Daily Light – May 29, 2020

From Chaos to Christ

Gratitude for Ravi Zacharias (1946–2020)

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

Countless thousands of us around the world, with tearful gratitude, are saying our earthly goodbyes to Ravi Zacharias, who passed away on May 19 after being diagnosed with cancer just a couple of months ago. Someone whose life enriches ours is worthy of honor — and, if he enriched us through faithfully laboring in preaching and teaching, double honor (1 Timothy 5:17). Ravi enriched mine.

I benefited from a number of Ravi’s books and many of his recorded messages. But what stands out most in my memory is reading Can Man Live Without God at a crucial time in my life nearly 25 years ago. I don’t know that I’ve read or heard a public intellectual more fluent and incisive regarding the history of Western philosophy and its consequences — at times horrifically brutal — on Western civilization, especially in the twentieth century. And this from someone born and raised in the East (India).

Ravi ruthlessly described the psychological and social ramifications of atheism’s existential meaninglessness and moral bankruptcy. If God doesn’t exist, the inescapable human need to make sense of the world has no foundation; it’s a castle in the air. If God doesn’t exist, we have no objective basis for our inescapable, deeply intuitive sense of good and evil; it’s a human construct projected onto an amoral reality, perhaps an adaptation favored by natural selection to advance our genes into future generations. Nothing more.

Once man realizes he has no inherent meaning and there are no objective morals — that he must create both himself — and once the restraining vestiges of theism have been removed, terrible consequences will follow. Chilling consequences like the Nietzschean superman madness of the Third Reich and the Marxian utopic madness of Soviet and Sino Communism and their unprecedented carnage. Or on the individual level, consequences like the violence and suicide that result from nihilism and existential despair.

Such despair was not theoretical for Ravi. At 17, seeing no hope for his future, he attempted suicide at his family’s home in Delhi. That proved to be the turning point. For Jesus, as he does for so many of his disciples, came to Ravi at his lowest point and gave him a future and a hope. A Youth for Christ worker visited him in the hospital and left him with this text: “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). In these written words, Ravi heard his living Lord speak, and this previously unremarkable teen made a remarkable resolution: “I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.”

For more than half a century, Ravi not only relentlessly pursued the Truth (John 14:6), but relentlessly taught and defended the truth all over the world. The good fruit of his labors can be seen in the legacy of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), the Oxford Centre for Christian ApologeticsWellspring International (humanitarian aid), 28 books, and the list could go on and on.

All this is the harvest of a seed sown in a Delhi hospital bed after a failed suicide attempt. I would say the seed fell into good soil, though only Jesus would have known it at the time. One thing Ravi knew: he could not live without God. He spoke from his own experience when he wrote,

When man lives apart from God, chaos is the norm. When man lives with God, as revealed in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the hungers of the mind and heart find their fulfillment. For in Christ we find coherence and consolation as he reveals to us, in the most verifiable terms of truth and experience, the nature of man, the nature of reality, the nature of history, the nature of our destiny, and the nature of suffering. (Can Man Live Without God, 179)

I have one more reason to be grateful for the life and ministry of Ravi Zacharias: Michael Ramsden. Michael was installed last year as president of RZIM, succeeding Ravi. But prior to that, he led RZIM’s European outreach for many years. In the early 2000s, Michael graciously served on the board of Desiring God’s short-lived European arm, and he became a personal friend. More important than being perhaps the most brilliant person I have ever met, Michael is also among the most faith-filled, sincere, and humble people I have ever met. Ravi has handed this baton to another laborer worthy of double honor.

Father, thank you for the life of Ravi Zacharias. Thank you for showing him that he could not live without you. And when all he believed was that he could not live, thank you for showing him you. Thank you for his faithful and fruitful pursuit of stone-turning for the truth and for his double-honor-worthy labors in preaching and teaching and evangelizing and contending for the truth. Thank you that, in the words of Ajith Fernando, in “an era that has heralded the demise of reliance on objective truth as the primary source of direction to the lives of individuals,” Ravi showed “that a ministry committed to demonstrating the validity of objective truth is still relevant and desperately needed.”

Thank you for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of souls, like mine, that you have enriched and strengthened through Ravi. Thank you that he finished his course, kept the faith, left a legacy of financial and moral integrity, and enjoyed a strong marriage of 48 years. And thank you for the next generation of leaders in the RZIM family of ministries, who are taking the helm and leading in the same spirit and by the same Spirit. Give them a double portion of Ravi’s anointing. I have no doubt he would join me in saying, in Jesus’s name, amen.

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

Daily Light – May 28, 2020

One Could Never Say Enough

How Ethnicity Proclaims His Excellencies

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

“Excuse me, but I just had to ask — Are you guys fighters?”

My two roommates and I were eating wings and watching football when the woman approached our table, puzzled and a little nervous. Of the three of us, I was easily the most flattered by the idea. No one had ever mistaken me for a combat athlete.

“Umm, no, we’re not.” I looked to my roommates while I spoke, just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. By the look on their faces, you would have thought she was speaking in Swedish.

“Oh,” she responded, disappointed and searching. “So are you actors?” When one roommate slowly shook his head, she finally asked, “Well, what are you, then?”

The answer really was simple, but it suddenly didn’t feel all that simple anymore. What my other roommate said next confused her even more. And yet he answered perfectly: “Well, we love Jesus.”

“Huh. My husband and I were over there trying to figure out how you three knew each other.” What had mystified this couple so deeply? A white man, a black man, and a Filipino man eating wings and watching football together.

‘Lest We Be Dispersed’

As we watched that woman walk away, we tasted something of what happened when God judged the world at Babel — when he made the people into peoples and, for the first time, alienated them from each other.

To be sure, the world had known division and hostility before Babel, even murderous hostility (Genesis 4:8), but apparently it had not yet experienced racial or ethnic hostility. Families and generations had multiplied from Adam to Noah, and then for 350 years after the flood, from Noah until Babel. And still, after nearly four centuries of being fruitful and multiplying, “The whole earth had one language and the same words” (Genesis 11:1).

Because the flood had not washed away their sin, however, their unity did not produce deep thanksgiving, but only accelerated their defiance. Instead of seeing the awesome image of God in themselves, they thought they saw something better than God.

Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:4)

Do you hear the ignorance and insurrection? Lest we be dispersed. And who, we might ask them, would disperse you? The God they thought they could eclipse and dethrone. And so, God does what any jealous and loving God would do: he brings “to nothing things that are” — like towers, and governments, and our own illusions of wisdom, power, and control — “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:28–29).

Walls of Our Pride

God came down to see their city and their tower, saying, “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:7). Then God did precisely what they thought they could prevent:

The Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:8–9)

Why did God divide and disperse them? Why insert the reality of ethnicity and alienate the unity of humanity? Because their oneness had begun to serve their pride, throwing gasoline on the sin that had ruined the garden (Genesis 3:5). What God did at Babel was an act of holy war against the sin under every other sin. He humbled the whole world, not because his sovereignty or glory was truly threatened — he has no rivals (Job 42:2) — but because if he let us build towers to ourselves, they would bury us deeper in rebellion and destruction.

Any complexity and difficulty in ethnic diversity, from Babel to today, is a blessed thorn meant to immerse us, all the more, in grace (2 Corinthians 12:7–9) — if we humble ourselves, repent, and focus on building his kingdom and church.

A People for All Peoples

Make no mistake: ethnic diversity is ultimately a blessing, not a curse, because humility is a blessing, not a curse. Like so much of the pain and groaning in history, it may have seemed like the hostilities were in Satan’s hands (and he certainly delighted in much of them), but we find out, just a few verses later, what God was really doing, at a far deeper and wiser level, when he confused and dispersed the peoples. Babel was about humbling humanity, but it was not finally about our humility; it was about his glory.

In the very next chapter, God chooses Abraham, out of all the people and ethnicities in the world, and births the new people of Israel. But before Abraham could take even the first step, before he built that first altar in the land of Canaan, God told him this was not about one nation, one people, one language, but about God having the whole world as his treasured possession:

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:2–3)

God did set Israel against many nations of the world, for long and devastating centuries, but any wars they made were meant to ultimately bring the nations — all the nations — home.

Truly Together, Undeniably Different

That great ingathering really does begin, here and there, throughout the Old Testament. As Daniel Hays traces so well, ancient Israel was not as homogeneous as we might assume — from the “mixed multitude” coming out of Egypt (Exodus 12:38), to Moses’s African wife from Cush (Numbers 12:18), through the “all the peoples” messages in the Psalms and Prophets.

But the flood walls really begin to break at Pentecost. Do you see the shadows of Babel’s tower in that terrifying and wonderful scene? As the winds and fire of heaven descend and surround them, Luke says,

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. (Acts 2:5–6)

What’s particularly striking about Pentecost, and perhaps surprising, is that God did not remove all the languages. Instead, he finally harmonized them at the deepest level. Each man kept his own language, and yet they suddenly understood one another. Across the barriers of distinct languages, and hostile cultures, and horrible histories, they were together again, by faith in Jesus and the indwelling of his Spirit — not wholly or pervasively yet, but truly and deeply. In Christ, God had finally remarried the peoples — to build not a tower, but a church (1 Peter 2:4–5).

Pentecost confirms, in bold colors, what God had said to Abraham: the dispersing at Babel was not mainly or ultimately a judgment, but a preparation, over thousands and thousands of years, for unparalleled glory. God had multiplied ethnicities, exponentially and across generations and continents, to do greater justice to the beauty, worth, and sacrifice of his Son.

One Is Not Enough

The beauty and worth of his sacrifice, however, will come into full definition only in the world to come. Then we finally will hear the melody of the song we have waited for:

Worthy are you to take the scroll
     and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
     from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
     and they shall reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9–10)

One tribe could never say enough about this Christ. One language would never have enough words and nuances. One nation would never last long enough to see what many nations over many centuries could. Everything truly great and beautiful about every people group in history will be gathered and lifted before the throne, trying to capture just something of who this Lamb is. And though we will never fully capture him, we will capture far more because we are not the same.

Heaven proves that, in the wisdom, imagination, and creativity of God, diversity is vital to the supremacy of Jesus. If it did not reveal and exalt more of him, why would it be there?

At one level, then, our experience of the beauty and supremacy of Christ will always depend on the diversity of our fellowship. That doesn’t mean our more homogeneous communities are necessarily in sin (especially if our wider context is more homogeneous), but it does mean that for now we are missing out on something precious and eternal.

As long as everyone we know and love lives with our perspective, shares our background, and speaks our “language,” we see Christ mainly through that one window, that one angle, that one set of eyes and experiences. Our slice of the surpassing worth of Jesus is smaller, at least until we join in the explosively diverse choir and joy of heaven.

Treasure of the Nations

Our ethnic diversity is not an accident, nor merely a consequence of sin. God did disperse the peoples at Babel in order to humble each and every people (and ultimately Israel more than any other), but the humbling of God was meant to lead us into the hands of mercy, the wounds of his Son, and the hope of heaven. Anything different about those of us joined in Christ serves to show just how great a Lord, Redeemer, and Treasure he really is.

As my roommates and I watched that woman walk away from our table, we did experience some of the humbling, even maddening harshness of Babel, that birthplace of all racial tension and prejudice. But we also tasted, over wings and football, something of what heaven will be like. And something of how powerful and captivating Jesus really is. As different as we may seem to some, friendship has never been easier or sweeter or deeper, because we found each other in Christ.

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – May 27, 2020

Sell Yourself Short

The Rare Joy of Christian Humility

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

We live in a day in which understatement is an endangered species. There is no shortage of embellishment and exaggeration. Public communication can feel like one grandiose soundbite after another. Parties, events, releases, contests, political rallies must be bigger and better than the last.

In our society of hype and hyperbole, pomp and posturing, we embellish our own online profiles, selecting our most flattering photo, highlighting our most impressive accomplishments, and filling our timeline with the confirming data, all carefully curated. We are enduring (not to overstate it) an epidemic of over-promising and under-performing. At least in the public eye, few seem to have the humility to speak, post, and report with the simple truth.

Sadly, we Christians often fall prey to this cultural pressure. This Sunday, this conference, this study, this book, this message must be more “epic” (talk about exaggeration) than the last. Such a penchant can be especially acute in church planting and other ministry startups, when our collective insecurities and immaturities conspire to make it feel like everything needs to sound better than it actually is, to make us seem stronger than we truly are, to give the impression we have momentum and staying power. Often, it’s all an elaborate and upbeat cover for feeling fragile, weak, and gnawingly uncertain.

But what if we unsubscribed from the madness? What if we asked ourselves, in such a world as ours, How do I humble myself?

Think Less of Yourself?

Wise men want to be humble. And yet, ironically, the first lesson we learn in the pursuit of humility is that it’s not something we can just up and do. The first step in seeking humility is a humbling one. Humility begins with God’s initiative, not ours.

However, even though self-humbling is beyond our control, God does give us the dignity of participating in the process, and the opportunity to prepare our hearts to be humbled. Romans 12:3, which is one of the most important words in the Bible about humility, gives us a glimpse into the kind of heart that is ready to receive God’s humbling hand whenever it falls:

I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

C.S. Lewis memorably observed that humility does not mean thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. More than just guarding against swollen views of self, the apostle Paul would have us “think with sober judgment” — which I take to mean, among other things, don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about yourself at all.

Yet self-awareness is a mercy, even if Paul would caution us against self-focus. What might it mean, then, as a Christian, to think with sober judgment about self?

Observe the World’s Pattern

First, we will do well to remember what kind of world we live in: one swollen with inflated views of self. We cannot take our bearings from our surroundings and at the same time cultivate sober judgment of ourselves. In the verse before Romans 12:3, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

From the beginning, from humanity’s very first sin, we have been overestimating ourselves. And as sin — the great, deadly, rebellious impulse in the heart of the creature to overestimate self in the face of God — as sin has taken root, and grown, and spread, and borne fruit in our world, one age after another (apart from revival) has sought to outdo the others in self-regard.

Maybe modern humans are no more swollen with self-regard than our ancestors, but we do have a bigger box of powerful digital tools for going into all the world and preaching ourselves. It’s in the air. And on our screens. If we look at the world around us for our balance, we will soar in self-exaltation, or soon crash in self-pity.

We need to get our bearings before the face of God, with hearts daily and weekly recalibrated by the rhythms of God-conscious worship and devotion. For most of us, the outworking of genuine humility before God also will include owning our proneness to overestimate ourselves. Humility may feel like underestimating self because our age is so bent on overestimating. The goal is not to underestimate ourselves, though, but to think with sober judgment, in a generation inebriated with self.

Choosing the Lowest Place

Jesus told a parable when he saw the evidence of such overestimation (pride) in wedding invitees. Rather than presuming to sit in “the place of honor,” he instructed them instead,

Go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:10–11)

Christ would have his people think of themselves as ordinary, not special. As lowly, normal, one of the flock, not as a rabbi, teacher, instructor (Matthew 23:8–12). Not as a cut above the common man, but as happily ordinary, even gladly a servant. Even as a child (Matthew 18:3), as one who knows his smallness and dependence. Such people feel no need to pretend to be strong and self-sufficient; they are happily God-reliant and self-admittedly lowly, too modest to pretend otherwise.

Speak with Sober Judgment About Self

So, we reject the world’s pattern of self-exaltation and self-pity, but how will we discern what we really think about ourselves — and whether it is sober or swollen? It will come out of our mouths.

Consider the countless junctures in everyday life when how we think about ourselves comes out for all to hear and see. How do you introduce yourself to a new person? How do you “tell your story,” and what do you foreground? How polished a version of yourself do you put forward online? How often do your words slide into the humble-brag, not to mention your social-media posts? Do you presume and anticipate public acknowledgement and appreciation from others? Do you deliberately self-denigrate, hoping someone will swoop in and correct you? Do you presume the greater seat or happily head for the gallery?

Thinking with sober judgment may begin in our heads and hearts, but it comes out in our words. And our words in the world not only reveal our inner person, but also then shape our minds and hearts going forward.

Secure Enough to Be Small

It is humility, after all, that goes hand in hand with what we call “understatement.”

Understatement, as a figure of speech, has long had the technical title “tapinosis,” based on the Greek for humility (tapeinosis). It is humble to understate certain realities (especially our own abilities and accomplishments) and allow our hearers to experience the rare joy (almost inaccessible in modern life) of discovering something is more impressive than promised. And it’s humble to understate ourselves such that some listeners may never know the full force of it — because we are secure enough in Christ to have our qualities go unacknowledged.

When Christ is our security, we learn to be content with our lives being more dramatic in reality than in our telling of them, whether in conversations or online. Rather than making subtle, and sometimes shameless, efforts to have others think we’re more impressive than we really are, we’re happy to have them underestimate what otherwise might amaze.

Ultimately, it is the bigness and unsurpassed beauty of Christ, who is “the radiance of the glory of God” (Hebrews 1:3) and whose worth we cannot overstate, that frees us from exaggeration and inspires us to understate self.

As we’re increasingly impressed with him, we lose our need to be impressed with ourselves.

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 – May 26, 2020

What Billions Say in Silence

The Deafening Sermons of the Stars

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

“When I look at the stars, I see someone else.” (Switchfoot)

When David looked up in the Near Eastern night sky 3,000 years ago, what he saw almost took his breath away. And in an attempt to express the wonder that flooded him as he contemplated his minuteness in view of such vastness, and God’s design in it all, he did something uniquely human: he transposed his awe into art.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:3–4)

The “heavens,” that mysterious realm of marvelous lights, have astonished mankind from our earliest days. When we look at the heavens today, our understanding of what we see, due to advances in science and technology, far exceeds David’s understanding. David only had a hint of how minute he was in relation to the heavens. Our fuel for awe is astronomically greater. We know more, but do we marvel more?

Silent Sermons of the Stars

The starlit sky is speaking. In Psalm 19, which C.S. Lewis considered “one of the greatest lyrics in the world” (Reflections on the Psalms), David again wrote,

The heavens declare the glory of God,
     and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
     and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
     whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
     and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1–4)

If the heavens are the work of God’s “hands,” and if they are declaring the glory of God, what are these silent preachers telling us? To listen closely, I have leaned on David Blatner’s book, Spectrums: Our Mind-Boggling Universe from Infinitesimal to Infinity to help capture the wonder of what we too often take for granted.

All That We (Do Not) Know

When David surveyed the sky, part of what he saw belonged to our solar system (sun, moon, and a couple “stars” that were really planets), part belonged to our Milky Way galaxy, and part were distant stars and (probably) other faraway galaxies. David would have barely had a clue how massive and distant these heavenly bodies were.

To give us some perspective, Blatner writes, “if our solar system . . . were the size of a grain of salt, the Milky Way galaxy would be about the length of a football field.” That “milky” stripe we can see on a clear, dark night is a dense collection of stars in one of the Milky Way’s spiral arms — and it’s about 1,000 light-years thick! And what these starry arms (and we with them) are spiraling around is a supermassive black hole, called Sagittarius A, located about 27,000 light-years from us. Scientists estimate that our galaxy is about 100,000 light-years wide.

Looking at the sky with the naked eye, as David did, we can see a few thousand stars at most. But, “look through the telescope, do the math, and you’ll find there are somewhere between 200 and 400 billion stars in the Milky Way.” That’s a lot of stars! But our neighboring galaxy Andromeda appears to contain a trillion or more stars.

And that’s not even a chip on the tip of the cosmic iceberg. A recent estimate of the total number of galaxies in the universe is 150 to 200 billion, but the Hubble Telescope is indicating that the real number might be ten times that amount. And when it comes to the total number of stars, we really don’t know. One estimate is around 1 septillion (that’s a “1” followed by 24 zeros). And all this inhabits a universe that has an estimated radius of about 46 billion light-years.

All this information doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what we as a species collectively now know. And scientists say that what we now know barely scratches the surface of what we don’t yet know.

What Are the Heavens Declaring?

So, if these heavens declare the glory of God, what are they declaring?

Having spent hours pouring over scientific expositions of the silent sermons of the starry hosts, I first want to put my hand over my mouth. I want to say with Job that far too often “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). I fear trivializing what is ineffably profound.

These glory heralds don’t have three points and an application. They join all who in the presence of God cry “Glory!” (Psalm 29:9); they join all who in the presence of God cry, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). And it seems to me that worshipful prayer is the only appropriate response.

PRAYING THROUGH THE HEAVENS

Lord God Almighty, when I look to your heavens, I join the choir in ascribing to you absolute glory. And I echo David in saying, “What is man, who occupies this pale blue dot, a dust mote in the vast heavens, that you are mindful of him? And who am I, a man so often consumed with the tiny microcosm of my own concerns, to speak of you who speaks this whole cosmos into being? Indeed, ‘there is none like you’” (Psalm 86:8).

When I look to your heavens, I hear them declare that there is none like you possessing such wisdom. For you, Lord, “by understanding . . . established the heavens” (Proverbs 3:19), “determin[ing] the number of the stars [and giving] to all of them their names” (Psalm 147:4), and conferring upon each one unique aspects of your glory (1 Corinthians 15:41). And they declare that your wisdom is infinitely greater than ours: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). In view of such wisdom, I repent of all my foolish leaning on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

When I look to your heavens, I hear them declare that there is none like you who possesses such power. For “by the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (Psalm 33:6). For it is you alone “who brings out [this] host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of [your] might and because [you are] strong in power, not one is missing” (Isaiah 40:26). Yes, “yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. . . and you are exalted as head above all” (1 Chronicles 29:11). In view of such omnipotence, I repent of all my foolish trust in the strength of man (Psalm 118:8).

When I look to your heavens, I hear them declare your sheer immensity, since even “the highest heaven cannot contain you” (1 Kings 8:27). And they declare your incomparable creativity, since “the universe was created by [your] word, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). And they declare your supreme authority, since “all things were made through [you], and without [you] was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). And they declare your sovereignty (Psalm 115:3), your righteousness (Psalm 50:6), your faithfulness (Genesis 15:5–6), and your steadfast love (Psalm 136:9). In view of such glory, I repent of my foolish, selfish pride and bow my knee and confess with my tongue that Jesus Christ, the Word through whom the cosmos was created (John 1:3) and the Word made flesh (John 1:14), “is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11).

More Valuable Than Galaxies

When David looked up at the heavens, he did not know what we now know: the unfathomable extent and scope of the universe. And when he asked, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4), he did not know what we now know: the unfathomable extent and scope of God’s care for us in sending the incarnate Jesus “to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

The heavens will not tell us that Jesus came or why. Only Scripture’s special revelation tells us that. But the heavens do declare in a silent shout, literally around the whole world, glorious things about our Creator’s and Savior’s “eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20).

All that is involved in creation and all that is involved in redemption is nothing less than fearful and wonderful. The deeper we look into these things, the more fearful and wonderful it all becomes. A child can take joy in the sun, the moon, the stars, and the empty tomb. And scholars will never plumb the full depths of such glorious things. But children and scholars alike can take comfort in this: the God who remembers the names of a sextillion stars, and knows all sextillion molecules in a drop of water, knows and remembers us.

God does not measure value or significance in size, but in his creative design. The cross reminds us that he is mindful of us in ways that galaxies will never know. Of how much more value are you than they?

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

Daily Light – May 25, 2020

The Maker of the Mountains Is with You

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

In days of darkness, God regularly delivers his comfort and strength to us through four simple words: “I am with you.”

I am with you. The promise comes to God’s fearful people across time and testaments: to Isaac in Beersheba (Genesis 26:24), Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:12), David in the valley (Psalm 23:4), the disciples as he commissions them (Matthew 28:20). The living God knows what we need most in our deepest distress: not answers, but the promise of his presence.

And yet, the power of this promise rises only as high as our knowledge of the one who gives it. The presence of a vague Benevolence is of little help when suffering steals toward us. And so, God not only promises his people that he is with them; he also reminds them of who he is.

When we walk through the valley of deep darkness, defenseless as a sheep, he calls himself Shepherd (Psalm 23:4). When we lie face down, overpowered by enemies too strong for us, he calls himself Redeemer (Isaiah 43:14). And when we feel small, vulnerable and afflicted in a dangerous world, he calls himself Creator: “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).

Our Faithful Creator

Small, vulnerable, and afflicted describes how many must have felt when they received the letter we know as 1 Peter. Already “grieved by various trials,” they did not know where suffering’s shadow would descend next (1 Peter 1:64:12). They were the threefold target of a world that maligned them, a flesh that besieged them, and a devil that stalked them (1 Peter 4:42:115:8).

Into that fear, uncertainty, and pain, Peter speaks a promise. He has already assured them that they are “God’s people,” heirs of the pledge “I am with you” (1 Peter 2:10). Now, he lifts their eyes above their trials, above their enemies, even above all heaven and earth, to remind them that that God who calls them “My people” is also their “faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19).

“Know this, my brothers and sisters,” Peter says in effect, “The God who walks with you, who hems you in behind and before, is not only your Savior, Redeemer, and Lord, but also the Maker of the mountains, the Crafter of the skies.” And for those bought by the blood of Jesus, this Creator is not only mighty, but faithful — even to the smallest, most vulnerable, most afflicted among his people.

Sovereign over Creation

If we embrace God as our faithful Creator in our suffering, we will begin to find two unmoving rocks beneath our feet. First, God governs all creation from the highest to the lowest, from the farthest to the nearest — from the orbits of moons in unseen galaxies to the shadows of leaves in our front yard.

The suffering of Peter’s audience may have seemed frustratingly random. So too with our own suffering: cruel spouses and false “friends,” careening cars and spreading viruses may seem, by all appearances, ungoverned: arbitrary menaces in an arbitrary world. But here, Peter reminds us that behind every creature, animate and inanimate, stands a Creator — a Creator so involved in the details of his world that suffering reaches us only if he, in his wisdom and lovingkindness, deems “necessary” (1 Peter 1:63:17).

Just as God says to the seas, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:11), so too he says to our suffering. No slander cuts, no tumor grows, no arrow flies, and no plague spreads a millimeter farther than the Almighty decrees. To each, God says, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther” — and creation is bound to obey.

Suffering can thwart our Creator’s sovereign rule as soon as the sun flies from its course, or the seasons refuse to arrive, or the molecules stop hearing the word of him who upholds the universe (Hebrews 1:3).

Sovereign over Us

God’s sovereignty as Creator extends not only over the creation around us, however, but also over us. Our souls, which often feel so fragile, are in the arms of Omnipotence. And no suffering can reach into those arms to snatch the people God protects.

“By God’s power,” Peter writes, “[you] are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). In all afflictions, fears, sorrows, and uncertainties, the power of God is garrisoned about our souls, guarding and keeping us — not from the suffering itself, but from anything in the suffering that would ultimately destroy us. He is our Creator twice over — once by birth, twice by new birth (1 Peter 1:323) — and he will not forsake the work of his hands.

Such is the power that undergirds the promise at the end of Peter’s letter: “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). After we have suffered through the “little while” of this life, our Creator will bend down to the dust once again and put his breath back in to the children of man. Then paralyzed legs will walk again, blind eyes will see again, scarred skin will feel again. Then the pieces of every broken heart will be put back together; then will every wound, seen and unseen, be bound up for eternity.

Our Creator has every ability — indeed, every intention — to make all things new, and to place us in a world where suffering has no home.

Servants with Scarred Hands

When you meet the kind of Christians who trust God as their faithful Creator, you will know it. Such saints have a mark they cannot hide. Not only do they walk through suffering with an abiding peace in Jesus; they also walk through suffering with an eye toward others: “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

Having entrusted their fragile souls to the safekeeping of a faithful Creator, they have found the courage to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives, hand them to Jesus, and trust that he is still able to take what is broken and use it to nourish multitudes. They may speak comfort with a tremble in their voice, or reach out to another with scarred hands, or serve with wounds that cannot been seen and cannot be fully healed in this life. But they still speak, still reach, still serve, bringing the treasure of God to others in a jar of clay.

Why? Because the Creator of the stars keeps them as the apple of his eye. Because the Architect of the earth counts their every hair. Because the Maker of the mountains holds their souls in the hollow of his hand. And with him they are safe.

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 – May 22, 2020

Do My Sins Ruin God’s Plan for My Life?

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

Do my sins sabotage God’s best plan for my life? Do I lose God’s best plan for me by living in sin? This is such an important question, and it was sent to us in an email from a regretful middle-aged woman named Valerie. “Hello, Pastor John. Can my grievous sins, even committed as a Christian, thwart God’s plan for my life? If I live in sin, will I get his plan B for me? Will I miss out on his plan A? I recognize that I am forgiven but must live with the consequences of my foolishness. But I also wish I hadn’t sinned in ways that probably changed the course of God’s blessing my life and the lives of my adult children. Have I forfeited God’s best plan for me because of my sinning?”

Let me lay some groundwork from the Bible, and then, on the basis of the groundwork, try to give a biblically faithful answer to the question of whether we are living in plan A or B for our lives.

Daily Reward, Daily Loss

Let’s start with the biblical teaching that all of us Christians will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ and be rewarded or not for the good and evil we have done. Second Corinthians 5:10 says this: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

Then Ephesians 6:8 says, “Whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord.” That’s an amazing statement. Wow. Any little good thing you do that nobody else sees, God wrote it down, and you will receive an appropriate reward.

Then 1 Corinthians 3:15 says, “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” There is a kind of loss, a being burned up, that believers endure through sinful actions, and there is a gain that believers receive for the good that they do. Of course, none of this — even though somebody might balk — calls into question the doctrine of justification by faith alone. That truth stands alongside the truth that there are varying rewards for justified believers in the age to come.

Keep in mind that all Christians sin every day. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. . . . If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:810). Who of us comes to the end of any day and says, “I loved God perfectly today with my whole soul, my whole heart, my whole strength, my whole mind”? Not many people are that daring. We sin every day, and we do works of faith every day. The sinful actions result in our suffering loss, and the righteous actions result in our being rewarded at that last day.

Your Best Life Changes

Now, what does that imply? I’ve just built my biblical foundation that I wanted to put in place. Now, what does that imply for our best life? Plan A? Or is it plan B or plan C or Q or X? Try to imagine just you. Consider yourself without reference to anybody else in the body of Christ — just you. From the strictly individual standpoint, the best life would be a life with the fewest sins and the most loving deeds. Individually, then, the best life — our best future — just from an individual standpoint, is changing every hour. Sins are detracting from our reward and deeds are being burned up, so to speak, in advance, and good deeds are being recorded every hour of your life, and those are going to be rewarded.

So, your best life is changing at every moment because of all the sins that you perform, not just some biggies in the background of your life, but all of them, and all your good deeds are being recorded. I often said at Bethlehem that we never made a decision at the church far beyond B-. I never considered any decision we made to be an A+ decision. Everything was as good as you could do as a sinful, fallen human being. God, in his mercy, records those, and he’ll deal with them appropriately.

But from the standpoint of how all of God’s saints comprise one great, innumerable body of Christ, displaying the panorama of God’s grace as a body, as a coherent, organic unity — the way each person fits into that glorious body will be just the way God planned it when all is said and done, for the greatest glory of his name and the greatest good for his body as a whole, with nobody, no single individual in that body, feeling any envy or any pride. The new world will be a perfect world. There will be no sinful defect there, no unhappiness there. Christ will be the focus of our joy, and we will be granted eyes to see how the differences among us serve his glory and our joy.

Boundless Satisfaction

Stir this in. In the parable of the laborers of the vineyard, where some worked all day and some worked for one hour, and the master paid all of them the same thing, the point is this: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” (Matthew 20:15). In other words, God is absolutely free with his grace to do with it what he pleases, which probably means we are in for some surprises, and they’re going to be good.

Then stir this in. When I said that for all the differences in reward in heaven, there will be no envy and no pride there. I won’t envy your superior reward, and you won’t feel any pride over me in your superior reward. That’s because there will be no sin there. There will be only perfect satisfaction in God in every heart. Every cup — no matter how it’s shaped, no matter how big or little it is — will be full and overflowing with love and joy in God. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Press On Toward Heaven

Here are a couple of closing implications for life: All of us have regrets. If we are honest, if we’re clear-sighted, we have regrets at the end of every day, not at the end of a season of parenting only — every day, not just for a few big regrets in the past, but for hundreds of things that accumulate over days and weeks and months. What shall we do with these future-altering regrets since they’re all going to be burned up someday? Paul said two really helpful things.

Even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it. . . . I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:8–10)

In other words, there is a kind of looking back with remorse that leads graciously to repentance and takes the future-ruining sting out of the remorse. To be sure, the scars and damage of our sins sometimes cannot be reversed. I heard in her question concern about that. They cannot be reversed. Broken health. Maybe you smoked too long. You just broke your health. Shattered marriage. The divorce, remarriage — it’s not going to be fixable. Alienated relationships. Psychological scars from who knows what. Paul’s point is that godly repentance and godly remorse is full of hope that these things will not destroy our future or our joy.

Paul knew this from his own horrific past. He knew the pain that he was talking about when he referred to the past because he had been, as he says, the chief of sinners, because he actually had a hand in murdering Christians (1 Timothy 1:15). Imagine how that hung over Paul the rest of his life. He took the life of Christians, which is probably why he said this final word. I can just hear him battling here:

One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind [oh, that must have been a battle] 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)

My conclusion is that it is futile and pointless to try to figure out whether we are living in plan A or plan B or plan X or plan Y. We are living in the rest of our lives. Today is the beginning of the rest of your life. If you’re a Christian, it is leading to perfect happiness forever — perfect happiness forever in the presence of God. Throw yourself into this life with great expectation that God is going to increase your eternal capacities to enjoy him as you rejoice to do his will now.

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 Coronavirus and Christ.

Daily Light – May 21, 2020

God Made You for a Body

How Resurrection Will Make Us Whole

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

What comes to your mind when you think about your soul? How does it relate to your body? Do you have a spirit that is in some way different from your soul? Are your body, soul, and spirit just one inseparable unit? What happens to these dimensions of you when you die? And what happens at the resurrection?

Christians have debated these questions throughout history. This is partly because the Bible can sound like it’s saying different things about the body, soul, and spirit in different places, and partly (particularly for western Christians) because of Plato’s influence on our thinking. Today, we also have the additional influence of the discoveries in neuroscience.

But the majority of Christian theologians throughout history have agreed that the Bible reveals human beings as fundamentally comprised, as the Athanasian Creed puts it, of a “rational soul and flesh,” meaning two main dimensions: an immaterial and a material.

These two dimensions were not designed to be torn apart, but due to sin and its wages (Romans 6:23) the tragic abnormality is that they are torn apart in death. And therefore, the ultimate goal of what Jesus purchased on the cross, and the great hope of the Christian faith, is not disembodied souls living in an ethereal heaven after bodily death, but the resurrection of the body.

The Great Divide

God created us as embodied souls and designed these two dimensions to function in complete harmony. But then came the fall, and “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). And when death occurs, the Bible describes our soul being torn from our body.

Not all Christians affirm such cleaving. There are a minority of theologians who hold to monism, the belief that a human is one inseparable being, that no aspect of a person can live apart from his body, and that “the scriptural terms soul and spirit are just other expressions for the “person” himself, or for the person’s “life.” Monists believe that when people die, they undergo a kind of soul sleep until the resurrection, pointing to numerous texts like John 11:11 and 1 Corinthians 15:20, where death is described as sleep.

But there’s a reason the vast majority of Christians have not been monists: so many texts point to our soul (or spirit) living on after death claims our bodies (Genesis 35:18Psalm 31:5Luke 23:4346Acts 7:59Philippians 1:23–242 Corinthians 5:81 Thessalonians 4:14Hebrews 12:23Revelation 6:920:4). Therefore, “sleep” is a euphemism for what happens to the body, not the soul.

The Intermediate State

One of the clearest Scriptures on this is Jesus’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31). In the story, both poor Lazarus and the rich man die. Their souls are torn from their bodies and sent to “Hades,” the realm of the dead, where Lazarus is at Abraham’s side, across the chasm from where the rich man is in torment. Jesus may have employed fiction in his parables, but he always used realistic fiction. If this parable didn’t in some significant way reflect what really happened after death (until Christ himself went in human soul to Hades, and drew up with him saved souls to his Father’s presence in heaven), it would have been a strange anomaly and uncharacteristically misleading.

Theologians refer to the place where Lazarus’s and the rich man’s soul go (with a great chasm fixed between them, Luke 16:26) as the “intermediate state,” where souls of those who have died await the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment (John 5:28–29). For those who die in their sin (John 8:24), it is literally a hellish state of torment. But for those who die in faith, it is wonderful beyond imagination, what we call “heavenly,” because it is where God is. That’s why Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). And it’s why Paul said that to “be away from the body [is to be] at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8), which is “far better” (Philippians 1:23) than remaining in a fallen “body of death” (Romans 7:24).

But while this temporary paradise is far better for the Christian than this futile world, the Bible does not describe it as being the best thing. There is some sense in which our souls will be “unclothed” at the loss of our physical bodies (2 Corinthians 5:4), though the Bible doesn’t describe it in specifics. It may be a heavenly experience for us to be with the Lord, but we will be incomplete until we “attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:11).

Your Spiritual Body

Christianity is not merely a go-to-heaven-when-you-die religion; Christianity is foremost a resurrection religion. The cross of Jesus is of course crucial. But it is the resurrection of Jesus that not only points to his death’s efficacious substitutionary atonement for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17–19), but also points to our ultimate future hope: our resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20).

When Jesus came, it was to inaugurate the new creation. The current creation is groaning under the weight of “futility” and its “bondage to corruption,” eagerly waiting for “the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19–21). And the sons of God will be revealed when they experience the “redemption of [their] bodies,” meaning their new bodies (Romans 8:23). And this will happen at the return of Jesus, the great Christian “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), which will initiate that great gathering in the clouds (1 Thessalonians 4:15–17). The entire New Testament rings with resurrection.

God is not content to give us an ethereal heaven where we’ll live as a great gathering of disembodied souls. God originally made this creation “very good” (Genesis 1:31). But since it has been corrupted by sin, he now intends to make “all things new” (Revelation 21:5). And a central part of this new creation is the reunion of our purified souls with our new resurrected bodies:

What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42–44)

The Great Reunion

God is giving his Son, Jesus, a kingdom of a new heavens and new earth (Isaiah 65:172 Peter 3:13), and all who have been adopted as sons in Jesus (Ephesians 1:5) will reign with him, all having shared in his resurrection (Revelation 20:6). For, in our case, the last enemy Jesus will destroy is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

     “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
      “O death, where is your victory?
        O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:51–55)

And so the great divide between our immaterial soul and our material body that happens at our curse-caused death will become, in the resurrection, the great reunion of our soul and body — a glorious body that, like Jesus’s, “will never die again” (Romans 6:9).

And of all the glorious things we will experience in our resurrected, reunified state as inhabitants of God’s new creation, the joy of our joys, our light of our new life, the heaven of the new earth, will be this: that “we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

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