had been taken, and passed a long night by their sides. The next several days would be a whirlwind of emotions swept up in planning and attending a funeral and learning to face an utterly different reality. It was also the beginning of a new journey.

Extra Measures of Grace

This new journey would teach me and my family about new measures of God’s amazing grace that we had previously known nothing about.

These extra measures of grace are deeply rooted in the gospel of the Bible. This good news is that those who place their faith in Jesus Christ are forgiven their sins and receive a new life. They are no longer slaves to sin, but are now slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18). This new life in Christ is radically different than the previous one, in which we were enslaved to fear, worry, uncertainty, and sin. Faith in Christ frees the believer and radically transforms his perspective on life. The fear, worry, and uncertainty of the old life is replaced by peace, hope, and the certainty of salvation.

By no means, however, does faith in Christ guarantee a life free of hardship and suffering. It is, in fact, the opposite. Suffering is not an exception for the believer, but the norm. The apostle Paul warns his disciple that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ will experience suffering (2 Timothy 3:12). Trials are to be expected.

The hope of the gospel, however, is that life in Christ frees us from the fear that suffering and trials produce. Whereas sin enslaves us to fear, the gospel frees us from fear and enslaves us to grace. The apostle Peter states clearly, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).

Suffering Imprisons Us to Grace

Loss and suffering, then, imprison us to the grace of God and teach us that apart from him there is no lasting hope and peace. Grace radically transforms our perspective on facing grief and hurt, and teaches us that we can even have joy in our suffering. Through faith in Christ, we are no longer slaves to fear and hopelessness, but slaves to grace — the grace God pours out on us through his Son’s perfect obedience and sacrifice.

Thanks to the extra measures of grace he poured out on me and my family, the unthinkable task of being a single father to three little girls, while living in a foreign country, became possible. Were it not for his abundant grace, I would have remained a slave to fear and hopelessness. Instead, I am a slave to his grace, and I am slowly but continuously being restored, strengthened, and established.

In the days, months, and years since Kyra’s passing, it is God’s grace alone that has given my girls and me (and the rest of our family) the ability to endure the trials placed before us. Because of his amazing grace, we have even had great joy and peace, as the Lord has worked and continues to work through his calling Kyra to be with him.

By God’s grace alone, evidenced through the love and care of the church, the girls and I returned to our lives and ministry in Rome three months after Kyra passed, something I thought would have been impossible. By his grace, we are still here today.

Amazing Grace in Abundance

Having three young daughters to raise, and considering the realities that come along with them growing and getting older, I naturally began to wonder if the Lord would ever provide another wife and helpmate for me. My daughters wondered aloud whether they would ever have another mother in their lives.

We hoped that would be the Lord’s plan, but we knew that his grace was sufficient, and that he would continue to provide for us as he had all along. Dependent on God’s grace was where we landed, and it was (and still is) a good place to be.

Late last year, God’s grace was once again revealed in a very tangible way as the Lord brought my wife, Steppie, into our lives. Once again, we are a family of five, and almost every day someone tells me how happy the girls are since Steppie came into their lives. The difference she has made is evident to all.

With the two simple words “I do,” Steppie became a wife and the mother of three young girls. Like us, she is learning what it means to be a slave to God’s grace, while she lives a life she had never considered or imagined. Dependent on God’s grace, she too is finding great joy and pleasure in this story, despite the challenges her new reality constantly presents.

No Better Place to Be

This story could be written by any number of people who have faced similar and devastating trials. Just this week, news arrived of friends of our family who lost their second daughter in just two years to an illness. Neither of their daughters had yet reached the age of eight. What devastation and heartache!

One might wonder how it is even possible to have hope and peace amidst such brokenness. Thankfully, this family knows Christ as their Savior, and despite the inevitable hurt and pain, God’s grace will be shown to them in ways they never could have imagined.

God will bring extra measures of grace, wave upon wave, that will bring a deep and real hope and peace — hope and peace that only faith in the living Christ can provide. His grace will be sufficient, just as it has been for us. Along with this family and many others, we are slaves to God’s grace, and there is no better place to be.

Reid Karr is a church planter with the International Board in Rome, Italy, and co-pastor of the evangelical church Breccia di Roma. He is also the associate director of the Reformanda Initiativeand a PhD candidate with the Union School of Theology.

Daily Light – May 29, 2019

How Could Heaven Not Have Sex

Taken from an article by Greg Morse, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org

Secret Sigh

I admit that I have scratched my head at Jesus’s teaching, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Luke 20:34–35). In the resurrection, God’s people will be like the angels in heaven — without spouse or sex (Matthew 22:30).

With this man, I too have wondered at this omission. Not because I could not imagine something more satisfying to live for than sex, but because lifelong commitment to a spouse in marriage is also one of the greatest joys to be had in this world. Why would it not endure into the next?

Then I married, and the nagging question increased. The thought of going from oneness with her to a more general relationship with all the saints felt like a move from tailor-made to assembly line; unique to generic. To take my spouse from me and place her in the crowd felt like unweaving a rainbow, separating me from my choicest companion, indeed, from a part of myself. Removing the rib of man a second time.

Sex and Chocolate

I stumbled upon a quote in Lewis that has helped the tension. I was troubled, as Lewis memorably puts it, not because the future reality is wanting, but because my imagination and faith are weak. He writes,

I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer “No,” he might regard [the] absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in heaven, will leave no room for it.

Those of us who know (or at least can imagine) marital bliss and sexual pleasure may be tempted to think heaven the duller for excluding them. The perpetual sexual fast, the augment of relational depth with your spouse — “How can a world of bliss forbid such chocolates?” What does God have against chocolate? Nothing, he reminds us. He invented them.

Instead of thinking heaven the less interesting, we wonder, as the boy in Lewis’s analogy, what kind of happiness does God have in store for those who love God when the highest pleasures on earth stand as a distant and forgotten memory? What light renders the flickering candle irrelevant? This heaven, the man couldn’t understand, is the only one worthy of the name. We do not have earth’s joys 2.0 with the absence of pain. The God who joyfully invented such ecstasies, eclipses them to make room for something more.

Brilliant Shadows

To sigh at heaven because we lose something of earth, to cling to earth’s most brilliant shadows with trembling grip as they give way to the substance, is to forget what is coming. Even now, we can remind ourselves: heaven’s pleasures threaten to overwhelm earth’s best delights — delights so intoxicating that the passing of them seems an irreplaceable loss, a dimming of heaven. We need not stuff our pockets with Butterfingers and Hershey bars as we step into the marriage supper of the Lamb. God’s proclamation at the end of the story, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5), contains a “new” that we on earth can’t quite comprehend.

The Bible tells us plainly that fullness of joy is in the presence of the Lord (Psalm 16:11). Eternal life is to know him (John 17:3). The new heaven and new earth descend with Christ when he returns, not before. Already God’s kingdom spreads over the face of the earth; already the gates of hell bend at the barrage of the church (Matthew 16:18); already, with every passing day, God transfers new sinners from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13); yet our lives arrive fully only with the second advent (Colossians 3:4). Heaven gallops towards earth — with fullness of joy, the end of death, the vanquishing of sin, and the glory of God — seated on a white horse.

Faith unhesitatingly holds that God alone can architect the best heaven. Faith reminds us that God does not bury his best joys in a fallen world. Faith is assured that the country still ahead is best (Hebrews 11:16). We groan, not because we go to rule in that city of everlasting day without a few of earth’s favorite candy bars; we groan inwardly and wait eagerly because we long for the fullness of our adoption as sons (Romans 8:23). We enjoy chocolate, but hunger for steak. Faith teaches us to enjoy the things of earth mindful of God during the day, and to pray at night, with childlike anticipation, “One day nearer, my Lord. One day nearer!”

What Heaven Offers

When Christ returns, faith will not say, as I once heard a comedian crudely joke, “Just give me twenty more minutes.” When I heard it, I cringed because I’ve said the equivalent.

Jesus, give me some time to make my mark on the world — and then return!

Jesus, let me get married and grow old and gray — and then return!

Jesus, feel free to take your time — I know there won’t be my favorite chocolate bars in heaven!

I have need to remind myself: All that is sweet in human marriage to my coheir on this earth will not be ultimately lost but transformed. The new depth of intimacy I will have with my Lord — and every other saint, including my spouse — will look back on the caterpillar of earthly joys with fondness but not longing. And this makes marriage, and the intoxication of sexual intimacy, all the sweeter now.

My life with my spouse, no matter how precious, will be a shadow of what I, and the rest of God’s children, will have in perfect communion with our Lord and each other. Marriage with a believer can be one of the greatest relationships of earth — but the least relationship in heaven will be greater than it.

Jesus’s return in his glory — the climax of all human history — will not be an intrusion. We cannot allow unbelief to put up a “Do not disturb” sign above even the most excellent gifts from our heavenly Father. We enjoy our candy now, and as we do, we grow in our trust in the Father who knows how to give good — the best gifts — to his children. Our heaven does not offer sexual pleasure, but it offers that which makes sexual pleasure obsolete. It offers fullness of joy. It offers us God himself.

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

Daily Light – May 28, 2019

The Precious Furnace of Affliction

Article by Vaneetha Rendall Risner

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10)

Ten years ago, the furnace of affliction burned hotter than normal. Suddenly a single parent, my life became a waking nightmare. I cried myself to sleep every night. My daughters were living with sorrow that manifested itself in various destructive ways. My body was failing. Some days I struggled to even dress myself. I didn’t know who to confide in, and I doubted if talking would help anyway. No one could fix this for me. No one could fix any of it.

And today, though I’m not in a season of that kind of intense pain, people whom I love are suffering. How can they endure? How did I endure?

God refines us in the fire. The flames in our life sanctify us and draw us to God in ways that nothing else can. We emerge with a stronger faith and an unrivaled dependence on him. But the process isn’t easy.

Struggling to Breathe

In the furnace of affliction, I often feel like I can’t go on. I wonder how I can keep going when I don’t see an end. I wonder how I can endure with grace when the heat is almost smothering me. What does the Christian life look like in the furnace?

I struggle to breathe. I wonder if I’m going to get air or if the smoke is going to suffocate me. It’s moment to moment. Breath to breath. I can’t think about the future in the furnace. All I can do is pray I’ll survive.

“The flames in our life sanctify us and draw us to God in ways that nothing else can.”

I know God is my only hope, so I need to engage with him. As I look around, no one else is inhaling thick smoky air, so they can’t understand how panicked I’m feeling. I wonder if I’ll ever breathe freely again. I’m not sure if God will ever deliver me.

So, I get up in the morning, pull out my Bible, and start talking to God, begging him to clear the smoke. To lower the heat. To let me out of the furnace. I talk to him about my fears. My anxiety. What I want him to do. I pore over the Scripture passage I am reading, looking for promises to claim. Something, anything, to cling to.

Nothing Matters But God

When I do that, I notice that I’m breathing normally. My heart isn’t pounding. My mind isn’t flooded. It’s as if I’ve walked out of the furnace for a few minutes. It’s clear. I’m not choking. My lungs breathe deeply again.

I can laugh. I have hope. I feel weightless. Nothing matters but God. He shows me things I’ve never seen before. I start underlining my Bible everywhere — God is talking to me. I sit and listen. Sometimes I am still, taking in the holiness of the moment. Other times I scribble furiously in my journal, trying to capture all that God is saying. All of Scripture is alive with promises and hope. Passages I’ve read before, that I’ve passed by in my hurry to get through my “quiet time,” take on new meaning. Now, I linger over them. Savor them. They are as honey in my mouth — the sweetest things I will taste all day. They sustain me.

I begin to understand Jeremiah 15:16 in ways I never have before: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” When I wasn’t in the furnace of affliction, those words had little meaning. But now those words are life. God-breathed. Bursting with joy. God is giving me “the treasures of darkness” (Isaiah 45:3). My everyday life feels almost devoid of sunshine, but now the light is breaking through the clouds.

More Alive in the Fire

I cannot adequately describe those moments. Time almost stands still. I feel more alive here than anywhere else. I want to stay here forever, beholding the beauty of the Lord. But I need to start my day, so eventually I close the Bible, push my chair back, and prepare for what the day holds.

“While the furnace of affliction can be unspeakably hot, what we gain through it is indescribably sweet.”

Getting dressed I start worrying about the concerns of the day. The heaviness of life envelops me, and I feel the air getting thick again. The future seems dark and shrouded. My mind races with all I have to do. Fear grips me. I can’t even button my clothes. How am I ever going to make it?

Overwhelmed, I stop and pray. I ask God for peace. When I do, it’s as if I’m sticking my head out of the furnace where I can breathe again. This is the only way I’m going to survive. I whisper, “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word” (Psalm 119:25). And peace washes over me. The Spirit comforts me, assuring me I’m not alone.

More Connected to God

As I go about my day, sometimes I forget God is with me. When I do, the furnace can grow so hot that I’m afraid I’ll lose consciousness. I listen to what people are telling me. I listen to the negative things I’m telling myself. I listen to the voices that tell me my situation is hopeless. But then the Spirit gently reminds me that I can breathe if I poke my head out of the furnace. So I call out to God and begin to breathe freely again.

I finally understand what it means to be connected to God all day long. When I wasn’t desperate, I didn’t talk to God continually. Now, in the furnace, I am ever aware of his presence. Calling out to him is the only way to breathe deeply. Otherwise the heat of the furnace becomes unbearable.

I remember God’s promises. When I walk through the fire, I will not be burned. The flames will not consume me (Isaiah 43:2). Before the furnace of affliction, I didn’t know what that meant. Now I know. I am in the fire. Flames almost engulf me. It’s stifling and suffocating.

“The furnace contains treasures I can’t find elsewhere.”

But when I thrust my head out of the furnace, I realize the fire has no power over me. It will not overwhelm me. And while I may long to be outside, like everyone else, the water and food and air I get when I poke my head out of the furnace is better than any water or food or air I’ve ever experienced. My thirst is satisfied by “rivers of living water” (John 7:38). I’m eating honey sweeter than I’ve ever tasted (Psalm 19:10). And the air is fresh and pure, the breath of life from God himself (Ezekiel 37:5).

Deeper Portion of Christ

The furnace contains treasures I can’t find elsewhere. As Samuel Rutherford said, “If the Lord calls you to suffering, do not be dismayed. For with it he will provide a deeper portion of Christ.”

Only those who have suffered can understand those gifts fully. A deeper portion of Christ. Life-giving water. The honey of the word. While the furnace of affliction can be unspeakably hot, what we gain through it is indescribably sweet. In it, God refines us, turning our pain into gold that will last throughout eternity. Even in the midst of my struggles, in the white heat of the furnace, I am grateful.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to Desiring God. She blogs at danceintherain.com, although she doesn’t like rain and has no sense of rhythm. Vaneetha is married to Joel and has two daughters, Katie and Kristi. She and Joel live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Vaneetha is the author of the book The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering.

Daily Light – May 27, 2019

Satan Will Sing You to Sleep

Waking Up from Spiritual Indifference

Taken from an article by Jon Bloom, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org

“You don’t tell people about Jesus, because you don’t care about their eternal state.”

His assertion stung. But I knew it was true. Confronted with the way he lives for the lost, its truth was as obvious to me as the nose on my face. And like the nose on my face, I wasn’t paying much attention to it until he called it out. But unlike the nose on my face, his assertion was eternally significant.

I recently met this remarkable man while traveling in the Middle East. He, along with his wife, is leading a rapidly growing movement of Muslims turning to Christ in a very restrictive part of the Islamic world. I had the great (and exposing) privilege of spending hours with him. I wish I could tell you more about his story — how Jesus called him and the incredible ways the Lord uniquely prepared him to make disciples and plant churches in a very dangerous place. His story is worth a book someday. For now, I will spare the details, lest I in any way expose him.

I must pass along something he shared with me, though, because we all might be ignoring the obvious and eternally significant “nose” on our collective Western Christian faces — to our own spiritual detriment, for sure, but also to the spiritual catastrophe of those around us.

What Could Happen to Them

My new friend lives in an Islamic country where sharing the gospel, if you’re caught, will get you thrown into prison and likely tortured to extract information about other Christians. Yet he and his wife are daily, diligently seeking to share the gospel with others because they want to “share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:23) — even more than they want their own survival.

Each morning, when this husband and wife part ways, they acknowledge to one another that it might be the last time they see each other. She knows, if caught, part of her torture will almost assuredly include rape, probably repeatedly. He knows, if caught, brutal things await him before a likely execution. For to them, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Yet each day they prayerfully pursue the Spirit of Jesus’s direction in order to show the lost the way of salvation. And they are equipping other Christians to do the same.

Wholly Dependent on God

When I say “prayerfully,” I mean prayerfully. They, and their fellow leaders, spend a minimum of four hours a day in prayer and God’s word, and frequently fast for extended periods, before they go out seeking souls. They do this because they need to.

Spiritual strongholds do not give way and conversions don’t happen unless they do this. One wrong move and a whole network of believers could be exposed. So, they depend on the Holy Spirit to specifically lead them to people the Spirit has prepared. For them, the doctrine of election is not some abstract theological controversy for seminary students to debate. They see it played out in front of them continually.

The cessationism-continuationism debate is also a moot issue for them. They regularly see the Holy Spirit do things we read about in the book of Acts. As my friend described the Spirit’s activity where he lives, it was clear that all the revelatory and miraculous spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12–14 are a normal part of life for these believers — because they really need them.

They’re not debating Christian Hedonism either. When you live under the threat of death daily, either life is Christ and death is gain to you, or you will not last. So, I learned that my friend has translated John Piper’s original sermon series on Christian Hedonism into his native language and used them as part of his core theological curriculum for believers.

Lulled by an Evil Lullaby

All those things were wonderful and encouraging — as well as convicting — to hear. But then he told me a disturbing story.

A number of years ago, this man and his wife were given the opportunity to move to the States, and they did. After living here for a period of time, however, the wife began to plead with her husband that they move back to their Islamic country of origin. Why? She told him, “It’s like there’s a satanic lullaby playing here, and the Christians are asleep. And I feel like I’m falling asleep! Please, let’s go back!” Which they did (God be praised!).

This story contains an urgent message we must hear: she wanted to go back to a dangerous environment to escape what she recognized as a greater danger to her faith: spiritual lethargy and indifference. This should stop us in our tracks. Do we recognize this as a serious danger? How spiritually sleepy are we?

According to my new friend, we can gauge our sleepiness by how the eternal states of non-Christians around us shape the way we approach life. Judging by the general behavior of Christians in the West, it’s clear to my friend that, as a whole (we all can point to remarkable exceptions), we don’t care much about people’s eternal states.

Are We Content to Sleep?

My friend and his wife are right. There is a satanic lullaby playing, even in churches, across the West. Why else are we so lethargic in the midst of such relative freedom and unprecedented prosperity? Where is our collective Christian sense of urgency? Where are the tears over the perishing? Where is the groaning? Where is the fasting and prevailing intercession for those we love and those we live near and those we work with, not to mention the unreached of the world who have no meaningful gospel witness among them?

Paul had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in [his] heart” over his unbelieving Jewish kinsmen (Romans 9:2). Do we feel anything like that? And Paul’s Spirit-inspired urgency to bring the gospel to the lost shaped his whole approach to life:

I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:22–23)

What is shaping our approach to life? If we think that kind of mentality was only for someone with Paul’s apostolic calling, all we need to do is keep reading 1 Corinthians 9:24–27. It’s clear that Paul means for us to run our unique faith-races with the same kind of kingdom-focused mentality.

If we’re not feeling anguish over people’s eternal state and ordering our lives around praying for and trying to find ways to bring the gospel to them, we are being lulled to sleep by the devil’s soothing strains. It’s time to start fasting and praying and pleading with God and one another to wake up.

Now Is the Time

It matters not if we call ourselves Christians and believe we have an accurate knowledge of the doctrine of election, if our knowledge does not lead us to feel anguish in our hearts over the lost and a resolve to do whatever it takes to save some. “We do not yet know as we ought to know” (to paraphrase 1 Corinthians 8:2). What we need is to cultivate Paul’s heart for the lost.

My conversation with this new friend showed me that as a Christian who is called and chosen by God’s grace.. though I am, I do not yet know as I ought to know.

But, Father, I want to know as I ought to know! I repent of all lethargy and indifference! I will not remain sleepy anymore when it comes to the eternal states of the unbelieving family and friends and neighbors and restaurant servers and checkout clerks all around me.

Over Our Dead Bodies

According to Jesus, in his parable of the ten virgins, spiritual sleepiness is a very, very dangerous condition (Matthew 25:1–13). We need to get more oil — now! There isn’t much time.

I want to be done with satanic sleepiness and cultivate the resolve that led Charles Spurgeon to say,

If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.

Father, in Jesus’s name, increase my anguish over perishing unbelievers and my urgent resolve to “become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22), whatever it takes!

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

Daily Light – May 24, 2019

Why Is It Better That Christ Went Away?

Article by John Piper

Christ-Exalting Help

What is God doing in the world, and why does he do it the way he does it? That is a huge question. It’s so obviously simple and yet, my oh my, does it shed enormous light on the very history of redemption. What is God doing, and why does he do it the way he does it?   Which leads us to the question:  “Couldn’t the Spirit have come in full power while Christ was on earth?”  Here’s my answer: he could not have come in full, Christ-exalting, gospel-applying, new-covenant-fulfilling, deepest sin-convicting, Satan-defeating power while Jesus was on the earth. No. The reason he couldn’t is because every one of those hyphenated expressions, every one of those expressions of power, is based upon the death, resurrection, ascension, and rule of Jesus Christ. Those had to be done before the Holy Spirit could glorify them.

In other words, the most basic ministry of the Holy Spirit in this age is the glorification of Jesus Christ crucified for sins, risen, triumphant over Satan, forgiving sins on the basis of his blood, ascending in triumph in kingly power in heaven, and coming again. That’s what the Holy Spirit glorifies. He couldn’t glorify that until it happened.

In other words, the Holy Spirit’s ministry is not power in general — that’s a mistake made in the question. It’s not power in general; it’s Christ-glorifying power, particularly glorifying the gospel, or Christ crucified (as we see him in the gospel) and Christ risen. Now, we can see this in the New Testament really clearly.“The Spirit’s role is to reveal the glory of Christ in the gospel, which cannot be done until Jesus is dead, buried, and risen.”

The Holy Spirit’s Work

Here is John 16:7–11. “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.” Now we should ask, “Well, why not?” And let’s watch what he says. “But if I go, I will send him to you.” Now, here is what he’s going to do: “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” Then he unpacks what he means by those three things: “Concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

We see that the resurrection and the ascension show the world to be wrong. It convicts the world about the justice of Jesus’s crucifixion and proves they’re guilty. The Holy Spirit’s work is to make that clear after the resurrection. Then in verse 11, we read, “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” When did that happen? That judgment of Satan was accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus (Colossians 2:15).

Finally, in verses 12–14, he says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” — namely, the most important truths yet to be accomplished in his death and resurrection. “For he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me” (John 16:12–14).

In other words, he will glorify Christ. John 16:14 is the most important sentence about the work of the Holy Spirit in the Bible: “He will glorify me.” Specifically, the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ’s resurrection glory and his achievements over sin and Satan on the cross. That’s the peak, the apex of the glory of Christ in the gospel. But you cannot glorify Christ for that if he hasn’t done it.

Old-Covenant Ministry

Here is Jesus again in John 7: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:38–39).

“The work of the Holy Spirit in new-covenant power happens only on the basis of the blood of Jesus.”

Now we know that the Spirit was present in the ministry of Jesus. He was causing people to be born again in John 3. Jesus was doing his ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. We know that the Holy Spirit was present in the Old Testament, overcoming the mind of the flesh. Just read Psalm 51 or Isaiah 53. He was overcoming the mind of the flesh, which, according to Romans 8:7, keeps you from pleasing God. We know saints pleased God in the Old Testament, which they can’t do without the work of the Holy Spirit.

We know he was there. But he could not, however, powerfully do his most essential work, which was glorifying the risen and crucified Christ.

Revealing Glory

Here it is again in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Paul adds to the idea that we are being changed into the likeness of Jesus by looking at him. He adds this: “For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” There’s the most essential ministry of the Spirit. He lifts the veil. He causes us to see the glory of Jesus Christ and, thus, he transforms his church into the likeness of Jesus.

Now, where are we seeing that glory? Where are we seeing the glory of Christ as the Holy Spirit lifts the veil so that we can see and be transformed? The answer comes four verses later: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

The Spirit’s role in 2 Corinthians 3:18 is to reveal the glory of Christ in the gospel, which cannot be done until Jesus is dead, buried, risen, raised, and reigning. That’s the key work of the Holy Spirit that he could not do until Jesus was gone.

New-Covenant Ministry

Here’s one last way to say it. The Holy Spirit’s work is spelled out in the promise of the new covenant in Ezekiel 36:27 like this: “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Now, that is the work of the Holy Spirit, which we just saw happens by revealing the glory of Jesus Christ. That’s his work in this age right now.

John 16:14 is the most important sentence about the work of the Holy Spirit in the Bible.”

But Luke 22:20 makes clear that Jesus bought this work, secured this work, obtained this new-covenant work by shedding his blood: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). So, “Couldn’t the Holy Spirit have come in power while Jesus was still here?” No. The work of the Holy Spirit in new-covenant power happens only on the basis of the blood of Jesus.

I’ll give my answer one more time, and maybe this time it’ll make more sense. “Couldn’t the Spirit have come in full power while Christ was on the earth?” Here’s my answer: he could not have come in full Christ-exalting, gospel-applying, new-covenant-fulfilling, deepest sin-convicting, Satan-defeating power. All of those aspects of the power of the Holy Spirit’s ministry are based on the death, the resurrection, and the triumphant ascension of Jesus to God’s right hand as king.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.

Daily Light – May 23, 2019

Friends:   This is a wonderful work by Greg Morse…a delicious spiritual treat to start your day…be blessed!  dh

Our Hidden Help on High

From One Angel to Another

Article by Greg Morse as ‘inspired by C.S. Lewis

In The Gabriel Letters, a senior angel (Gabriel) counsels a junior angel (Toviel) on how to assist a human against the temptations of demons and how to bring him home to heaven. This series is inspired by the classic work of C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.

My beloved Toviel,

The Almighty has seen fit to reassign you to the department of soul care. Praise be to God! You have been handed the unspeakable privilege to serve those who are to inherit eternal life (Hebrews 1:14). At present, the Master bids you to help a man who has piqued the interest of demons. I will be assisting you in our mission to bring him home.

Can you remember, dear nephew, when we first laid eyes upon them? I can’t get passed it. The sheer brilliance of our happy Creator — who could have guessed his mind? We all stood by and watched him paint. He opened earth’s chapters with light. New sentences soon followed filled with breathing forests, towering mountains, budding flowers, roaring waters, and all sorts of wonderful creatures. The eagle soared, the gazelle pranced, the dolphin swam, waves crashed. Thunder clapped and shook the earth (even Michael grabbed at the hilt of his sword, startled at the sound).

Can you remember shouting for days on end in pure ecstasy? I know the Master does (Job 38:7). Each new day (as he then named it) contained new reasons for happiness.

Divinity’s Mirror

Yet, the brush stayed in hand. He continued.

Can you not still feel the hush that fell as the Almighty knelt down (to speak in a human way) and breathed into the dust? What happened then, even I, “the preaching angel,” hesitate to speak. He made a creature, distinct from himself, and yet, in a real sense, a reflection of himself. A creature, fashioned specially into the image of its Creator. For months, I simply stared. Our awe doubled as he made her, similar to the first in imaging his Majesty, yet different from the first as the moon differs from the sun. Eve, that first man named her.

But heaven’s poison found paradise. Our cursed brethren — violently thrust from above — attacked these beings God called children below.

Outside of the Holy One himself, they despised his image-creatures most — even above Michael’s sword, I wager. The vicious one slithered in and tempted the couple. We watched in horror as all that was once colorful became dark. The mirrors turned dim. Weeds began to grow in the celestial garden. The Creator clothed them in animal skins and expelled them. With drawn sword, our kin protected entrance from its former rulers.

Grand Announcement

For centuries we inquired into what our Master had planned. We witnessed death and rebellion, murder and rape. And just when all seemed lost, he himself entered his own creation; the Author wrote himself into the play. I, Gabriel, still remember when he sent me to the humans to make the announcement. (I have not moved that fast since.) I still recount my lines, as an actor recalls the grand performance of his youth:

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:30–33)

The Son, who would open the door to the locked kingdom, went. He himself, we soon realized, was destined to fulfill the ancient prophecy and crush the serpent’s skull (Genesis 3:15). Our Master, the King we spent countless ages praising upon his throne, took on the form of his servants. He became man. Man who would die. But of course, you know all of this already. I cannot but help it. What else should we discuss, if not this? Do we not long to look into such things?

Will Humans Recognize Us?

Ah yes, I nearly forgot. Now to your question. As you consider your new line of work, you ask whether the human you assist and strengthen, whose spiritual good is your mission and whose salvation is your glory, will he, who you serve out of sight and out of mind, recognize you in glory? On that day when our Master will chariot the clouds and make all things new, will your man — assuming that he is one of the chosen — know you?

When they meet us, beloved Toviel, I imagine that, like everything else in our Master’s kingdom, they will greet us with a sense of familiar wonder. All will be new, yet not that type of new which is just out of place — not that new which, when met, completely surprises. Rather, the tune that they have hummed the whole journey, the song they learned from they know not where, the melody which played in their hearts as the only comfort on darkened nights, will meet them at last. And on that day, when faith shall turn to sight, they will not merely hear the song; they will join it, as raindrops finally reaching the ocean’s surface.

I believe when you see each other as you both are, he will embrace you as a lifelong friend, with whom he only now had the pleasure of a proper introduction. Of course, we do not mean to distract him from our Lord — the dirt beneath must not seize one’s gaze from the flower’s petals — but he will see in your face a necessary ally who he only finally found at that moment. Perhaps, dear nephew, it shall be similar to how they will greet the saints of other generations whose stories and writings played their part in guiding them home.

Still Work to Do

This, dear Toviel, is the type of kinsmanship in which locked eyes and a gentle smile suffice to say all that is needed. And as he goes to shake our hand (I speak again in a human way) you will humbly bow before him — for he will be a king. (In one man, the kingdom was lost; in another, crowns are gained.) As a servant to his king, yet as a friend to his friend, you will finally usher him home with great joy.

That day, dear Toviel, that day, when the host of heaven will swell with completeness, when the last voice shall be present to sing the Great King’s praises, when the last narrator is in attendance to tell their part of the Great Story, when the last king and queen finally take their seat alongside his Highness, all will conclude, and yet, all will begin at long last. Creation groans. Heaven groans. We groan. For that day.

But until then, we have work to do.

Your Fellow Servant of His Glory,
Gabriel

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