Daily Light – Feb 21, 2020

(Friends:   Today’s DL is full of wonderful, life giving, freeing, ‘truth’.  There are soo many ‘gold’ bars in today’s dialogue between John Piper and R.C. Sproul.   And Jesus said “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  John 8:32.  I pray that God will grant us the grace to ‘see’ this truth ‘so that’ we can let go of more of the things that hold us back and move forward into His eternal plan for our lives.  Amen)

Why Is My Theology Not Changing My Life?

Dialogue between John Piper and R.C. Sproul

Why is my theology not changing my life? Or at least, not changing me as fast as I thought it would? The topic was taken up by Pastor John and by the late R.C. Sproul at a Ligonier National Conference back in 2011. The conversation was on stage. There the dialogue turned toward how the mind and heart relate to the discovery of biblical truth. We jump into the conversation, beginning with Pastor John.

Behold and Be Changed

John Piper: I totally agree that the primacy of the affections is in terms of the mind serving the affections so that they’re not emotionalism, but real fruit of knowing. God is not honored by emotions based on falsehood. He’s only honored by emotions that are rooted in truth.

Now, here’s the practical issue: Lots of people know things and don’t get changed. Some of you are just discovering the doctrines of grace, and you’re just as crabby this year as you were last year. What’s wrong? Knowing leads to right affections and doing, but not quickly for everybody, or not immediately, or sometimes not at all. The devil knows quite a bit of theology and hates all of it. And he’s maybe more orthodox than most of us, but he can’t abide it. The reason is because he doesn’t know it as glorious. He doesn’t know it as beautiful.

I’m just going to add: to know something aright is not just to get the theological pieces in order and have the right quotes in the Bible, but to go to 2 Corinthians 3:18: “Beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Now, I would say the implication is that the veil is lifted by the Holy Spirit. This is sovereign grace, lifting the blinding veil, so that now we see the stunningly glorious, beautiful things about God. And it’s the beauty of them that changes us: beholding the glory, we are being changed.

Open My Eyes’

They asked me the other day in our little roundtable at Bethlehem College & Seminary, “We’re students here and we’re faculty here. What can we do so that we don’t just become academically big-headed and get it all right and not be changed or help anybody?”

The most practical thing I can say is that as you study from morning till night, pray at least every ten minutes that God would not let that happen, and would reveal himself to you as beautiful in the part of Scripture that you’re working on or the theological issue you’re working on. Ask him over and over again: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). Open my eyes. I’m staring at it right now. Nothing’s happening. Ask him, “Open my eyes.” Because I need to see not just truth, but beautiful truth, glorious truth, and that’s what changes. So, prayer, I think, would be the key.

You look like you’re ready to say something.

Beauty in the Heart of Worship

R.C. Sproul: No. I’m just sitting here eating that up, John. One place where I have felt so much alone in the ministry that I am involved with is I find so few people who have a passion for beauty. God is the foundation for the good, the true, and the beautiful. And you can distinguish among those three things, but you better never separate them.

And I love it when you sit here and talk about it, because you’re articulating what I’ve been trying to articulate for years. I’ve usually said that it’s not just enough to understand the truth; you’ve got to see the loveliness of it. You’ve got to see the sweetness of it. You talk about the glory of it, but you’ve added to it the beauty of it. And that’s it.

Our worship is supposed to be for beauty and for holiness. God went to such extremes in the Old Testament to communicate that principle of beauty in the heart of worship. That’s one of the great weaknesses of our tradition is that we seem to think the only thing that’s virtuous is ugliness and we have to get away from beauty. But everything that’s beautiful, even paintings painted by pagans, travesties — sometimes in spite of themselves — they call attention to the character of God, because everything beautiful bears witness to him because he is the source of beauty.

And that beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder. It’s there essentially in the character and the being of God himself. When you talk about it here, it just thrills my heart because we have to see how beautiful the truth is and how beautiful the God of the truth is.

I think that the enticement to sin is that sin promises pleasure. That’s the bad kind of hedonism. But it never delivers; it’s a lie. And that’s where our great deception is. We think that we can’t be happy unless we’re sinning. And sin can be pleasurable for a season, from one perspective. But it can never be joyful — ever. It can’t possibly bring joy because it’s not beautiful. It’s ugly. And we have that attraction to ugliness. Our basic makeup is to prefer the darkness rather than the light.

We live in a world that has been marred, seriously marred. It’s been vandalized. The glory of God is everywhere in the beauty of creation. The whole world is full of his glory. But we have vandalized that glory.

Escape Through the Promises

John Piper: It seems to me that the way Jesus argues is that the kingdom of God is like a man who found a treasure hidden in a field, and in his joy — from his joy — he went and sold everything he had and bought that field (Matthew 13:44). That’s the paradigm for how you get freed from the bondage to the world and sin and the devil. If you see the kingdom and the King as a treasure more valuable than your grandfather’s clock, your car, your computer, your books, your fame, and whatever, then it all becomes rubbish and you’re freed.

Before then, it had tremendous power. It held you. Sin has the power of pleasure. And the Bible breaks that power with the power of a superior pleasure. It severs the root of it.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3–4)

How do you escape from the corruptions in the world? Precious and very great promises of the glory and excellence of God. The sequence of thought in 2 Peter 1:3–4 is this: escape from corruption comes through a superior promise.

I think that the beauty of holiness, the more it goes deep and satisfies — really, really satisfies — the freer you become from pornography, and from the pleasures of resentment and bitterness that you want to hold on to, and from fear of man. These sins have their talons in us, and those talons are dislodged, not so much by duty — yanking them out like this — but by pushing them out.

Someone asked once, “What’s the easiest way to get the sin of air out of a glass?” Should you put a vacuum on it and suck the air out? No, just pour water in the glass. If you want to get the air out of the glass, just fill it with water. That would be the way I want to build holiness into my people’s lives.

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 – Feb 20, 2020

How Do I Humble Myself?

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

Humility is not something we can achieve. We might consider it quintessentially American to think we could. You can do it. Be proactive. Take the first step. Grab the bull by the horns and be humble.

In other words, humble yourself by your own bootstraps.

But if we come to the Scriptures with such a mindset, we find ourselves in a different world. Genuine humility, as with true faith, is not self-help or a life hack, but a response to divine initiative and help.

God Opposes the Proud

Make no mistake, we do have a part to play in humility. It is not only an effect but a command. In particular, two apostles tell us to humble ourselves. And both do so in strikingly similar ways, adding the promise that God will exalt us on the other side:

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:10)

Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you. (1 Peter 5:6)

So far as we can tell, James and Peter haven’t been inspired by each other on this point, but by the Old Testament. In the immediate context of instructing us to humble ourselves, both quote the Greek translation of Proverbs 3:34 (“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” James 4:61 Peter 5:5). But before we run off to create our own program for self-humbling, we should consider the context in both passages.

Humbling from Within

For our purposes here, observe that both calls to self-humbling come in response to trials. James refers to quarrels and fights within the church:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. (James 4:1–2)

Conflict among those claiming the name of Christ humbles the church. It serves as a test of pride, and humility. James reminds them not only that they are “sinners” and “double-minded” but he also reminds them of Proverbs 3:34. He charges the church to submit to God, resist the devil, and draw near to God (James 4:7–8). In other words, “Humble yourselves before the Lord.” The church is being humbled from within. Now, how will they respond to God’s humbling purposes in this conflict? Will they humble themselves?

Humbling from Without

So also in 1 Peter, the church is under pressure. Society is mouthing its insults and maligning these early Christians. They are beginning to suffer socially and emotionally, if not yet physically. They are under threat, and tempted to be anxious. And at this moment of humbling, Peter turns to Proverbs 3:34, and exhorts them, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5).

Here the church’s humbling is coming from without. Now, how will they respond to God’s humbling purposes in these insults? Will they humble themselves? Will they bow up, reacting with pride and self-exaltation, or will they bow down, humbling themselves before the gracious hand and perfect timing of their Lord?

Self-Humbling as Responsive

Over and over again in the Bible, self-humbling is not something we initiate but something we receive, even embrace — even welcome — when God sends his humbling, however direct or indirect his means. The invitation to humble ourselves does not come in a vacuum but through our first being humbled.

Humility, like faith — and as a manifestation of faith — is not an achievement. Humility is not fundamentally a human initiative, but a proper, God-given response in us to God himself and his glory and purposes.

We don’t teach ourselves to be humble. There’s no five-step plan for becoming more humble in the next week, or month. Within measure, we might take certain kinds of initiatives to cultivate a posture of humility in ourselves (more on those in a later article), but the main test (and opportunity) comes when we are confronted, unsettled, and accosted, in the moments when our semblances of control vanish and we’re taken off guard by life in a fallen world — and the question comes to us:

How will you respond to these humbling circumstances? Will you humble yourself?

Gladly Receive the Uncomfortable God

For Christians, self-humbling is mainly responsive. It is not something we just up and do. We don’t initiate humility, and we don’t get the credit for it. It’s no less active, and no less difficult, but it is responsive to who God is, what he has said to us in his word, and what he is doing in the world, specifically as it comes to bear in all its inconvenience and pain and disappointment in our own lives. Self-humbling is, in essence, gladly receiving God’s person, words, and acts when it is not easy and comfortable.

First comes the disruptive words or circumstances, in God’s hand and plan, that humble us — as it happened for King Hezekiah seven centuries before Christ. God healed him from his deathbed, and yet the king “did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud.” God then acted against Hezekiah’s pride. He humbled him. In whatever form it took, we’re told that “wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 32:25).

Then comes the question that presses against our souls, as it did for the king: Will I receive God’s humbling or resist it? Will I try to explain it away or kick against it, or will it serve to produce in me genuine repentance? And if I do not humble myself, then, further divine humbling will follow in time. God’s initial humbling leads unavoidably to some further humbling. The question is whether it will be our self-humbling or further (and often more severe) humbling from him.

For Hezekiah, he acknowledged the divine wrath as opposition to his own pride, and he “humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah” (2 Chronicles 32:26).

When God Humbles His People

To be sure, we are not left without some postures we can cultivate and means to pursue. Daily humbling ourselves under the authority of God’s word, and humbling ourselves by obeying his words, and humbling ourselves by coming desperately to him in prayer, and humbling ourselves in fasting — these all have their place in our overall response as creatures to our Creator. But first and foremost, we need to know humbling ourselves is responsive to God.

He is the one who created our world from nothing by the power of his word (Hebrews 11:3). He is the one who formed the first man from the ground (Genesis 2:7) and the first woman from his side (Genesis 2:21–22). He is the one who chose to reveal himself to us, to speak words into our world through his prophets and apostles, to make known himself and his Son and his plan for our redemption. And he is the one who, through the gentleness and merciful severity of his providence, humbles his church again and again, from without and from within, and in his humbling brings us to the fork in the road: Now, how will you respond to my humbling purposes in this trial? Will you humble yourself?

When the next humbling trial comes, will you bow up with pride, or bow down in humility? God has a particular promise for you in these moments. The God of all power will exalt the humble in his perfect timing.

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 – Feb 19, 2020

Freedom Is to Be Like Him

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)

Jesus Christ set his face toward the cross in order to set his people free.

The nails in his hands were the keys that unlocked our shackles. The cry “It is finished!” (John 19:30) was his command for our release. And Easter’s empty tomb shattered the door to every cell. Because Jesus died and rose again, every Christian can say with the apostle Paul, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).

Sometimes, however, the idea of freedom is more thrilling than the reality of it. For, as Paul goes on to tell us, true freedom is less about following your dreams and more about kneeling down to scrub another’s feet. “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

Why did Jesus set us free from the guilt of our past, from the curse of the law, and from the tyranny of our former sins (Galatians 1:3–43:135:24)? He set us free to serve.

Go Low to Go High

Paul’s words sound like nonsense to our sinful flesh. In our natural state, we associate the word freedom with all sorts of ideas — independence, self-expression, personal choice — but rarely with service. Unbelief, however, always separates what God has joined together. And in the kingdom of God, freedom and service belong together like Adam and Eve, like heaven and earth, like grace and peace.

We need look no further than our Lord Jesus. No one has ever been freer than God himself. Yet what did the Son of God do with such freedom? He took “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). He said to the twelve, “I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27). He wrapped a towel around his waist, bent to his disciples’ feet, and served them to the end (John 13:1–5). In the story of Jesus’s serving, suffering, and saving, we see the freest man who ever lived.

We need not fear losing our freedom, then, when we follow Jesus in taking the lowest place in the room. As he told his disciples, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26). When we bend our necks to this yoke, we walk straighter. When we kneel upon this ground, we stand taller.

True freedom is never found in serving ourselves. True freedom is found in being like him.

Bound to a Thousand Souls

Few have expressed this path of true freedom more beautifully than B.B. Warfield did over a century ago. Preaching on the self-sacrificing love of Jesus from Philippians 2:5–8Warfield said,

Self-sacrifice brought Christ into the world. And self-sacrifice will lead us, his followers, not away from but into the midst of men. Wherever men suffer, there will we be to comfort. Wherever men strive, there will we be to help. Wherever men fail, there will we be to uplift. Wherever men succeed, there will we be to rejoice.

Self-sacrifice means not indifference to our times and our fellows: it means absorption in them. . . . It means not that we should live one life, but a thousand lives — binding ourselves to a thousand souls by the filaments of so loving a sympathy that their lives become ours.

The glory of Christian freedom is not that we can finally reach our full potential, but that we can finally help others reach theirs. Not that we can finally discover ourselves, but, freed from self-absorption, that we can finally lift our eyes and discover others. Not that we can finally follow our dreams, but that we can finally fill our dreams with the good of those around us.

True freedom, in other words, gives a man the mind of Christ, who bound himself — and who goes on binding himself — to thousands upon thousands of souls. As Paul goes on to write in Galatians 5, true freedom teaches a man to love his neighbor as himself (Galatians 5:14).

Freedom Will Not Feel Easy

As long as we are in this world, of course, we are not yet free as we one day will be. One day, no selfishness will tempt us to forsake the path of service. Our hearts will beat as one with our Lord, and giving to others will be our gladness.

Until then, we should not be surprised when we regularly (even daily) find ourselves simply not wanting to serve. Perhaps when we come from work to a toddler’s wail and the afternoon snack strewn across the floor. Or when a February storm piles snow onto our driveway in heaps, and we have already shoveled three times this week. Or when we see a socially taxing church member sitting off by himself, and we know we should approach him.

What do we do in such moments? How do we “through love serve one another” when we would much prefer to serve our own comfort? We begin by banishing the thought that the service in front of us is somehow slavery. We go on to remember that “for freedom Christ has set us free.” And then we trust that the same Christ who delivered us from our sins is zealous to take us in to deeper levels of freedom — not in spite of or around the service in front of us, but through it.

Trust and Step

When we do move forward in these moments, trusting our Lord to provide what we need, we will find that he does not, as Pharaoh did of old, demand that we make bricks without straw. Rather, he “supplies the Spirit,” who leads us in the ways of love (Galatians 3:55:16–24). When the tasks in front of us feel beyond our strength to carry out, they are not beyond the Spirit’s.

If Christ has freed us from our sins, will he not also free us from today’s selfishness? If he has given us his Spirit, will he not also give us everything we need as we seek to imitate him in his service? He surely will. For freedom he has set us free. So trust his promise, draw a deep breath, and keep stepping into his freedom.

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

Daily Light – Feb 17, 2020

Can Sickness Be Better Than Health?

Article by Vaneetha Rendall Risner

Can sickness and suffering be better than health and prosperity?

In a world that lives to avoid pain, that question may sound ridiculous. Not only pleasure-seekers, but even the religious, view suffering as entirely negative — a sign of God’s disapproval. In most world religions, health and prosperity are the reward for a good and faithful life, while sickness and suffering are curses, the result of evil deeds in this life or a past one. The American prosperity “gospel” perpetuates these lies, equating health and material blessings with our faithfulness and God’s favor, and sickness with a lack of faith.

My Life of Sickness

At times, I almost agreed with them, though, particularly when my prayers felt unanswered and my pain relentless.

I wondered why God wouldn’t respond to my earnest pleas, suspicious that he had cursed me, rather than blessed me. My sole focus was getting relief, so I was puzzled by verses like these: “Count it all joy my brothers when you meet with trials of various kinds” (James 1:2) and “It was good for me that I was afflicted that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). Trials made me miserable. Nothing about affliction seemed good. I looked enviously at people who had what I wanted and longed for an easier life.

Contracting polio as an infant, I’ve always been physically limited, unable to run or hike or even be outside by myself. Instead, I learned to love “indoor” activities like crafting, painting, and cooking, happy to do anything creative with my hands.

The diagnosis of post-polio syndrome changed that, narrowing my physical world even further so that now I sometimes struggle to pick up a glass. I live with daily pain that was once just occasional. Rather than making my life harder, however, each physical loss has been a strange gift, one that has increased my dependence and love for God.

Testimony of Sufferers

My experience is not unusual. Christians around the world and throughout the ages have experienced the unique blessing that God gives us in sickness and suffering. Hudson Taylor, the well-known missionary to China in the 1800s, reported,

The deepest, most precious, and most abiding spiritual lessons, which God has been pleased to teach me were learned in consequence of enduring my various experiences of sickness. . . . I feel it would have been nothing short of a calamity to have missed the physical suffering through which I have passed. . . . I am positive that I have sometimes met with God’s refusal to heal when I have been most in fellowship with him.

It would have been nothing short of a calamity to have missed the physical suffering through which I have passed. Hudson Taylor’s physical suffering included hepatitis, a damaged liver, constant exhaustion, year-long paralysis from a fall, and severe depression. Yet suffering is what drew Taylor closest to God.

Henry Frost, a physician and friend of Hudson Taylor, attested to the same benefits of suffering. He saw some of his patients miraculously healed after prayer, while other patients, equally sick and equally faithful, were not healed. Frost commented,

Special spiritual blessings were given to the persons who were permitted to be sick, and most of the persons, if not all of them, were finally constrained to testify that they believed that the sickness had proved to be even better than health could have been.

Sickness proved to be even better than health could have been.

A modern saint and quadriplegic who lives with agonizing pain, Joni Eareckson Tada, agrees with Frost and Taylor in her book A Place of Healing. She adds, “He has chosen not to heal me, but to hold me. The more intense the pain, the closer his embrace.”

The more intense the pain, the closer his embrace.

The testimonies of these saints, while radical, are not rare. Everyone I have encountered who has turned to Christ in their suffering, looking to Jesus and his grace in their pain, testifies to this reality: suffering and sickness are greater gifts than health and prosperity. The intensity of fellowship with him, the immediacy of his presence, and the comfort of his love are all heightened in suffering.

Nothing Has Shaped Me More

Through pain, God has ushered me into the fullest, most intimate, most sacred encounters with him. Times I will never forget, even after my suffering has passed. My faith has become much stronger.

Because of sickness, I am less attached to the temporal and more grounded in the eternal. I am more understanding and compassionate, aware of my own frailties and weakness under pressure. In fact, nothing has more powerfully shaped me — my theology, my character, my love for God and my love for others — than suffering. Through it, I have learned that one day in his courts, one day embraced by his love, one day of fellowship with him, is better than a thousand elsewhere.

In prosperity and health, I am grateful for his gifts but not as desperate for his presence. My material blessings can keep me occupied. In ease and abundance, I tend to live selfishly, entitled and independent, focusing on what makes me most comfortable. I have gone days with little thought of God, not sensing any need for him. I am content to keep God at a distance, but in suffering I need him near.

Greater Mercy Than Health

Charles Spurgeon, who struggled with frequent depression, rheumatism, gout, and Brights disease, said,

There is no greater mercy that I know of on earth than good health except it be sickness; and that has often been a greater mercy to me than health. It is a good thing to be without a trouble; but it is a better thing to have a trouble and know how to get grace enough to bear it.

Getting grace to bear our struggles can be better than not having them. Yes, prosperity and health are mercies, but they are only temporary, meant to be enjoyed in this life alone. But suffering and trouble enable us to lay hold of the greater gifts of God, gifts like his fellowship, comfort and love, which grow sweeter over time.

God loves to give his children good gifts and, looking through the lens of faith, we can see that sickness and suffering are among the greatest.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Desiring God, who blogs at danceintherain.com. She 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 – Feb 14, 2020

Happy Valentine’s Day

Will We Meet Jesus as Soon as We Die?

Interview with John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Here’s a great question from Jonathan, who listens in from New Jersey. “Hello, Pastor John! It’s fairly typical to hear Christians say of someone who has died, ‘They’re with Jesus now.’ But in 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, it sounds like Paul is saying that Christians who have died will meet Jesus at the second coming. Do Christians go to be with the Lord when we die, or will we meet him when he comes back to earth? I guess what I’m asking is this: When a Christian dies, what comes first: seeing Jesus or being raised from the dead?”

A Long Wait?

The reason this is an excellent question is because 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 really does sound like what Jonathan has said: believers who have died are raised from the dead, and in that sense, first meet the Lord at his coming, rather than immediately meeting him when they die.

It sounds like that, but I’m sure that’s not what Paul means there, and I’ll try to show why. I think it’s really plain from two passages of Scripture that Paul was certain when he and other believers died, they would go immediately to be with the Lord Jesus and see him in that moment.

Without a Body

First, look at 2 Corinthians 5:6–8:

We are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Those are the two alternatives that Paul sees. I’m either here in my body — in one sense, away from being at home with the Lord — or I die and I’m at home with the Lord.

Now here’s verse 9: “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” Paul did not conceive of a time when the body dies and we are not at home with the Lord. To die is to lose the body temporarily and go to be at home with the Lord.

This is not his first choice. That’s one of the things we might correct at funerals. We do not want to give the impression that the disembodied at home-ness with the Lord is the first apostolic choice. His first choice is that the Lord Jesus would come before he dies and over-clothe his body with eternal life.

But he says that if we die, it is better. So, his third choice is stay here and work; his second choice is to go and be with Jesus without his body; and his first choice is “Come, Lord Jesus, and give me a new body so that I never have to be bodiless.”

Great Gain

The other passage is Philippians 1:22–24: “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”

Now, those are the two possibilities for Paul, and one of them was not to die and have the soul lie in the grave sleeping. That wasn’t the choice — die and have the soul lie in the grave sleeping until the second coming. No.

The two possibilities were to go on living here, or to go to be with Christ, which is far, far better. I conclude that Paul had no doubts about being united with Christ with conscious joy by faith in this life, and it would never be interrupted by death. And when he left his body, when he was martyred, he would go to something far better than even the communion that he enjoyed with Christ here.

Who Goes First?

Now, let’s say a word about 1 Thessalonians 4. You’ve got to put on your thinking cap, because the logic of this text is so important. I think it’s clear, but it’s complicated.

It goes like this: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Now, that sounds like he means to bring them with him from heaven, where, in fact, they are. In fact, there are souls in heaven. We just argued for that from 2 Corinthians 5 and Philippians 1.

“For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:15). Now that, too, might sound like we are already in our souls — body in the grave, souls with Jesus — in the presence of the Lord, and in that sense, those still on earth have not preceded them into the presence of Christ.

But here’s the problem: now comes the argument for why those who are left, who are alive, will not precede those who have died. It goes like this: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

That’s why we won’t precede them. They rise first. Then, we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together — not a first and second, but together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. “So we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

The argument for why those who are alive at the Lord’s coming will not precede those who have died is that those who have died will rise first, and then we will all go together. There is no ranking: “Oh, you got to go first.” We go together to meet the Lord in the air. No first, no seconds; we are all together.

All Equal

Here’s my conclusion when I put these three passages together. Precede in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 does not refer to the dead preceding the living into the presence of the Lord in heaven, which, of course, they clearly do. Paul’s just not talking about that. Rather, precede refers to preceding with a resurrection body into the glorious experience of the second coming.

Let me say that again, because that’s what the argument of verses 16 and 17 demands that precede means. We won’t precede the dead, Paul says. Precede where? Preceding them with resurrection bodies into the glorious experience of the second coming.

In other words, what Paul is saying in 1 Thessalonians 4:14–16 is that the living won’t have any advantage over the dead when it comes to the fullest enjoyment of that day — that resurrection, second-coming day, including bodily sight and enjoyment and bodily celebration of the second coming — because the dead in Christ shall rise first.

In other words, before there is any glorious gathering to meet the Lord in the air, the bodies of all believers who have died will be raised from the dead, reunited with their souls, and then the entire Christian church, the living and the resurrected, will together meet the Lord and welcome him to establish his rightful kingdom.

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 – Feb 13, 2020

How Do I Overcome My Fear of Death?

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

The fear of death keeps people off jets and into cars, a more deadly form of transportation. The fear of death exerts tremendous force over people in this world. It makes us irrational. So what counsel do we have for Christians who live under a perpetual fear of their own mortality? The question arrives from a woman who has not given us her name.

“Hello, Pastor John, I have been building a relationship with God and have thankfully been delivered from a love of alcohol. I am 25, married to a godly man, but have been struggling with the thought of death on a daily basis. I think it started when my friend passed last year. Before that a friend of mine, and my sister, just months apart, both had dreams that I died while I was still drinking. By the grace of God he allowed me to let go of that habit, but I can’t stop thinking that something will happen. I decided to get to the root — I have a fear of death. All I sometimes think of is dark, depressing thoughts, and I do not want to live my life like this. Please, can you give me some insight?”

My experience over the years is that sometimes God delivers people from the bondage of fixation, like the fixation with the possibility of dying, in a roundabout way that seems surprising. If this seems roundabout what I’m about to do — roundabout and jolting — hold on and at least give it consideration. She doesn’t give us her name, so I’ll just call her our friend.

Active God

I’m picking up from our friend’s wording that her view of God and his sovereignty over our lives, including when and how we die, may not be as biblical and as solid and as freeing as God means it to be.

She says, for example, with regard to her former drinking problem, “By the grace of God, he allowed me to let go of that habit.” Here it is again: “He allowed me to let go of that habit.” Now that kind of language, that allowing language, in relation to God’s work in our lives, sends alarm bells off in my mind that her view of God’s sovereignty — God’s rule over her personal life and over her willing and her actions, like drinking — is something like this: “If God would just step aside, then I will let go of this habit.”

Now she may not mean that, but sometimes the language we use speaks more deeply about what we believe than what we say we believe. She did say, “God allowed me to let go of that habit.” Really?

So the first thing I want to urge our anxious friend to celebrate is that God is way more actively involved in our habit breaking than mere allowing or permitting. Hebrews 13:21 says, “[He] equip[s] you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” This means that God is fully able — in his time and in his way — to take away not only the desire to drink, but the fear of death and the fixation on death. God is able not just to allow you to do it, but to do it decisively in and through you.

Immortal

Now, related to this view of God’s sovereignty in delivering us from fixations in our minds is God’s sovereignty over death itself, which is so crucial for our friend to grasp. I want our friend to see in God’s word that God has final and decisive control over how and when we die.

This is true, even though Satan has some secondary role to play. He’s not absolute. He’s not decisive. He’s not final. He’s always on a leash.

For example, when Job’s ten children died in one day, Job says, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). James says, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there.’ . . . Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:1315). God decides if we live and do this or that.

This has filled God’s people with incredible courage and energy and joy over the centuries in very risky circumstances of ministry. Why? Because we are immortal until our Father decides to bring us home. Think of it: immortal — you are immortal.

I wish I knew your name. I wish I could say it to Jane or Mary: You are immortal until God’s work for you is done. You really will not die. You will not die until God intends for you to die. This is wonderful. I mean, where else would you rather rest than in this?

More Precious Than Sparrows

You are not at the mercy of Satan. You are not at the mercy of nature. You are not at the mercy of man’s cleverness or carelessness or evil. You are rock-solid secure in God’s omnipotent hands, and you will not die except at his decision.

Where else would you want that decision to lie? He is your all-wise, all-knowing, all-merciful Father, which leads Jesus to say the sweetest of all words: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” And then, ironically, after telling us to fear God, he tells us what he really means by that: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” Picture your father leaning over you asleep in your crib, counting your hairs (which is no problem for him). “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28–31).

Fearless, fearless, fearless. And he’s good — he’s your Father. Jesus died to secure this. He died to secure Romans 8:28Romans 8:32, and Romans 8:37 for his sinful children. He died to secure the truth that all things work together for good, so death cannot separate us from the love of Christ.

Everything we need in life and death was bought by the blood of Jesus. So Paul says, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Make My Day

Here’s my counsel to our anxious friend and the rest of us. Instead of trying to stop thinking about death, every time that thought comes into your head, say to death, “Go ahead, death — make my day.” Say, “If you let me live, Christ will be honored on earth in my life. If you take away my life, I get more of Christ in heaven. I can’t lose.”

Then get on with your work. Make a meal, vacuum a rug, close a real-estate deal, give a flu shot. Go about your daily life with a totally happy uncertainty about when you will die.

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 – Feb 12, 2020

Some Wounds Never Heal

Article by Greg Morse, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

I didn’t realize how disorienting grief can be. In the aftermath of a dearly loved one’s death, I felt like I was living two worlds at once: one with him, and one without.

My grandfather, more like a father, died on a Tuesday this past December. He “died on a Tuesday” summarizes the concussion. He died — no longer will I see him poke his head up from his garden, or sit in the living room as he drinks in classical music. No longer will we go see movies together, study the Bible together, or go hiking up north. Death has hidden his face.

And yet, it was a Tuesday. An hour after weeping with family at his side as he took his last breaths, I remember the profane intrusion: What would be for dinner? Life, in one form or fashion, would continue without him. Tuesdays always hurry towards Wednesday. Time does not pay its respects for anyone. Our loved ones, when they die, die on Tuesdays.

We Are Not the Same

Their deaths, on their Tuesdays, affect our remaining Tuesdays after. Life has changed. We are changed.

The death of a loved one is a blade that pierces beneath the armor, an arrow that lodges down in the soul. It brings a hurt we cannot defend, a pain we cannot forget, an injury which will never fully heal.

“Alas! there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured,” said Gandalf.  (J.R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings)

“I fear it may be so with mine,” said Frodo. “There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?”

Gandalf did not answer.

Though life goes on without noticing our loss — daily broadcasts continue, people shop at grocery stores, buses come and go — we are no longer the same. The ache will not finally leave, the groan not silence, the limp not amend until we remove the tattered garments of this life. They are no longer with us.

The loveliness of their memory is a beautiful, but long, burden cast over our remaining days. The streets we walked are haunted with laughter. We glance at their empty-chair out of habit. Though life for us has not ended, it has changed. There is no real going back.

Death’s Prolonged Victims

Death, I realize, often inflicts its greatest havoc upon its survivors; its primary victims do not yet lie in the grave. When my grandfather departed in the Lord, he went to a place where pain and suffering are forbidden, while our grief, on that same day, deepened. His tears finally wiped away as ours sprung forth. He is healed. Our bleeding goes on.

We, not the departed, are left to wonder with the prophet, “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” (Jeremiah 15:18). Our grief refuses to be healed, as C.S. Lewis describes, after the death of his wife, in A Grief Observed:

Tonight all the hells of young grief have opened again. . . . In grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. . . . How often . . . will vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time. The first plunge of the knife into the flesh is felt again and again.

Dying can be an ugly thing. But for many, the knife enters once and releases its victim. But for those left behind, the stab is repetitive. Death not only claims its victims but torments their loved ones. Where, if anywhere, shall we find rest?

Pierced with Mary

This heart-stabbing we feel is owned, not avoided, in the Scriptures.

For one, this blade was foretold to pierce Mary decades before its advent. As Mary marveled at the prophesy given by Simeon concerning her newborn son — that he would be a light for the Gentiles and glory for Israel (Luke 2:29–32) — her wonder was interrupted by a prophesy concerning her as well:

Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:34–35)

A sword will pierce through your own soul also.

Jesus would be pierced, and Mary also. The blade entered later in the Gospels, “standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25).

She stood with her son and watched the horrible sight — she stood valiantly as the blade went in. Her beloved son, crucified upon a Roman tree in infamy and shame. The child to whom she spoke baby talk now groaned in unforgettable anguish. The child she swaddled, nursed, and held, now wrapped in death, nursed by anguish, and held up by nails which stapled his flesh to wood.

How far through did it run when she heard him gasp through suffocation one last time on her behalf, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26–27). In his dying breath, under the wrath of men and the wrath of God, he considered her well-being. Nails had pierced his hands and feet, and a spear now pierced his side, while a sword pierced her soul.

Where Can We Find Rest?

I do not mean to normalize the death of God’s own Son — it has no rival. His death is more horrific, more unthinkable, more grievous than the summation of every other deaths in history. But we know the soul-piercing effect of this blade when others have died as well. We see its sharpness pierce speech for seven days in the ash heap with Job and climb into the tears of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus.

And yet, while the death of our loved ones in the Lord constitute a heavy blow, it is precious in the eyes of our Father. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). And the reason for the preciousness is also foretold in the same verse as the piercing of soul. “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34).

The anastasis, the resurrection of many. Death for God’s people is precious only because Mary’s son was appointed for their resurrection. He is the Resurrection and the Life. Death will not hide faces for long.

Life After the Sword

We may never return to life as it once was. That’s okay. But we must never let the old ache stop us from living. Wednesday must follow Tuesday. Here, John Piper’s counsel is timeless: “Occasionally, weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.”

Frodo asked what so many of us with missing loved ones do: Where can I find rest? Gandalf did not answer. Jesus does: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29).

We must go to him moment by moment, groan by groan, tear by tear. That old wound may never heal in this life, but Jesus will comfort us day by day and glorify our scars in the next.

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