Daily Light – May 20, 2020

For Anyone Happy Without God

Article by Greg Morse, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

“I know you don’t believe me, but I do not need Christianity to be happy. I am happier than most Christians I know.” Looking up from his coffee, he smiled and assured me, “I am glad you found happiness in Jesus, but I am quite content without him. I have found my path to happiness, and I am glad you have found a different one. We stand at the same end, it would appear.”

I did not know what to say.

I knew how to share the Joy of the world to the discontent, the miserable, the downcast, but I stood perplexed at this man who told me, in no uncertain terms, “I do not need Christ to be happy.” Wasn’t his heart restless until it found its rest in him? He assured me it wasn’t. Didn’t he have a God-shaped hole in his heart? He swore that he didn’t. And what was more, he truly seemed to be, as far as I could tell, happy.

I knew Jesus was a Comfort for those who mourned, a Light to those in darkness, a North Star to those who wandered the world without hope. I didn’t know what he was to those happy enough in their own way.

Can Unbelievers Be Truly Happy?

I wish I could go back and talk with this man. Instead of trying to convince him, for hours on end, of his unhappiness, all so I could then share Christ with him, I wish I would have spoken the way Paul did when he addressed those he found in Lystra.

He [God] did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness. (Acts 14:17)

Paul did not address the downtrodden, the depressed, the poor in spirit. Here, he addressed those who ate, drank, and when tomorrow came, died. Those with food and happiness enough not to alert them to their spiritual starvation. To such as these, Paul did not start by handing out prescriptions for happiness they didn’t feel they needed. He knew he spoke to a people that I was unfamiliar with: the happy heathen.

Paul says that God satisfied their hearts with food and gladness. Gladness. The only other place in the New Testament where this word appears is in Luke’s citation of another well-known verse: “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence” (Acts 2:28; citing Psalm 16:11). In Psalm 16, God’s Fatherly presence to his children gives one kind of heart-gladness (a full, everlasting, permanent kind), but his food and common-grace-goodness bestows another. Both are real.

God Makes His Enemies Smile

God allows his enemies to smile. Have you wondered at this?

God allows those who ignore him, reject him, despise his glory, and belittle his name to breathe his air, feast on his food, swim in his waters, hike in his forests, ski on his mountains, laugh, sing, and dance on his lands. He has not yet evicted them. He has not taken back his bread from their plates nor his air from their lungs. Rather — and note the benevolence of the God of the universe — he “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25).

No good and perfect gift comes down from any other hand but his (James 1:17). He is an abundantly gracious God, even to his enemies. The God constantly sneered at and ignored “makes his sun rise on the evil.” Almighty God “sends rain . . . on the unjust” who despise his glory (Matthew 5:45). This kindness makes angels sing of his mercy and patience.

Gifts Without Gratitude

The man that I spoke with took these gifts from God, enjoyed them, and refused to say thank you.

Man is the only creature other than fallen angels to pay God back so basely. God opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing (Psalm 145:16). He opens his hand to eagles in their treetops, to antelope on the plains, to fish in the sea and flowers of the field. They declare his glory and groan for his return (Romans 8:19–23).

But men and devils do not. Devils contemplate the return of God saying, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29). And men look their fellow men in the eye and say they have no need of Christ; indeed, who is Christ that he should be obeyed? God opens his hand to this creature — best positioned to return to him gratefulness and love — and he will not bother to look up. He does not honor him, nor does he return him thanks (Romans 1:21).

I wish I would have shared with this man how his reasons for happiness — family, friends, health, good food, good drink, good sports — were not just “how things were.” I wish I would have bid him to consider how God watches him, day in and day out, parade about with his gifts while discounting his person.

What Our Pleasures Testify

Instead of telling him that I was sure he is really unhappy somewhere deep down, or trying to debate him as to whether he feels his God-sized hole (which he still has), what should I have told him?

I should have explored all his reasons for happiness, and then told him plainly that these were all gifts from God meant to lead him to God. And that, furthermore, his failure to do so was already a serious crime that must be atoned for, and thus he must be led to Christ, God’s greatest gift to the world. Sin, not just his psychological experience of joy, gave Jesus utmost relevance to him. He had a sin problem, if not a felt joy problem. He stood not only a branch withering apart from the Vine; he stood a branch prepared for the fire (John 15:6).

Paul told the happy heathens that God had not left himself without witness to both his existence and his goodness. And what was this witness’s testimony? Repent. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). Beautiful families whisper, repent. Enjoyable careers urge, repent. Sunsets in vacation selfies cry, repent. All of these declare that God is good, benevolent, and patient with his enemies, and that he calls them to turn away from sin and to forgiveness found in Christ.

Word to Happy Heathen

If I could go back to talk with this man, I might say something like the following.

The Christian faith is not merely about man’s happiness, although God gives more joy than you can now imagine. Christianity addresses how sinful men, women, and children can be reconciled to their Creator and live happy lives for his glory. God has placed good gifts to summon you to see God’s ultimate gift: his Son, Jesus Christ. He came to save a people he didn’t have to save. To live a life we couldn’t live. To die the death we deserved to die. And to rise, summoning all everywhere to turn away from their sin, and trust in his finished work on the cross for sinners.

The smartphone in your pocket has everything to do with this God. The music massaging your ears, the colors jumping before your eyes, the gladness of heart and the love you feel are kindnesses from God with one message upon their lips: “Repent and believe.”

Instead of justifying a life apart from God, substituting the gifts for the Giver, the gifts of great joy are given to lead to the Giver. His multi-varied kindnesses, his overwhelming patience, his forbearance give room for faith. Even now he beckons. Even now he invites. Come, heed the message in every good gift of God’s perfect gift — Jesus Christ — and live.

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.

Daily Light – May 19, 2020

The Wonder We Once Had

Unearthing the World God Made

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

When was the last time something God made stopped you with a deep, undeniable sense that he must be real?

Few of us pause nearly enough. Some have constructed whole lives that avoid the endless sermon God is preaching through creation. We walk through God’s world of miracles, literally or figuratively, with headphones in. We can’t be bothered with the natural any longer. We’ve moved on to cars, and smartphones, and podcasts, and YouTube. We’ve grown out of fascination and wonder, and then stored them as hand-me-downs for our children or grandchildren. As G.K. Chesterton writes,

Grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our father is younger than we. The repetition in nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be theatrical encore. (Orthodoxy, 58)

We know that the infinite, eternal God deeply enjoys what he has made (Genesis 1:31). But have we adults become bored, or distracted, or simply too busy?

Routines Without Wonder

Consider for a moment just how much of your day is hemmed in by what man has made.

From the bed you sleep on, in the house you live in, to the shower, to the breakfast table, to the car, to the desk and the office, to the phone, the computer, and the television. Apart from a brief walk to and from our cars (and that window down the hall), we can almost totally avoid the vast and breathtaking world we live in. We might begin assuming most of what we encounter in any given day, at least in urban contexts, could have been made without God.

But that tree in my front yard defies all human ingenuity and expertise. Who could make a tree like that? There’s absolutely nothing unusual or spectacular about our tree. Driving down our street, you would never notice it among many larger, more beautiful trees. And yet if you stop to look at it, really look at it, it is stunning, unexplainable, God-soaked. If we stop.

Missing the Forest and the Trees

God is revealed clearly everywhere in what he has made. The apostle Paul says, “His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). He is speaking about the ungodly and unrighteous, who are without excuse because they suppress what God is saying in night skies and stunning sunrises, in roaring seas and peaceful pastures, in mountain lions and anthills. So do we have an excuse?

Those of us who love the Bible, and we do love the Bible, can be prone to miss the other book God has written for us. Creation is not Scripture, and we should see everything in creation through the window of the infallible, inerrant, sufficient, glorious word of God.

But if we love the voice we hear in Scripture, we can learn to hear that same voice in trees, and turtles, and thunderstorms, and the two ducks that walked through the front yard this morning. If we love the God we read about in Exodus, Isaiah, Matthew, and Romans, we can come to see him in oceans, smell him in flowers, taste him in honey, feel him in the warmth of sunshine or under that first snowfall. If God is really speaking in the Bible, then he is speaking every bit as much and as loudly in creation, even if the language lacks the degree of precision we’ve learned to lean on.

The Key to Really Seeing

God dispatches us, through Romans 1, far and wide and deep into creation, with hearts sensitive to the vast and subtle messages in everything we see, smell, hear, taste, and touch. But Romans 1 also sounds a severe warning about all the beauty we discover. If we do not walk by faith through the world (Romans 1:17), then we may fall, to our destruction, in love for this world.

Human history tells the story of sinners who suppressed the truth and “exchanged the glory of the immortal God” — the glory that we see in all that he has made, including man and birds and animals and creeping things — “for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:23). And because they chose the beauty of the birds over the God who made the birds, they missed the true beauty, and song, of the birds. The glory they thought they saw was just an awful, God-belittling mirage of reality.

And misreading reality, they dove headlong into sin and wrath (Romans 1:24–25). But in Christ, we have been given new eyes for creation. “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). And as his light shines in us, through his word, that same light soon rises, like the sun, on all that he has made. “For the full and final purposes of creation to come to light, the things God has made must be considered through the eyes of faith in Jesus Christ” (T.M. Moore, Consider the Lilies, 89).

When We Look

“Until we see the beauty of Christ,” writes Steve DeWitt, “we will never see the true beauty in anything else” (Eyes Wide Open, 116). That means if we really want to hear what God is saying in the blues of bluebirds and waddle of penguins, in the raging of rivers and stillness of lakes, in the opening of lilies and landslides along cliffs, we first and forever fix our eyes on Jesus. We will never appreciate creation by looking away from him, but by looking through the one through whom the world was made (Hebrews 1:2). His beauty unleashes every other beauty, if we are willing to look.

As we look out, like I did last night, on another “normal” Tuesday’s night sky, King David’s awe and worship could increasingly become second nature.

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)

This kind of awe may require some intentionality and discipline at the outset, especially for those of us who have learned to avoid and ignore creation, but it requires less and less over time. Make no mistake, it will always take time — “When I look at your heavens” — but if we want to honor God, thank God, and enjoy God through creation, we won’t have to look hard to find him. He is, after all, displaying an eternal power, not a pedestrian power; a divine nature, not an above-average one.

Heaven Will Be an Earth

However, even if we struggle to see and enjoy God through his world here on earth, we will not in the new world to come. Heaven will unleash this kind of theology and experience. The created world will have been set free from its bondage to corruption, and we will be set free from all our blindness to God in creation.

When those endless days come, we will know something of what God felt when he “saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Any nervousness we once had about the idea of general revelation (some for good reason) will give way to centuries of discovery, of uncovering glimpses of God in everything, many of which were right before our eyes all along.

Until then, we practice hearing him in what he has made, as broken as it (and we!) may be. As Joe Rigney says, “God’s love for God led him to create the world from nothing. Therefore, our love for God, if it is to be an accurate reflection of God’s love, must also lead us to a deep and profound and fitting love for creation. God’s love for God pushes him into creation. So should ours” (The Things of Earth, 62). God made this world to give us more of what he loves the most: himself. Will we pause to enjoy him?

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 18, 2020

My Soul Refuses to Be Comforted’

A Song for Long Nights in Darkness

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

His soul was in such turmoil he could not sleep. So confused and disturbed were his emotions (and the questions that fueled them), he couldn’t capture them all in words. He wasn’t experiencing a generalized, undefined depression. He mentioned no specific enemy threatening his life. The person he was in anguish over was God. When Asaph penned Psalm 77, he was experiencing a crisis of faith.

I cry aloud to God,
     aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
     in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
     my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
     when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
You hold my eyelids open;
     I am so troubled that I cannot speak. (Psalm 77:1–4)

Why was Asaph so troubled? Because from his perspective it appeared God had decided to abandon his promises to Israel. And if God doesn’t keep his word, those who trust in him build the house of their faith on the sand — a very disturbing thought.

You Hold My Eyelids Open

Many who have endured a faith crisis recognize the experience Asaph describes. Something happens that shakes our confidence in what God has said, causing us to waver over what we’ve understood to be true about him or his character. This uncertainty produces anxiety and fear. In an effort to quell our anxiety, our mind becomes an incessant investigator, diligently searching for answers that will restore our confidence (Psalm 77:6).

Such anxiety can rob us of sleep. It did for Asaph. During the day, other responsibilities, activities, and people require our attention, offering some distracting respite. But in the dead of night, it’s just us and our troubled thoughts. So we lie awake in bed or pace a dark room with our figurative (or literal) “hand . . . stretched out [toward God] without wearying,” and our “soul refus[ing] to be comforted” (Psalm 77:2).

Refusing to be comforted? Is that okay? Asaph’s example here doesn’t endorse every inconsolable moment we have. We all battle sinful unbelief. But this psalm, I believe, is not a clinic in sinful unbelief, but in honest, anguished spiritual wrestling. There can come desperate moments in life — and we’ll see shortly just how desperate Asaph’s moment was — where telling our turmoil-afflicted soul to “hope in God” (Psalm 43:5) doesn’t bring quick comfort, because at that moment we’re wondering if God can be hoped in. This is why Asaph says, “When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints” (Psalm 77:3).

Before we go on, we simply need to let this sink in: Asaph’s faith in God was shaken, the resulting anxiety was keeping him awake at night (he even told God, “You hold my eyelids open”), and this experience made it into the canon of Scripture. There’s a reason God preserved this psalm for us.

Has God Forgotten to Be Gracious?

Psalm 77 doesn’t tell us what was fueling Asaph’s distress. But Psalm 79, also attributed to Asaph, very likely does:

O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
     they have defiled your holy temple;
     they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
They have given the bodies of your servants
     to the birds of the heavens for food,
     the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.
They have poured out their blood like water
     all around Jerusalem,
     and there was no one to bury them.
We have become a taunt to our neighbors,
     mocked and derided by those around us. (Psalm 79:1–4)

Asaph had witnessed horrors, even if he speaks of them in poetic language. Many of us have seen gruesomely prosaic photographs of war — of brutalized corpses of men, women, and children rotting in the streets. Those who have actually seen the violence, walked those streets, and personally known some of the slain are often scarred by such trauma for a lifetime.

Asaph knew God’s judgment (most likely the Babylonian conquest of Judah) had fallen upon the nation due to unfaithfulness (Psalm 79:8). But the experience of it, described even more graphically by the author of Lamentations, was overwhelmingly horrific on every level. It didn’t just look like judgment; it looked like wholesale abandonment. So, in his midnight anguish, Asaph was asking,

Will the Lord spurn forever,
     and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
     Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
     Has he in anger shut up his compassion? (Psalm 77:7–9)

He was asking these disturbing questions because, from his vantage point, at that moment, the answer to each of them had every appearance and emotional impact of yes.

I Will Appeal to This

But Asaph knew his Bible. He knew the covenants God had made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. He knew Israel’s history, from Abraham’s sojourning to the Egyptian slavery to the exodus to the Mosaic law to the conquest of the Promised Land to the reign of kings. He knew the holiness and power God had manifested (Psalm 77:13–14).

And so, in the midst of his disorientation and disillusionment and fear, having witnessed traumatic devastation of God’s people and God’s land, Asaph looked backward for hope:

Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
     to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
     yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
     and meditate on your mighty deeds. (Psalm 77:10–12)

In particular, he focused his troubled mind on the crossing of the Red Sea, reminding himself of how, at that desperate moment, when by all appearances it had looked like Egypt would wipe Israel out and the covenants would fail, God had “redeemed [his] people, the children of Jacob and Joseph” (Psalm 77:15).

When the waters saw you, O God,
     when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
     indeed, the deep trembled. . . .
Your way was through the sea,
     your path through the great waters;
     yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock
     by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalm 77:1619–20)

In his crisis of faith, Asaph reminded himself how, repeatedly through history, those who hope in God have had to hope against hope (Romans 4:18) that God would keep his promises despite circumstances appearing hopeless. If we read Asaph’s psalms (Psalms 73–83), we’ll see how many times he had to remember God’s faithfulness in the past to keep his faith in God’s promised future grace from failing in the present — or in his words, to keep his foot from slipping (Psalm 73:2).

Hope When Circumstances Are Unchanged

Psalm 77 was birthed during an anguished, sleep-deprived night. And it has no explicit resolution; no pretty bow of hopeful words to wrap it up. It just ends, “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (Psalm 77:20). However, the hope is implicit: God, as horrible as this looks right now, as much as it appears that you have forgotten to be gracious, redemptive history tells me that you will still keep your promises and bring your deliverance.

That is one reason God has preserved this psalm and this experience: to help us if and when our faith undergoes severe testing. Asaph provides us language for lament, and an example of what to do when anxiety is surging, and by all appearances it looks like God’s “promises [may be] at an end for all time” (Psalm 77:8).

Like Asaph, our horrible moment might make it appear like God isn’t being or won’t be faithful to his promises, fueling sleepless nights of anxious praying and pondering. Like Asaph, we can pour out our heart to God with profound candor during such a moment. Like Asaph, we can remember God’s faithfulness in the past to keep our faith in God’s future grace from failing in the present.

And like Asaph, we might not quickly receive the comfort we long for, but we fight for it with all our might.

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 15, 2020

Church, Don’t Let Coronavirus Divide You

Article by BRETT MCCRACKEN

For church leaders and elder boards everywhere, the last few months have presented a near-constant array of complex challenges related to shepherding a church during the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest complex challenge is perhaps the trickiest yet: how to prudently resume in-person gatherings.

As if the logistical details weren’t challenging enough—how to maintain social distance and limit crowd size, whether or not to require masks, to sing or not to sing, what to do with children, and so on—the whole conversation is fraught with potential for division. If a congregation—and within it, a leadership team—is at all a microcosm of our larger society, it will likely contain a broad assortment of strongly held convictions. Some will be eager to meet in person and impatient to wait much longer to get back to normal. Others will insist it’s unwise to meet at all until there’s a vaccine. Plenty will fall somewhere in between. 

In such a precarious and polarizing environment, how can churches move forward in beautiful unity (Ps. 133) rather than ugly division? It won’t be easy. But by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit working to unify us in ways our flesh resists, the opportunity is there for us to be a countercultural model for the rest of the world. 

Countercultural Sacrifice

At a time when self-idolatry is being exposed in ugly ways, the church has an opportunity to model love that places the interests of others above the self. For example, someone might find it personally difficult—even maddening—to have to wear a mask during church and stay six feet away from everyone at all times. You might think these precautions are a needless overreaction. But here’s the thing: even if it turns out you’re right, can you not sacrifice your ideal for a season, out of love for others who believe the precautions are necessary? Even if you personally think it is silly, or even cowardly, for someone to stay home even after the church is open again on Sundays, can you not heed Paul’s wisdom in Romans 14: “Let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother”? Or 1 Corinthians 8:9: “Be careful, however, that your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” 

Even if you think these precautions are a needless overreaction, can you not sacrifice your ideal for a season, out of love for others who believe the precautions are necessary?

Likewise, those who think the lockdowns should continue should not pass judgment on those who question the wisdom of the government’s ongoing restrictions. Churches should strive to honor people on both sides of the spectrum. Yes, it will be costly for churches to keep offering online services for those who don’t feel comfortable attending physical gatherings. Yes, it will be a sacrifice for church members who are sick of masks, social distancing, and Zoom to continue to use these for the sake of others. But little is more Christian than a posture of sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). We should embrace it with gladness. 

Countercultural Humility

Have you noticed how remarkably confident so many of us are in our views right now? Unfounded certainty—on the part of laypeople, leaders, modelers, and “experts” alike—is a contagion at least as viral as COVID-19 itself. We could all use a bit more humility, and the church should lead the way.

Now more than ever, Christians should follow the advice of James to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (1:19). Listening well may slow down the process of deliberation and planning, but it is worth it. Whatever opinions church leaders themselves have on the matter of reopening, they should take time to humbly hear the voices of others—perhaps convening forums of various stakeholders within the church, as well as other church and government leaders in their area. Church members should likewise model Christlike humility (e.g., Phil. 2:3) in how they react to the plans outlined by leaders, even if they don’t agree with every aspect of it. No one of us should assume we’ve arrived at the definitive answer on how to do this well. Let’s model humility by acknowledging that everything is not obvious and we are all just trying to do the best we can in this “build the plane in midair” moment. 

Countercultural Patience

Patience is one of the rarest virtues in today’s insta-everything world. And yet patience has rarely been more needed, as many of us are antsy to break free of “stay home” isolation and get back to normalcy as soon as possible. To be sure, it is good and right to be eager to gather again as churches. We should take Hebrews 10:25 seriously when it says we ought not neglect meeting together. We should feel the ache of what is lost when we only meet virtually, and every Christian should long for the day when “church on Zoom” gives way to “church in a room.” That day will come. But we should be careful to not rush it. We should be careful to not go faster than governments allow, or faster than those in our community can understand. We should be patient with a timeline that might be slower than we’d prefer; patient with a reopening process that will doubtless be clunky; patient with leaders feeling the pressure of this complex situation; and patient with one another as we figure out the new normal. Those who are not comfortable with physical gatherings should be patient with those who are, and vice versa. As hard as it will be to practice patience, remember that in the scheme of eternity this season—whether it’s months long or years—will be but a blip. 

As hard as it will be to practice patience, remember that in the scheme of eternity this season—whether it’s months long or years—will be but a blip.

Countercultural Nuance

We live in a very un-nuanced age. The economic model of the media (built on clicks and views) works against nuance. Advertisers know nuance doesn’t sell. Politicians know it too. We shouldn’t be surprised by how rare it is for someone to hold humble, complicated, “both/and” views in today’s hyper-partisan, media-catechized world. But if churches are going to emerge from this crisis with unity and fellowship intact, we must embrace the countercultural path of nuance. It’s the path that avoids ALL CAPS hysteria of every extreme sort, recognizing that truth is rarely as simple and shrill as Twitter would have us think. It’s the path that prizes both courage and prudence, and avoids both pollyannaish and doomsday responses. It means we can be skeptical of some aspects of the lockdown without resorting to outrageous conspiracy theories, and we can honor governing authorities (Rom. 13) while engaging them in civil pushback when necessary. Countercultural nuance avoids thinking the worst of people and concedes that the other side of a debate is sometimes right, just as we are sometimes wrong. Nuance is often what results when humility and patience combine.

There are some things Christians should not be nuanced about, of course, and one of those is our rugged commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ and all that Scripture commands. What Paul urges the Ephesian church, therefore, should be equally urgent for us today: “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1–3).

Brett McCracken is a senior editor at The Gospel Coalition and author of Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian CommunityGray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty, and Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. Brett and his wife, Kira, live in Santa Ana, California, with their son Chet. They belong to Southlands Church, where Brett serves as an elder. You can follow him on Twitter.

Daily Light – May 14, 2020

We Need Eschatology Right Now

Article by Michael J. Kruger

Some of the most overlooked portions of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy are the chapters right after the final battle in The Return of the King. In these chapters, J. R. R. Tolkien expresses a vision for cosmic renewal that closely mimics the one laid down in the biblical accounts.

Revelation 21:5 reads, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” God has declared that one day he will set all things right. Likewise, at the end of The Return of the King, Tolkien describes how evil has been vanquished and all things set right.

After all, in these final chapters there is a gathering of the “saints,” a great feast, new songs of praise, and even a final wedding. Frodo and Sam receive crowns on their heads.

This sentiment is best captured by one of Sam’s statements, which is one of my favorite in the entire story. After the ring is destroyed at Mount Doom, Sam wakes from his sleep, surprised he’s alive and surprised to see Gandalf. He then asks, “Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”

This statement is quite profound, because it is different than asking whether good things are going to come true. Rather, it asking whether sad things are going to come untrue.

Thus Sam’s statement, like Christian eschatology, recognizes that there’s something terribly wrong with the world. It’s filled with sadness, cursed by sin, groaning as it awaits its redemption. And in the final consummation, those sad things will come untrue. The curse will be rolled back. The world will be changed.

Everyone Has an Eschatology

Sam’s statement reminds us of the whole point of eschatology. Eschatology isn’t so much about millennial positions or the structure of Revelation. It’s primarily about the problem of evil and how that problem will be solved. Eschatology is about how one deals with the sad things in the world.

In this sense, then, everyone has an eschatology. The believer, the atheist, the agnostic, the Hindu—everyone has to give an account for how evil is going to be dealt with. So the question isn’t whether people have an eschatology, but whether it’s a compelling and coherent eschatology.

Eschatology isn’t so much about millennial positions or the structure of Revelation. It’s about how one deals with the sad things in the world.

And the Christian worldview has a compelling and coherent eschatology. It can explain why the world is the way it is (the fall), it provides a definition of evil (violation of God’s law), and it gives real hope for the future (God will destroy evil and set all things right).

Let’s Be Eschatological Christians

For this reason, eschatology isn’t a topic that should be reserved for theologians or scholars. It’s a topic for every Christian and, for that matter, every person. We all inhabit a dark world. And no message is more relevant to a dark world than news concerning how that world will one day be changed.

And this news, perhaps more than ever before, is needed in a world haunted by the coronavirus.

So, let us be eschatological Christians. Not in an effort to win debates about which millennial view is correct, but in an effort to proclaim hope to a world that desperately needs it.

Michael J. Kruger is president of Reformed Theological Seminary’s Charlotte, North Carolina, campus, where he also serves as professor of New Testament. He served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in 2019. He is the author of Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church (IVP Academic, 2018) and Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Crossway, 2012). He blogs regularly at Canon Fodder.

Daily Light – May 13, 2020

Lay Aside the Weight of Slander

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

God hates slander (Proverbs 6:1619). It is evil. That’s why Paul lists it as a behavior of those who hate God (Romans 1:30) and why James calls it demonic behavior (James 3:15–16).

Slander occurs whenever someone says something untrue about someone else that results, intentionally or unintentionally, in damaging that someone else’s reputation. And when it occurs, it becomes a divisive, discouraging, and confusing weight that often affects numerous people — sometimes many, many people.

Because of its poisonous power, it is one of the adversary’s chief strategies to divide relationships and deter and derail the mission of the church. We must be on our guard against this closely clinging sin and frequently lay it aside (Hebrews 12:1).

The Subtlety of Slander

Sometimes saying something untrue and damaging about someone is bold and blunt. But often slander is insidiously subtle, especially since we have heard slander all our lives in almost every context and grown accustomed to it. This means we must heighten our sensitivity to it and lower our tolerance of it.

Slander can wear a hundred masks. I’ll mention a few common ones.

Sometimes we pass along slanderous information that seems almost like harmless hearsay, yet the effect it has on our listeners is to leave them with an unfairly negative perception of another. Sometimes we embellish with information or tone a negative report about someone in order to enhance our listener’s perception of ourselves.

Sometimes we have a very real concern about someone, but we share it with someone who cannot benefit from or help with the concern. We do this because we simply want our listeners to think worse of a particular person. Or if we share a concern with an appropriate person, we can sometimes indulge our speculations or presumptions, mixing them almost imperceptibly with facts for our listeners, distorting the concern in order to sway an outcome in a direction we desire.

The net effect of all forms of slander is to unjustly devalue another person’s reputation.

Slander Is Stealing

This devaluing is at the heart of what makes slander evil. The Bible tells us, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). In this context, a good name represents a person’s character, which is the most valuable thing about their identity. A good name is who we are in the minds of others. And since relationships trade in the currency of trust, a reputation is a very precious asset.

So whenever we handle a person’s name — who they are in the minds of others — we are stewarding a treasure that belongs to them. If we damage a person’s reputation unjustly, we are stealing their good name; we are vandalizing their character. This causes very real, sometimes long-lasting damage to people, because restoring a devalued name is very difficult. Who knows what love, joy, counsel, comfort, and opportunities we take from people if we care for their name carelessly?

God knows. And he hates it. God hates when we speak evil of his name (Exodus 20:7) and when we speak evil of others (Titus 3:2). He will hold us accountable for every careless word we speak (Matthew 12:36). This is great incentive for us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).

Fight Slander First in Yourself

The foremost slanderer we must silence is the one inside us. Full of malignant pride, our sin natures are not interested in truth, but in self-glory. So they seek to manipulate others through slander (or flattery) for our own selfish benefit.

Sin (and therefore our demonic harassers) seizes on a concern for or an offense we’ve received from another and seeks to distort it into thinking evil of that person.

Thinking evil of another is assigning imagined or exaggerated negative qualities to them that don’t exist. Often this begins as private fantasies where we nurture our concerns or offense by imagining ourselves justified in our righteousness and others condemned in their evil. But in truth, all we’re doing is passing our own evil thoughts on to imaginations disguised as other people. That’s our sin nature’s slanderer talking. We are fools to listen to it.

And when our slander spills out from ourselves to others — and it will if we don’t catch it soon enough — it is both selfishly indulgent and cowardly.

Slander is indulgent because often what we really seek is the self-flattery buzz of our listener approving and admiring us more than the one we are slandering. We are robbing another’s reputation to get the drug of self-flattery.

Slander is cowardly because it’s a way of nurturing a concern or an offense and gaining sympathizers without doing the courageous work of bringing it directly to the source of our concern or offense. Our rationalizations for this can be countless, but essentially we don’t have the guts to deal with it head-on. This means our character is in serious question, since we are willing to vandalize another’s character to gain allies.

We must grow ruthless in ignoring and silencing our slandering sin natures.

Helping Each Other Fight Slander

When someone slanders another to us, we must remember that we are not mainly fighting flesh and blood, but spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). Satan knows that slander deadens and splits churches, poisons friendships, and fractures families. He knows slander quenches the Holy Spirit, kills love, short-circuits spiritual renewal, undermines trust, and sucks the courage out of the saints. So our goal, particularly in the context of the church, is to help each other shed demonic weights and avoid satanic stumbling blocks.

So how do we do this? The best way is to become people who are not safe to slander around. We must ask each other questions like:

Have you shared your concern with this person directly? I’d be willing to go with you to talk to him.

Just to be clear, is this information I should know? Do you want me to help you pursue reconciliation?

Are you doing everything you possibly can to put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander?” (Ephesians 4:31)

How can I help you guard this person’s reputation like a treasure? (Proverbs 22:1)

In other words, friends don’t let friends slander. Friends don’t let friends act like God-haters (Romans 1:30). The more we love people, the more we hate slander, because a slanderer hates his victims (Proverbs 26:28).

Let us remember that we are stewards of the treasure of each other’s good names. Let us resolve to avoid sharing information that is unnecessarily damaging to another person’s reputation and to repent to everyone affected if we do. Let us seek to silence the sin nature slanderer within and graciously give and receive others’ help when one of us slips, perhaps unaware, into slander. Let us do damage to Satan’s forces by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Let us lay aside the destructive sin-weight of slander.

A Word About Slander and Abusive Situations

There are times when it is necessary and not slanderous to discuss or share information that is damaging to a person’s reputation. Remember, slander is untrue damaging information. But sometimes a person’s real sins are of such a nature that they must become public for the sake of justice and individual safety. Here are just a few sample scenarios:

Reporting confirmed, documented sin and abuse to appropriate people in positions of authority who can do something about it.

Participating as an appropriate person in spiritual, and in some cases civil, authority in an investigation such as a report of someone’s sinful, perhaps abusive, behavior with the intent of either confronting that person or clearing their good name.

Discreetly, and without unnecessary details, informing others of another’s confirmed sinful or abusive behavior because, without this knowledge, someone might suffer real harm.

Seeking pastoral counsel regarding how to navigate a complex and ambiguous situation, doing everything you can do to guard the reputation of a person in question from unnecessary damage.

Jesus’s instructions in Matthew 18:15–17 must guide us in such difficult cases. And Jesus expects us to behave circumspectly in them, always seeking to preserve others’ reputations as much as possible, knowing that gossip and slander are always temptations crouching at our doors.

In an age of social media, that lacks the functional information-spreading restraints of past eras, let us be all the more slow to post (“slow to speak” — James 1:19) analysis, speculation, and commentary on information about another person or group, even if it has become public in our slander-saturated culture, that might eventually prove slanderous. All the serious biblical warnings about slander still apply, which should make us all, especially those of us with “platforms,” tremble.

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 12, 2020

In Marriage as in Life, Weak Is Strong

Article by Dave Harvey, DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary

Have you ever noticed that a cellphone battery doesn’t last as long after you download an update? By now you know the drill: update > unplug > scramble madly for the charger.

I don’t get it.

People have lived in space for a year phoning Houston for box scores while having no battery problems. But here on terra firma, a longer-lasting cellphone battery still eludes us. But wait, this frustration is actually cultivated and purposeful; a sales device in an organized scheme.

In economics and industrial design, there’s a merchandizing strategy called planned obsolescence. It’s a fancy term to describe when a product is created with an artificially limited lifespan. The goal of the design weakness is to get you ready for an upgrade.

Manufacturers make their product obsolete after a certain period of time so that their customers will return to purchase the newest version. Profits boost by creating need.

The plan swings on a simple hinge: built-in weakness leads to dependence.

Did you know there’s a similar principle at work in God’s economy? And the principle plays out weekly in Christian marriage. God installs limitations, suffering, pain, and thorns into our lives to make us dependent on him. One irony of marriage is in how swiftly it yanks back the veil that covers our imperfections. With singles, weaknesses surface in other ways.

Paul experienced the effects of this plan after his magnificent and mysterious trip to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2–10). He was transformed by this experience, but not in the way we may think.

One of the ironies of fallenness is that sometimes even the best experiences push us to self-centered places. Our heart exults in the experience of the good rather than in the Giver of the good. So, in an act of love, God takes the things in which we most exult—things like a great marriage or a manageable parenting path—and transforms them into places that reveal our desperate need for him. To keep us from being unwisely elated, God installs a thorn in our life that pins us to our Savior.

Speaking of thorns, there’s plenty of speculation about the exact nature of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” Some commentators suggest it was an illness, others say persecution, still others say a physical malady, like maybe an eye condition or a speech defect. We don’t fully know.

But we know enough.

We know, for instance, that this thorn became a monumental affliction. Why else would a guy who suffered the horror of 39 lashes on five separate occasions, the dude who was beaten with rods three times and stoned once (2 Cor. 11:24–25), need to appeal to God repeatedly for deliverance?

Paul’s thorn—this built-in weakness—was substantial enough to accomplish three effects in his life.

1. God used Paul’s weakness to restrain him.

God used the suffering to keep Paul grounded in his self-assessment, to guide the direction and destination of his delight. Have you noticed that God does the same thing for us? He’ll send a thorn to some area of our life where, absent the thorn, our pride and self-elation would wreck us. Paul could’ve been puffed up by his visit to the third heaven, but with that great blessing, God sent great pain.

With great honor came great weakness.

Friends, we don’t roll through life as little gods. We’re not omniscient, omnipotent, or omnicompetent. Sure, sometimes we imagine ourselves elevated to that place, but then God pulls us back to earth by an experience of weakness. Maybe it’s a damaged fender, an overdrawn bank account, a failed test, a prodigal child, or the onset of depression.

For me it includes the fact that I’ve traveled for years with a back pillow because of lower-back arthritis. But God reminds us there is a plan for these routine weaknesses. The world’s obsolescence, and the places this fallenness touches us, restrains our pride as we learn to depend on Jesus.

2. God used weakness to convert Paul’s boasting.

I’ve known a lot of guys who begin marriage with a cocky, know-it-all bravado. I was one of them. In my thinking as a single guy, marriage as a brand was taking a serious hit and needed some fresh blood to reverse the image-problem. It’s funny, though. When we’re strong—or think we’re strong—we can easily slip into boasting. It’s easy to talk about ourselves, to slip into self-satisfied conceit, or the more Christianized version found in the harmless “humblebrag.”

At multiple points in his life, Paul confessed his temptation to boast in his own credentials (Phil. 2:4–6), his own gifting (1 Cor. 14:18), and his own spiritual experiences (1 Cor. 12:5–6). But God used suffering to show him how all these things must be counted as nothing for the sake of knowing Christ. Instead of boasting in himself, Paul learned to boast in the Lord alone (1 Cor. 1:26–31).

Over the last decade, God has repeatedly placed Kimm and me in situations where the only way forward was through dependent prayer to him. As we bow our hearts, it becomes a necessary reminder of our need for him and dependence on him. In that place of weakness, God often brings strength.

Paul tells us, “If I must boast, I will boast in the things that show my weakness” (2 Cor. 11:30). Why would he boast in his weakness? This brings us to the final effect God accomplishes through Paul’s suffering.

 3. In his weakness, Paul encountered God’s grace and power.

It’s been humbling for me to realize it, but God does his best work when his power inhabits the places where we acknowledge our limits, our inabilities, and our true need for him. God doesn’t condemn us for our weakness. Instead, he’s decided to make our limitations—those patches of our human obsolescence—the very place where his strength prevails. He has a game plan that will ultimately confound the scholars and exalt the lowly: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27).

Paul boasted in his weakness because he knows that’s where God shows up and shows out. In the weak place we see God’s power at work. The Creator designs the flaw that will produce the weakness. Planned, but providential, obsolescence.

His Power and Glory, Not Ours

Funny, but I actually left harbor on the good ship Matrimony assuming my weaknesses would diminish as my marriage grew. And sure, knowing one another better and sharing love and pain provided a strong foundation to build many memories and weather some big storms.

But the truth is, even something as wonderful as marriage can remain difficult, because God has a built-in design that’s about more than eliminating our weakness. God wants to display his power and glory, not ours. And the stage for that spotlight is often those places of weakness that produce built-in dependence. So, take the hand of your spouse and say along with Paul: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Hmm, weak is strong.  In life, in marriage, and in the process of change. That’s quite a plan.

Dave Harvey (DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary) is president of Great Commission Collective, a church planting ministry in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. Dave pastored for 34 years, and travels widely across networks and denominations as a conference speaker. He is the author of When Sinners Say “I Do” (Shepherd Press, 2007), Am I Called? (Crossway, 2012) and his most recent book, I Still Do: Growing Closer and Stronger Through Life’s Defining Moments (Baker, 2020). Dave and his wife, Kimm live in southwest Florida. He also writes at Rev Dave Harvey, and you can follow him on Twitter.