Daily Light – Nov 29, 2019

Giving Thanks When Your Family Is Struggling

Article by Laura Baxter

Soon after graduating high school, our son had his first psychotic break. Eventually, he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a variant of schizophrenia. The past few years have been incredibly difficult for him. They have also been hard for us, his family.

Five years ago, our son was entering college on a full academic scholarship, playing clarinet in the band, and enjoying close friendships.

Suddenly, everything changed. He was hospitalized five times in four years, requiring multiple medical leaves from school. His behavior was strange, alienating, frustrating, sometimes frightening. He burned through all the common medications. Some meds came with a steep price tag and no benefit. Others came with terrible side effects, including nightmares and panic. After the last hospitalization, the doctor told us his frontal lobe was “fried” and implied we should be looking at institutions.

Schizophrenia is a devastating mental illness, afflicting approximately 1 percent of the population. Common symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, disordered speech, emotional flatness, and apathy. Not surprisingly, individuals with schizophrenia have trouble living independently. They find it difficult to make friends, hold jobs, or even change their clothes on a regular schedule.

As his mother, I spent five years crying, and praying, and struggling to understand what had happened.

Thankful? In This?

During that time, the Thanksgiving holiday was particularly trying. Of course, I had things to be thankful for. Food, family, friends, a roof over my head. But these blessings seemed insubstantial compared to the hollowing-out of my beloved son.

I knew believers are called to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:16–18). But how could I fight my way to a place of gratitude?  Would I ever find joy again?

Corrie ten Boom, a member of the Dutch resistance during World War II, wrote about her imprisonment in a German concentration camp, crawling with fleas. Corrie’s spiritually minded sister Betsie urged Corrie to practice gratitude, to the point of thanking God for the fleas. Corrie thought Betsie was out of her mind.

Then, surprisingly, the guards gave the prisoners unprecedented freedom in the barracks. Corrie later discovered this reprieve from harassment was precisely because the guards feared the fleas.

If Corrie could thank God for fleas in a Nazi concentration camp, could I find a way to thank God for his goodness—even in the midst of my beloved son’s mental illness? Five years in, the answer is miraculously “yes.” Here are four blessings I’ve experienced as a direct result of my son’s affliction.

1. Camaraderie

As we walked with our son through his diagnosis, we couldn’t hide the fact our family was in crisis. This itself was a blessing, albeit painful and embarrassing. We were forced to open up to our friends, to rely on our church family. And lasting bonds were formed in those trenches.

As I continued to read blogs and memoirs about schizophrenia, I realized I wasn’t the only one experiencing this struggle. I gained “virtual” friends from around the country, and we took comfort from each other. These are people I never would’ve known apart from our shared crisis. I am thankful for the many relationships that came into being, and were paradoxically enriched, by my son’s illness.

2. Compassion

To the healthy, mental illness can seem incomprehensible. As a result, people with mental illness often experience shame or exclusion. Sadly, in the past, I also avoided suffering people. But my son’s experiences have taught me that mental illness does not change our essential humanity. My son was still my son, bearing the image of the living God, deserving love and respect.

Through our family’s crisis, I was given new eyes to see the suffering around me, especially parents with adult sons who did not or could not meet social expectations. Now, when my students speak of anxiety and depression, or changes in medication, I have ears to hear. I am thankful that God softened my heart through my son’s journey.

3. Communion

As C. S. Lewis wrote, God “shouts in our pains.” When my world fell apart, where could I turn but toward God? My prayers increased in frequency and urgency. At church, I clung to every worship song with tears. I pored through the book of Job, wondering together with the patriarch whether God had abandoned me. Year after year, I searched for the hand of God in the life of my son, and in my own life.

It was only after my hopes were completely dashed—after multiple psych professionals proclaimed my son beyond help—that I learned to hope in God alone. Miraculously and mysteriously, I found him walking with me every step of the way. Like Job, I got to experience God up close, to see him with the eyes of faith (Job 42:5).

4. Contentment

Job famously said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away, blessed by the name of the LORD” (Job 1:20–21). That was not my first response to suffering. I couldn’t understand why a good and all-powerful God would allow the destruction of my son’s beautiful mind.

Slowly, I came to realize that suffering is an inescapable part of our fallen world. God does not, despite the teachings of prosperity preachers, promise health and wealth on this earth. The meaning of my life, and the meaning of my son’s life, does not depend on our productivity, our achievements, our Instagrammable moments. God only asks that we remain faithful in the situation where he calls us, day by day. I am thankful for this hard-fought lesson—although I wish I’d learned it earlier and easier.

Fight for Gratitude

This Thanksgiving, as you gather around the table, don’t be afraid to name your crisis. Talk about your “fleas”: your struggles with mental illness, your loneliness, your unemployment. Then fight your way to gratitude. Paul describes believers as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). By the help of the Holy Spirit, this can be true of you. Take your broken heart to him. Weep. And then give thanks.

Laura Baxter practices law and teaches at her local university. She attends The Bridge Community Church in Ruston, Louisiana. You can read more of her work at stirfrylaura.wordpress.com.

Daily Light – Nov 28, 2019

The Devilishness of ‘Let Go and Let God’ Theology

Article by Jared C. Wilson

Maybe you’ve said it. Maybe someone has said it to you. It’s one of those religious cliches, a vapid form of Christianese doled out whenever someone is struggling. “Let go and let God.”

It means well. In its best sense, it means “don’t worry and trust God.” But even that exhortation needs some packing. And “let go and let God” is often implied as some kind of key to spiritual breakthrough. It has its roots in the “higher life” principles of the (old version) of Keswick theology.

“Let go and let God” as a problem-solver is a way of suggesting that faith is a force field against trouble. When we say “let go and let God” to those who struggle, we must be careful we aren’t suggesting to them that if they were stronger Christians they wouldn’t deal with such things. “Let go and let God” can inadvertently promote the idea that there are Christians, and then there are Christians.

There is no Christianity 2.0. Every believer in Jesus—whether new or old, immature of experienced, weak or strong—has received every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3). Every believer is totally and inextricably united to Christ for all eternity. There is no partway in. Every Christian is justified totally, freely, forever. In this regard, no one is higher or more advanced than any other. Christianity is not Scientology. It’s not a pyramid scheme.

Like those within the Lordship controversy who (wrongly) argued that one could receive Christ as Savior but not as Lord, “victorious Christian life” kinds of Christians don’t just distinguish justification from sanctification but, in a sense, make them entirely dichotomous, as if you can have the former without the latter.

The Devil Loves the Hollow Theology of ‘Let Go and Let God’

If Satan cannot keep you from salvation, he will do his best to undermine and obscure the gospel that saved you by making you either overconfident in yourself or under confident in God. Both dispositions make the gospel look small and consequently may prevent more people from believing.

“Let go and let God” as advice to struggling people imagines there is some next-level Christian experience just waiting for us to crack the faith code. Like Luke Skywalker staring at the swamp trying to use his feelings to raise the X-Wing, we aren’t quite sure how to accomplish something so big by doing so little. Do we think about it hard? Or not at all? Do we concentrate? Or do we empty our mind?

Our enemy would love to get us off the comfort we could have in knowing that no matter what our difficulties, we are already close to God through union with his Son by faith, and he would love to get us on the insecurity that comes from constantly worrying if our faith is strong enough. The best way to rattle your assurance is to keep measuring it. And the best way to undermine your confidence in your justification is to begin holding your sanctification up to the imaginary light of the Super Christian.

It doesn’t take long for those who’ve been trying to “let go and let God” to let go of the process entirely, finding it futile and anxiety-inducing. “Let go and let God” is a lie that will ironically make you feel further from God, not closer.

But there’s another reason the Devil is fond of this fortune-cookie faith, and it has to do with the view of God it promotes.

You Don’t ‘Let’ God Do Anything

An early proponent of Keswick theology once wrote, “Christians need not sin, and if they allow the Holy Spirit to ‘operate invariably’ they will not sin.” There are numerous problems in this one sentence, not least of which is that it represents, again, a fundamental misunderstanding about how sanctification works in a Christian’s life. Another issue is the idea that Christians can reach a point of sinlessness (or near-sinlessness). But a big problem hiding behind the others is one that is repeated in countless Christian sermons, books, social media thoughts, and even songs. It is the notion of “letting God.”

We must “allow the Holy Spirit” to operate, W. H. Thomas says.

I don’t know if you noticed, but this sounds a lot like the Holy Spirit is our servant, a cosmic butler of sorts, rather than—oh, I don’t know—the third Person of the Trinity and thus our God.  I get the heebie-jeebies when I come across language like this, which is a lot more often than I would like. Christians who ought to know better routinely begin statements with phrases like “God can’t” or “God needs.” We are told that we need to “let God” do all manner of things before he can guide us, bless us, reward us, and so on.

To all of this we ought to say that any God who needs us to activate him is not much of a god at all. God says, “Look, I am the LORD, the God over every creature. Is anything too difficult for me?” (Jer. 32:27). He doesn’t need our help. And he doesn’t need our permission.

One reason the serpent wished Adam and Eve to elevate their conceptions of themselves to god-like status is because he wishes by implication to demote the one true God to man-like status. Satan loves “let God” language because he loves the idea of a deficient God. He will support any doctrine of God that is weak and unbiblical.

The true God is sovereign over all. If he does not do something, it is because ultimately he has willed not to do it. The blessings we receive in response to our honoring God are themselves foreordained. Even the faith we exercise to receive his salvation, which was until then withheld, is itself a gift from him (Eph. 2:8). And contrary to higher life teaching, the power we need to pursue holiness, choose obedience, and participate in our sanctification is granted entirely by God’s grace.

“I labor for this,” Paul writes in Colossians 1:29, “striving with his strength that works powerfully in me.” And when he tells us in Philippians 2:12 to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” he adds: “For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose” (2:13).

Still, the language of “letting God” persists. A simple Google search of incomplete phrases like “you have to let God . . .” and “God can’t bless you unless . . .” returns an abundance of distressing results, including from high-profile evangelical leaders and otherwise reliable Christian resources.

It sounds true. But why? It sounds true, because we have smuggled a cause-and-effect kind of spirituality into our Christian thinking, which is more akin to the idea of karma and grossly misunderstands that God declares the end from the beginning and does whatever he pleases (Is. 46:10).

The gospel according to Satan seeks to dethrone the true Sovereign and enthrone the subjects. And the full counsel of the true gospel is the right antidote to “let go and let God” thinking, because only the gospel reminds us that God is sovereign over us and our circumstances—including our good works (Eph. 2:10)—while at the same time empowering us for these good works.

Jared C. Wilson is the director of content strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel WakefulnessThe Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church.  Jared has a new book coming out, The Gospel According to Satan (Thomas Nelson). It is now officially available for pre-order.

Daily Light – Nov 27, 2019

The Watershed Issue in Every Generation

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

The watershed issue in every generation is the effective authority of Scripture and the realities it reveals.

Why don’t I just say, “The watershed issue in every generation is the authority of Scripture”? I admit the wording is a bit clumsy. Even the word watershed needs clarification. What I mean is this: In a mountain range, there is a crest from which all the rain, or all the melting snow, flows irreversibly toward one ocean or the other. As the water flows, it may have many twists and turns, but the ocean to which it is flowing was decided way upstream — at the watershed.

A watershed issue is like that. When the human mind and heart approach a watershed issue, the direction of the mind and heart on that issue sets in motion a way of thinking and feeling that may have many ambiguous twists and turns, but lead toward one ocean or the other.

“To see biblical reality as true and real, we need new eyes.”

Not every issue is a watershed issue. People may hold differing positions on some issues, and not find themselves streaming farther and farther away from each other toward different oceans. But a watershed issue is so pivotal, so formative, so pervasively influential that, even when the surrounding terrain looks similar, the rivers are flowing apart.

‘Authority of Scripture’

The next term that needs clarifying is “authority of Scripture.” Here at Desiring God we describe the authority of Scripture in our Affirmation of Faith:

God’s intentions, revealed in the Bible, are the supreme and final authority in testing all claims about what is true and what is right. In matters not addressed by the Bible, what is true and right is assessed by criteria consistent with the teachings of Scripture.

The foundation of that conviction is this:

The Bible, consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible word of God, verbally inspired by God, and without error in the original manuscripts.

Simply put, the fact that Scripture is God’s word means that everything it teaches is true, and all it requires should be obeyed. It has final authority for what is real and what is right. We believe this is what the Bible claims for itself:

All Scripture is breathed out by God. (2 Timothy 3:16)

No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)

We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:13)

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Matthew 24:35)

Every word of God proves true. (Proverbs 30:5)

Scripture cannot be broken. (John 10:35)

We believe that the evidence for the truth of these claims is clear enough for ordinary people to grasp — if God grants them to see what is really there. Our fullest explanation and argument for this position can be found in A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness.

‘Effective Authority’

Why don’t I just say, “The watershed issue in every generation is the authority of Scripture”? Why add the word effective? “The watershed issue in every generation is the effective authority of Scripture . . .”

“The watershed issue in every generation is the effective authority of Scripture and the realities it reveals.”

Because the authority of Scripture does not function as a watershed unless it becomes effective in creating a heart of glad agreement, and a mind of transformed perception. It is possible to say that the Bible has authority (and sign an affirmation of faith), and yet not see as real what the Bible says is real, and not feel as precious what the Bible says is beautiful. Until we regard as real what the Bible regards as real, and until we rejoice in what the Bible rejoices in, its authority may be affirmed, but it is not effective — and it is not a watershed.

For example, the Bible says of Christians, “You have died” (Colossians 3:3). And, “You have been raised” (Colossians 3:1). And, “Your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Those are realities. But thousands of Christians have nothing in their minds that corresponds to those realities. If you asked them to point to realities in their lives that correspond to these things, they would not be able to. Therefore, these biblical teachings are not effectively authoritative in their minds.

The same thing can be seen in regard to what the Bible says is valuable or beautiful. Philippians 3:8 and Matthew 13:44 teach that Jesus is more valuable than everything we own or could possess in this world. But thousands of professing Christians value other things more than Christ. They rarely talk about Christ as pleasing. But movies and social media and sports and politics fill their animated thoughts and conversations.

This is because the revelation of the supreme beauty and value of Jesus is, for them, not effectively authoritative. The authority of Scripture is affirmed the way wrapping paper is affirmed: “I love this gift. It is beautiful” — meaning the wrapping paper is beautiful, though the contents are unknown, displeasing, or simply negligible.

Flashpoints Reveal

Where there is no personal or cultural controversy with the Bible about what is real and what is good, this noneffective affirmation of biblical authority easily goes unnoticed. They say the Bible is authoritative. For a season, the outward forms of culture and personal ethics conform to outward biblical behaviors. So, everything goes along as if the Bible really had effective authority in their lives. But it doesn’t.

Then comes a cultural flashpoint — a controversy. Are practicing homosexuals sinning? If they keep on sinning without repentance, will they enter the kingdom of heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9–10)? If the culture creates something called “marriage” for people of the same sex, is it marriage (Ephesians 5:31–32)? Is same-sex intercourse “natural”? Or is it “contrary to nature” (Romans 1:26–27)? Is marriage between a man and woman the only beautiful marriage — the only marriage that displays Christ and the church?

“The fact that Scripture is God’s word means that it has final authority for what is real and what is right.”

Suddenly a cultural flashpoint (which may be very personal) reveals whether a person’s affirmation of biblical authority is effective or not. Has the authority of the Bible all along been effective in creating a heart of glad agreement, and a mind of transformed perception? Has our affirmation of authority been effective in producing transformation of what we see as real and right? Or has biblical authority been mere wrapping paper for teachings we don’t like?

‘Realities It Reveals’

In sum, then, “the watershed issue in every generation is the effective authority of Scripture.” But that is not all that I wrote in the first sentence of this article. I added a phrase. I said, “The watershed issue in every generation is the effective authority of Scripture and the realities it reveals.” We have now seen enough to make sense of this addition.

My point is to draw attention to the fact that authority by itself does not produce the effects we have been talking about. It is the realities that the authoritative teachings reveal which transform our perception of what is real and our enjoyment of what is beautiful. The Spirit of God causes the real to be seen as real, and the beautiful to be seen as beautiful. Authority may hold our attention. But it can’t change our hearts.

The teachings of Scripture and the realities they reveal do not become real and beautiful to us just because they are asserted by an authority. That is not the way our minds or our hearts work. You can make a child eat his vegetables because you have authority. But you can’t make him like them. That is not what authority can do. It can keep the child at the table. It can even command tastes. But it can’t create them.

Mere authority can assert reality. It can’t make you see it. So you may affirm biblical authority because that is what you are expected to do; and yet you may not have a transformed mind and heart that can see as real what the Bible presents as real, and gladly embrace what the Bible presents as beautiful.

Divine Gift

That transformation of mind and heart happens not by yielding to authority alone, but by the divine gift of sight and savoring. To see biblical reality as true and real, we need new eyes. And to savor what the Bible reveals as beautiful and sweet, we need new tastes.

“It is possible to say that the Bible has authority, and yet not feel as precious what the Bible says is beautiful.”

For example, the Bible teaches that wives submitting to their husbands as the church does to Christ is beautiful (Ephesians 5:24), and husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church is beautiful (Ephesians 5:25). That is reality. But if your mind can’t see it, and your heart can’t love it, no amount of authority can make it real and beautiful to you. Authority doesn’t work like that.

You may affirm the authority. But it is not effective. It becomes effective when, by the Spirit, the realities themselves become for you what they really are. You see the real as real. And you feel the beautiful as beautiful. And, we should also add, you feel the horrible as horrible.

It is essential to affirm the authority of Scripture. But it is not sufficient. The Spirit of God, by revealing the truth and beauty of biblical realities, creates new sight and new taste. We see and we savor what the Bible presents as real and beautiful. The Spirit does this through the words of Scripture. When it does, the authority becomes effective — dividing generation after generation at the watershed of God’s word.

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 – Nov 26, 2019

How Should I Handle My Regrets?

Interview with John Piper

How should we consider our life regrets? The question comes from Marvin, a podcast listener. “Hello, Pastor John. I am a 72-year-old man with four grown children. My wife is with the Lord. All in all, my life has been good, and I think I served the Lord for a lot of those years. But I can look back on many opportunities I missed in life: missions trips I did not take, missionaries I did not support, even professional opportunities I did not take and probably should have, ways to better invest and redeem my time at every stage along the way. At my age I harbor a bunch of little regrets about my past. All those small regrets add up and leave me wondering: Is it possible for an older man to look back over his life and conclude that I frequently missed God’s will over the years? Or is who I am now the will of God perfectly manifested in all my decisions, and therefore, I should have no regrets at all? How should an old man, in Christ, who believes in the sovereign orchestration of God’s providence, look back on his failures and his missed opportunities?”

Well, as you can imagine, this strikes very close to home. He’s 72 and I’m 73. I am that man, right? Marvin and I are both in our early seventies. We both look back over most of our lives already being lived — most by far. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing — this is what hits me sometimes so hard — we do can change the past. It sometimes hits me with tremendous force.

“Press on in faith toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ.”

My 33-year chapter as a pastor is complete. It had a beginning: 1980. It had an ending: 2013. And every second of it — every word spoken, every attitude felt, every deed done or undone — is written in the books of heaven, and they are more fixed and unchangeable than Mount Everest. Nothing I do — nothing — makes those years better or worse. That’s an awesome thought. I mean, it’s obvious as can be, right? Like, duh. But it doesn’t hit you until you’re almost done with life, and you look back. I used to think in terms of “I’m going to make my pastoring better. I’m going to be a bit better. I’m going to get better.”

Well, it’s over. You’re not going to make it better. It’s over. You’re not going to make those 33 years better or worse.

And so, Marvin is just forcing the issue again. Thank you, Marvin. It’s good for me. It’s really good for me. At this point in my understanding of how to look back at the past, I have four things that I can make fit into an APJ.

1. Christ died for a million regrets.

Let’s begin, Marvin, by remembering that we have the kind of Savior and the kind of salvation that says to the thief on the cross, just hours before he dies, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Think of it: Just before he dies, he realizes that everything — everything — in his past is regrettable. Everything. Nothing was done from faith. Nothing was done for the glory of Christ. And he will be with Jesus forever — welcomed.

That’s an amazing reality, an unspeakably sweet reality of grace. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3). And that’s where we start, Marvin. We just start there: Christ died to cover a thousand regrets — ten thousand, a million.

2. Your memory deceives.

Marvin, your memory and my memory and everybody’s memory of our past is utterly unreliable. If you start to try to measure the spiritual successes and failures of your past — the good versus the bad, the loving versus the unloving, the helpful versus the helpful — you’re kidding yourself. My memory, your memory, is utterly not up to the task, for four reasons.

1. Many of my sins were hidden from me. “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12).

2. I have long forgotten many things entirely. Paul himself said in 1 Corinthians 1:16, “I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.” Thank you. Paul didn’t remember whom he baptized. Well, there are ten thousand things I don’t remember which may have been good or may have been bad. I don’t know. I can’t remember them. I’m absolutely hopeless if I try to rehearse my past and add things up like that.

3. My heart is deceitful. It recalls some things as good that weren’t good. I’m going to deceive myself. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

4. Paul ponders his own record of faithfulness, and here’s what he says: “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Corinthians 4:4). In other words, even a good memory and a good record is not decisive. Christ is decisive. So, beware of thinking too highly of your memory, whether good or bad.

3. Remember regrets to a point.

It’s good to remember our sins and feel regret. It’s good. It’s good to feel regret up to a point. And I say this again for four reasons.

1. A life without regrets is built on a mirage. If you don’t see sins when you’re looking back over your life, and you don’t regret those sins, you’re not seeing reality. You’re not feeling reality. You’re seeing a mirage. We all have sinned. There were plenty of attitudes, words, deeds that were not for the glory of God but selfish, not loving but uncaring, not from faith but from fear. There were plenty of things that came out of your mouth that were not designed for upbuilding, and plenty of good paths taken with defective motives. A life without regrets is a life built on a mirage.

2. Paul said to the Gentile converts in Ephesus, “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12–13). Their memory of their regretful condition was commanded: remember.

3. Surely the reason for this, this memory, is that it deepens and intensifies our thankfulness for grace.

4. And here’s the last reason for this remembering of sins in our lives. Paul never forgot his regretful past. Writing near the end of his life, he said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). That was a regret, and he never forgot it.

So, I conclude that it is good to remember our sins and feel regret up to a point.

4. Press on in faith.

The time for forgetting — what is it? Paul said this: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.” That is, I haven’t become perfect. I haven’t arrived yet. “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14).

“A life without regrets is a life built on a mirage.”

In Ephesians 2:12, Paul says, “Remember.” And in Philippians 3:13, he says, “Forget.” And if you said, “Well, when do you do which?” here’s my sense of what he means for us old men: Wherever remembering our failures will help us fly to Christ, love Christ, rest in Christ, cherish grace, sing of mercy, serve with zeal, then let’s get on with remembering and regretting.

But wherever remembering begins to paralyze us with the weight of failure and remorse so that we don’t love Christ more, or cherish grace more, or serve with greater energy, then let us forget and press on by the power of grace for the little time we have left. That’s the main word: press on in faith toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ.

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 – Nov 25, 2019

Ask the Bible Anything

Why God Rewards the Hardest Questions

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

If you want to know what you believe about the Bible, pay attention to the kinds of questions you ask of it.

Some of us refrain from asking questions entirely, perhaps equating a questioning spirit with an irreverent one. We tiptoe through the pages of Scripture as if it were a museum of fine art, each passage guarded with the words “Do not touch.”

Others of us ask questions, but nervously and doubtfully worry that the Bible’s truthfulness cannot withstand close scrutiny. We read the Scriptures as if we were handling antiques that may just break beneath too firm a touch.

“If you want to know what you believe about the Bible, pay attention to the kinds of questions you ask of it.”

But the Bible is neither a museum nor an antique shop, but rather a rough and durable world made for explorers. As we open this book, God bids us to climb the mountains of his majesty, dive into the seas of his mysteries, and bore down into the mines of his infinite mind. We cannot run too hard on these hills or gaze too deep into these stars. We cannot exhaust these oceans, silence these thunderstorms, or break these granite rocks; we can only be exhausted, silenced, broken, and captivated by them.

The questions we bring to the Bible pose no threat to this world. They only draw us deeper into its wonders.

Honor by Asking

Of course, how we ask questions of the Bible matters immensely — and we’re getting there. But before we do, consider why we must ask questions if we aim to honor God’s word as we ought.

Consider, first, what kind of book the Bible is. Here we have a library of divine revelation: 66 books written over thousands of years in an array of literary genres. Parachute down into the Bible at random, and you may find yourself in poetry or prophecy, parable or epistle, proverb or apocalypse.

The Bible is not only diverse in its genres, but also in its literary styles. Though all the human authors “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), nevertheless, Isaiah is not Jeremiah, and Luke is not John. The light of God’s truth comes to us from the same source, but only after passing through the multifaceted prism of human personality and perspective.

These two factors alone create enough diversity in Scripture, enough tensions, that we can say with John Piper, “If we do not ask seriously how differing texts fit together, then we are either superhuman (and see all truth at a glance) or indifferent (and don’t care about seeing the coherence of truth)” (Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, 94–95). But this is not all.

Hunt for the Truth

Consider also that the writers of Scripture did not always place their message on the lowest shelf possible. Although the central teachings of Scripture are clear enough even for children to understand, not all of the Bible is equally plain. Very often, God is not interested in merely handing us the truth; he instead wants us to hunt for it (Proverbs 25:2). Therefore, much of the Bible is filled with intentional difficulties, like this one:

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
     lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
     lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4–5)

An observant Bible reader will notice tensions like this one all over the Bible — and not only between neighboring verses, but between chapters in the same book, between books of the same author, and between the writings of different authors.

“Every tension in the Bible is intentional, not accidental.”

Why, for example, does God say, “I regret that I have made Saul king” while, eighteen verses later, Samuel says God “will not . . . have regret” (1 Samuel 15:1129)? Or how do we fit the orderly, cause-and-effect world of the Proverbs alongside the enigmatic Ecclesiastes? Or how do we square Paul’s culturally savvy sermon to the Athenians (Acts 17:22–31) with his commitment in Corinth to “know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2)?

Each of these tensions is intentional, not accidental. Often, the human writers themselves intend the tension; God always does. Why? So that, as we read our Bibles, we might “call out for insight and raise [our] voice for understanding”; so that we might “seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures” (Proverbs 2:3–4). In other words, so that we might rigorously, prayerfully think. And we cannot think well unless we ask questions.

Heart Behind Our Questions

We do not have a choice, then, of whether we will ask questions — only of how. And, as the stories in Scripture remind us, the how is more important than we often imagine. Mary receives a glorious answer to her question (Luke 1:34–38); Zechariah loses his voice (Luke 1:18–23). The disciples learn about the end of the age (Mark 13:4–37); the scribes leave embarrassed (Mark 11:27–33). Questions can invite either God’s delight or his indignation, depending on the heart behind the question.

How should we ask questions of God’s word? Humbly, expectantly, and patiently.

Ask Humbly

When Digory and Polly meet Narnia’s talking animals in C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew, Uncle Andrew gapes on, horrified. While the children hear the animals speaking intelligible English, Uncle Andrew hears only the barks and growls of beasts. The narrator explains, “What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are” (Magician’s Nephew, 75). If our questions are going to uncover glory in God’s word, and not merely ink on paper, then each of us must be a certain sort of person — a humble one.

The most spiritually perceptive people in this world are not those with the finest mental equipment, but rather those who have been humbled most by grace. God reveals his counsels not to “the wise and understanding” but rather to “little children” (Luke 10:21). While the brilliant but proud grope through God’s word like drunk men at midnight, God “leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9).

When the humble ask questions of Scripture, they ask as subjects before a King, as creatures before a Creator, as redeemed sinners before the Holy One. Questions that put God to the proof will receive, not an answer, but a rebuke in return (Matthew 12:38–42Romans 9:19–20). Questions that come from a lowly and contrite heart, however, earnestly seeking understanding — these are the questions God loves (Isaiah 57:15).

Ask Expectantly

The truly humble, however, do not stop at asking questions; they also expect that God has answers and “rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). False humility may content itself to splash on the seashore of Scripture, speaking of all the mysteries beneath; true humility dives into the deep, searching for hidden treasure.

Too often, I suspect, many of us end the search too soon by consulting the treasures that commentators, gifted preachers, and study Bibles have discovered. To be sure, God often provides answers to our questions through the teachers, dead and alive, that he has given to the church (Ephesians 4:11), and we would be fools to limit our wisdom to what we can discover ourselves.

“God himself will reveal more to us than we thought we were capable of knowing.”

Nevertheless, we ask questions wrongly if we instinctively rely on others to supply the answers. We forget in such moments that “the Lord gives wisdom” (Proverbs 2:6). And what else can such an assurance mean except that, as we call out for insight, and raise our voices for understanding, and apply our minds and hearts to the text, and think harder than we thought we could, God himself will reveal more to us than we thought we were capable of knowing? We dare not limit the discoveries a redeemed mind, governed by faith and love, can make in the world of Scripture.

Ask Patiently

Finally, to humility and expectancy we add patience. For, if we are serious about asking questions of God’s word, we will eventually ask a question for which we can find no answer. We have asked humbly, we have asked expectantly, but, at least for the moment, our efforts have yielded only dust.

God, in his wisdom, has not seen fit to provide answers to all “the secret things” that so perplex us (Deuteronomy 29:29). In our universe, there are subterranean depths and galactic heights that no human eye can see. So too in Scripture, there are depths and heights of God’s wisdom that we cannot now reach, but must instead approach with silent wonder.

Not all mysteries will become clear in this life; not all knots will unravel; not all puzzles will be solved. But Christian faith does not ultimately rest in knowing all we would like to know, but rather in knowing Jesus Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

Answers, glorious as they are, are not our final hope; Christ is. And when our knowledge falters, our communion with Christ need not. For here, we discover again what it is to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5 NKJV). Eternity will prove that such trust was not unfounded, even if some of us must cry along the way, “Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

In the meantime, undiscovered countries are still waiting for us in God’s word. Come and run in the fields of this revelation. Ride these rivers, trek these mountains, and fly as high as you can into these clouds. And as you do, expect to find treasure. Expect to find more of God.

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

Daily Light – Nov 22, 2019

How to Read the Bible Better   

(2nd/final part of article)

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

DIVINE AUTHOR

Such attention to detail, in Bible study, will take us beyond the individual human authors to the divine Author. Reading his Book will mean looking for connections across the canon, and how God, the ultimate author, reveals himself over time. Not only does history rhyme, as it has been said, but God has his reasons in the rhyming. When we see familiar patterns and various types across the sweep of biblical history, we can ask what God means to communicate to us through them. It means “believing that everything belongs and everything is meaningful,” according to Peter Leithart:

The Spirit doesn’t waste his breath. There are no incidental details. We’re told that Abraham had 318 fighting men for a reason, and the Spirit wanted us to know the man at the pool of Bethsaida had been lame for 38 years. Is 153 fish mere local color? No; it’s part of the Word of the Lord. . . . When a narrator uses an odd turn of phrase, don’t jump to the pseudo-scholarly conclusion that it’s an “ancient Hebrew idiom.” Expect it to communicate. . . . Give the human author some credit; he writes as he does for a reason. Most of all, give the Author credit, for if he’s able to harmonize the billions of motifs of human history, he can write a coherent book.

Paul wasn’t urging his disciple to be comfortable when he exhorted him, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). Such diligent trusting the biblical text requires coming to it at an unhurried pace — we might even call it a “leisurely” pace. Not leisurely in terms of attentiveness but in terms of space to linger, go deep, consult parallel passages, ask good questions, study for answers, and see the connections to Christ (Luke 24:25–2744–45). And “leisurely” doesn’t mean comfortable. Such attentive study is often unpleasant, even painful, but endlessly rewarding.

4. Linger over the truth.

We not only read and study, but meditate. God does not mean for our engaging of his word to end at the more cerebral, intellectual level of discerning meaning in the text through informed, patient, attentive reading and study. Rather, he means for his words to go down deep into the soil of our souls — not just freshly inform our minds but profoundly change our hearts.

“God means for his words to go down deep into the soil of our souls.”

Opening up ourselves to the laser of God’s word means seeing the Scriptures as his words to us, not simply to ancient audiences in other times and places. He means for us to read his words as captured and preserved for Christians (Romans 4:23–2415:41 Corinthians 9:9–1010:6112 Timothy 3:16–17), for us to get beyond the study of what God said in the past to others and “bring it home” to ourselves as God’s living and active word (Hebrews 4:12). Not only has he spoken, but he is speaking (Hebrews 12:25) — to us.

Reading God’s Book well leads to meditation, filling our minds with his truths, rolling them around on our tongue, savoring what he says, and not ceasing before coming to personal reflection.

5. Listen alone and together.

So far, we’ve assumed individual Bible reading, study, and meditation, but it should not go without saying that God means for us to receive and welcome his words together in his body called the church.

Healthy Christians will avoid the extremes of lone-rangering and of not engaging God’s words for ourselves. We will receive his words both as individuals made in his image and as his people called the church, the bride of his Son, redeemed together by his blood. Which will mean both listening to, and learning from, the insights of others and humbly, and boldly, sharing our insights with others (teaching).

We rarely begin to master something until we have tried to teach it to others. God’s word goes deeper in us when we try to pass along the blessing to others.

6. Learn to read by reading — for a lifetime.

In the end, there is no better way to learn to read the Bible than to read the Bible. Many ambitious souls, with a burst of inspiration or new-year resolve, start on aggressive Bible-reading regiments. Far fewer truly form the daily habit and genuinely endure for decades. What you do every day, for years on end, will drastically change your life. God means for us to engage his word like this, day after day, for a lifetime of enjoyment and discovery.

“There is no better way to learn to read the Bible than to read the Bible.”

If you’re looking for where to start, there’s no singular right place and no one way. Personally, I’ve found it most helpful over the years to be reading in multiple places at any given time. I typically am working through the whole Bible each year, with four short readings each day, in four different parts of the Bible, through the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan. But from time to time, I’ll change it up and give all my focus for a season to a particular place. My encouragement would be to try several approaches over time and see what habits suit you best in specific seasons of life.

Over time, Bible reading will feel easier and easier, in a sense, and more manifestly fruitful. A focused, unhurried season, day after day, goes a mighty long way. So, keep reading: daily, and for a lifetime. There is no better way to learn to read the Bible than to keep reading the Bible. You will never read a better book, but you can learn to read the Book better.

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

Daily Light – Nov 21, 2019

How to Read the Bible Better

Part 1 of 2 parts

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

Do you want to read the Bible better? Christians will only experience so much of God and his grace without making a regular practice of reading and rehearsing what he has said to us in the Bible. During my years as a Christian and pastor, I am yet to meet a mature, happy Christian who hasn’t been a serious Bible reader.

Maybe you have dipped in here and there since you were converted, or perhaps you’ve started a new reading plan every January, only to fade fast before March. Maybe you’ve never really given serious Bible reading a try.

“Bible reading, of all reading, rewards careful, relentless observation of details in the text.”

Whatever our backgrounds and proclivities, God means for his children to take reading seriously, grow in our facility with it, and employ it as a means of his grace in our lives, and for the good of others. This is why Christians the world over, and throughout history, have been word people. God gave us a Book. Whether we naturally love reading or not, and whether we’ve been reading the Bible for decades or not, we all can benefit on occasion from rehearsing some of the basics of reading — not simply the natural reading of any book, but especially the supernatural reading of God’s Book.

Whatever your stage, experience, and proficiency, consider six fundamental principles for how to read God’s Book better.

1. Lean on God for help.

First and foremost, we dare not resign to reading God’s Book in our own human capacities. The Bible is special (Psalm 19:7–10). God speaks in the Scriptures with a kind of purity and directness we encounter in no other text (Psalm 12:6). These are the very words of God spoken to the world though his chosen apostles and prophets (2 Timothy 3:16). If these are the words of God, and they are, then we need the help of God to read them — to understand his words rightly, and feel his words appropriately, and apply his words faithfully.

Previous generations acknowledged the uniqueness of this Book with the title “Holy Bible.” Even if we don’t typically print that across our leather covers today, we will want to keep in mind the Bible’s holiness, its uniqueness — that God has set it apart from every other book. We approach it with conscious humility and with acknowledged dependence on him, that gives rise to prayer.

For this reason, many begin Bible reading with a short but vital moment of prayer, asking God to meet us in this encounter with him in his word and soak our reading with his gift of illumination. At times I will pause to ask for more help when realizing proneness to distraction or feeling confused about something I’m reading.

2. Learn some basics of language.

God’s word being supernatural, and requiring supernatural help, doesn’t mean the natural aspects of reading are unimportant. In fact, they are all the more important, since so much is at stake. Those most convinced of the supernatural power of God’s word will want to master what natural basics of reading they can.

Many basics of reading are intuitive and come to us “inductively” as we learn to read and make a practice of reading, but we also can be helped by some “deductive” principles about the basics, to hone our craft. Mortimer Adler’s and Charles Van Doren’s How to Read a Book is a good guide, among others, for learning and refreshing the basics.

DO UNTO AUTHORS

One key principle for reading, for instance, that we love to highlight at Desiring God says, “Do unto authors, as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, read to discern the author’s intention in his text, not your own preferences.

“We dare not resign to reading God’s Book in our own human capacities.”

Good reading requires effort to get into the author’s head, not through speculation, but through his own words. We seek to discover his meaning in (not around) the actual text of what he has written. This happens through patient and thoughtful attention to the words and sentences the author himself has written, and in particular by seeing the relationships between his words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs.

COME TO TERMS

Adler and Van Doren commend what they call “coming to terms” with the author. Individual words and phrases do not comprise a complete thought until they form a sentence — a proposition or claim (or coherent question or command) made by the author. Individual sentences, then, in the context of adjoining sentences form a train of thought, with each additional claim further advancing or clarifying the others in the context.

Texts, then, we may say, are like jigsaw puzzles. What we know, or think we know — whether about specific claims, or by what an author has in mind by his key words — helps us “put the pieces together” and better understand the whole. “Coming to terms,” then, means getting your bearings enough from the normal language of the passage to discern what the author has in mind by his key words and phrases. But how do we know what words and phrases are key terms to the author? Alder and Van Doren give this hint, which is also a call to hard work: “the most important words are those that give you trouble” (102). In other words, move toward, rather than ignore, what you at first don’t understand as you read.

To sum it up for Bible reading, biblical texts argue. They make cases. They give rationale. Reading the Bible well begins with following the human author’s train of thought from one sentence to the next, not isolating nuggets or pearls on a string that simply seem exciting out of context, but pressing to understand the whole.

3. Look carefully at particular details.

In some sense, this point only makes explicit what was implicit in the previous, but presses it further. Clearly the kind of care with language we’re advocating for requires a kind of active (rather than passive) reading that demands emotional energy and effort.

Adler and Van Doren lament (more than a generation ago!), “Most of us are addicted to non-active reading. The outstanding fault of the non-active or undemanding reader is his inattention to words, and his consequent failure to come to terms with the author” (106). “Most people read half asleep,” writes John Piper in Reading the Bible Supernaturally (327). “We read the Bible pretty much like we watch television — passively.”

AGGRESSIVE ATTENTIVENESS

Christians, however, because we have found our life is in this Book, will pray, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). Then we will read with the expectation of seeing wonders, and with the energy, like Ezra, to study them (Ezra 7:10Nehemiah 8:10; also Psalm 111:2).

Bible reading, of all reading, rewards careful, relentless observation of details in the text — the kind of observation that keeps looking even after it has become uncomfortable, especially in our modern pace of life, which does not encourage the pace of fruitful Bible reading and study. Slowing down is a skill we desperately need to acquire. One practical way to slow down is to take a pencil in hand, or put fingers on a keyboard, in order to process and share what we are seeing.

“You will never read a better book, but you can learn to read the Book better.”

Piper characterizes active Bible reading as “aggressive attentiveness” to words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. The kind of attentiveness that asks questions and seeks to answer them from the immediate and wider concentric circles of context. Active minds ask questions. And such reading (study) makes for hard mental labor. “The barrier to seeing the riches of the Scriptures is not owing to the fact that more people don’t know Greek and Hebrew,” writes Piper, “but that more people don’t have the patience to look, look, look” (332).

Part 2 tomorrow 🙂