Daily Light – April 30, 2019

The Only Satisfying Endgame

Why Great Stories Always Hurt

Article by Greg Morse, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org

(This article was written before the author saw the movie, and therefore contains no spoilers.)

The end has come. The final chapter has been written. The final piece is placed. A decade-long saga concludes. We have reached the Endgame.

Beginning with Iron Man in 2008, the drama has unfolded, movie by movie, to this: a depleted team of superheroes, whom we’ve cheered for and laughed with for years, now fights the seemingly indomitable foe, Thanos. The 22 movies and sneak peeks after the credits have meandered us through its universe to a final showdown.

No doubt, our enjoyment of each individual movie has varied, and some of us may not be as optimistic about the next decade of Marvel films, but this series of superhero movies, as with other franchises like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, has grown up with us. We feel nostalgia about them as benchmarks of years gone by. Perhaps we went to them on early dates with the one who would become our spouse, took our kids to see them for birthday parties, or watched them with a family member that is no longer with us.

Which makes one of the anticipated themes of the final movie slightly unnerving: sacrifice. Without seeing the movie, we can see it foreshadowed in actors’ expiring contracts and the trailer’s catchphrase, “Whatever it takes.” As with any war, not everyone will make it out alive. And as with the best stories, the expectation is not that everyone survives to the end. Some must perish in the shadows that others might see the sun rise. Happily ever after — should it come — will have an asterisk. The series, it seems unavoidably, will end with the harmony of a high and corresponding low note. Peace will not come cheaply. Most likely, it will cost at least one of these warriors everything.

Why the Greatest Stories Hurt

Deep down, the theme of self-sacrifice strikes a chord within us. For someone to give his own life for another’s flourishing is an unpleasant beauty to experience. The horror of death, sprayed with the fragrance of the supreme love: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). At the end of the highest-grossing franchise of all time, it appears we may find a peace purchased through the highest love — sacrifice.

This is indeed something to marvel at. Whether this finale comes to sacrifice or not, why is such a sobering note a consistent ingredient of the best stories, the ones that arrest us with a script that seems to originate from somewhere outside of Hollywood?

Christians know that the elements good and evil, sacrifice and valor, protection and betrayal all represent the capital “S” Story we find ourselves within. Our best works echo His. We borrow, however unwittingly, from an eternal Author. And his Story tells of the Deity himself coming from a distant land to battle evil itself, dying for his own, paying the ultimate cost for his people. The story of human history is one with such glory that, when we go to enjoy the best stories men can tell, we must stoop down, not rise above, our present reality.

In preparation to watch the Marvel finale — or readying myself for any highly anticipated drama — I try to remind myself of the Story I am in, so when I hear notes of its supreme music in the echo, I can follow them through to the Source.

God’s Endgame

As I go to see a very late showing of Endgame tonight, I go remembering that this is just a shadow of his Story. I go, not to escape a duller reality for a superior one, but to be awakened again to the better universe I already live in. The great realities in whatever degree of sacrifice and triumph may be depicted in Endgame can prompt me to rehearse that God’s death on the cross two thousand years ago remains unrivaled.

Unrivaled in Godness

The one who came to be our hero was the one who first created everything. The one who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) was he of whom it is written, “All things were created through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). All things, visible and invisible, were made for him: “All things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16).

He, unlike any being in the Marvel universe, is capital “G” God. By his word, Thanos lives (Colossians 1:17). God’s folly is greater than man’s wisdom; his weakness, greater than man’s strength (1 Corinthians 1:25). His combat scenes need no stuntmen. His wisdom needs no scriptwriters. His glory needs no special effects. The baby that lay in the manger cradled the world by his powerful word. “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him?” says the Holy One (Isaiah 40:25). Reality’s God has no equal.

Unrivaled in Sacrifice

This God-man’s agony and shame can never be reproduced.

His physical torture, if seen on the big screen, would be higher than a PG-13 rating. (Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ fittingly was rated R.) He was “marred beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children mankind” (Isaiah 52:14). The Romans beat him so badly that he could scarcely be recognized as human instead of a bloody mess of flesh.

And he faced more than this because he faced more than the likes of Thanos. The just wrath of the one who “crushed him” (Isaiah 53:10) pierced more than the hands and feet, lashed more than his back: His stabs reached the soul. The Son willingly poured out his soul unto death; he was disfigured both in body and in soul as he drank our hell to the dregs in our place.

Furthermore, his death was not a pristine one. He did not die gloriously on the battlefield as he sat upon his white horse or met his end valiantly charging into a burning building. He died as a criminal. They stripped him naked and paraded him through the city to the dump heap of Golgotha. His was a shameful, cursed death between two thieves. No onlooker applauded his heroics. No team fought beside him. He hung alone, bearing the Father’s righteous wrath against sin. No hero has ever died such an infamous death.

Unrivaled in Love

We know little about who these Avengers are protecting. We assume the citizenry of earth is comprised of innocent people invaded by outside evil. We inject goodness into the faceless multitudes that Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and the crew protect. But Jesus died, not for good people minding their own business, but for mini-villains whose every thought was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). We loved to crawl about in the crevices. We on this blue earth, not the blue demigod that invades, have become the bane of creation. The Avengers die for good humanity; God died for his enemies.

While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8)

Jesus did not die unwillingly. No one got the upper hand against his will, outmaneuvered him, or overpowered him. His death wasn’t compulsory. Man didn’t invade heaven and bring him down. He laid down his sword and stayed his legions. “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17–18). He gave his life as a ransom for many. This hero displayed supreme love.

Unrivaled in Achievement

His death stands unrivaled in achievement. For one, his death defeated death itself. The grave, that foul, gaping-mouthed monster, has devoured all men because all have sinned after their father Adam (Romans 5:12). But by his sacrifice, he purchased something invaluable and otherwise unattainable for the human race: grace. His free gift of mercy triumphs over the grave for his people.

Second, his blood did not spare us from the unfair tyranny of a superpower. Rather, his blood spared us from the just reward of our own deeds. His death saved us from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9). And positively, his salvation did not grant us a few more years on earth — his salvation endowed us a place in the new heaven and new earth, forever.

And more than sparing us hell and placing us in heaven, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). He makes beloved children from former foes — and brings us back into what we as humans were made for: fellowship with God himself. He, not the absence of pain or streets paved of gold, became our great treasure, forever.

Consider that the angels lean over the precipice of heaven, sit at the edge of their seats to watch what unfolded, and continues to unfold, here(1 Peter 1:12). After the exhale of the spectacle of his death for sinners, the angelic legions have not ceased to roar with eternal praise that will only continue to captivate its redeemed audience forever. No after-credits are necessary. No new hero to worship. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive all glory, honor, and praise.

Envy of the Gods

The Christian knows that all the greatest stories are not an escape from reality, but a deepening into it. As Chesterton famously said of fairy tales,

Fairy tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water. (Orthodoxy, 32)

We live in the greatest Story. God’s epic unfolds all around us. If Marvel characters were glorious enough to actually exist, they would envy us in our Story, not we in theirs. It’s good to let grand stories refresh the forgotten moment when we found out that we lived in the epic of the cosmos. We travel into another universe to see gods and heroes sacrifice for the lives of men, to remember, for one wild moment, that Jesus died and rose to save his people for an eternity. Our Story is the envy of the gods.

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

Daily Light – April 29, 2019

God Makes Us Vulnerable and Invincible

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.(Psalm 91:5)

You can see it in our locks, our gates, our motion sensors, our alarm systems. It’s evident from the endless passwords, the extra digits on the back of a credit card, and the x-ray machines and full-body scans at the airport.

We have our seat belts and airbags, our helmets, pads, and face masks. We have insurance policies, retirement plans, and social security. Some carry pepper spray, or mace, or a whistle on a key chain. It affects what we eat, where we go, how much we exercise, who we talk to, what we say, how we live.

We are desperate for an enduring sense of safety and security.

We Are Vulnerable

Whatever rugged, seemingly fearless veneer we may be able to muster on the outside, deep down inside we know we are vulnerable. To be human is to be vulnerable — ever exposed to attack, natural disaster, miscalculation, sabotage, disease, heart failure, and more. We long to feel safe, but life in this world is fraught with risks and dangers — even when we refuse to leave the house.

We have our modern ways and technological means for seeking safety, but the ache for security is no recent development. In the ancient world, cities built walls, kings dug moats, and soldiers wore armor and carried shields.

And yet as deep as the drive is for safety in the human heart, we have no guarantees of it in this life. As much as we’d like to think that God will protect those who love him from any trouble whatsoever befalling us, we know this is clearly not true from experience or from the Bible. God does not promise earthly safety to his children in this life. Though he did wire our hearts to long for security — not to find it in this world, but in him.

Not Alone, Abandoned, or Destroyed

Better than mere temporal security, which would leave us resting safely for a mere seventy or eighty years, the promise God makes to his people in Psalm 91, and all over the Bible, is our ultimate security — that no matter what befalls us in this world, God has us in his hand. He knows. He cares. He is working life’s greatest dangers and harshest pains for your ultimate good.

Psalm 91 doesn’t promise that the worst this world has to offer won’t come upon God’s people, but that when it does, we are not alone, abandoned, or destroyed. His grace is too dynamic and powerful to simply keep us out of harm’s way; he sustains us in hardship and brings us through to ultimate safety. The safety we receive from God doesn’t mean there won’t be great pain — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Being raised up on eagles’ wings doesn’t mean that the baby bird never left the nest, but that when he was flailing and falling from the sky, unable to fly on his own and save himself, his mother swept in to the rescue.

Jesus experienced great pain physically, and even greater turmoil emotionally as he bore our sin and felt forsaken by his Father. But the promises of Psalm 91 gave him the spiritual wherewithal to move toward the pain of Calvary, not run from it. He knew God would be with him in the greatest trouble, and that his Father would raise him up to the glory of his right hand. “When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him” (Psalm 91:15).

He Will Raise You Up

Psalm 91 finds its fullest fulfillment in Jesus, and we abide in the shadow of the Almighty by abiding in Jesus. We dwell in the shelter of the Most High by taking shelter, by faith, in God’s Son (Psalm 91:1). We say to Jesus, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (Psalm 91:2). Our desperation for an enduring sense of safety and security was not meant to find its home in this world. But we were meant to truly find a refuge and fortress — in God himself, through his Son, who resisted the tempter’s quotation of Psalm 91 against him.

Jesus knew that God’s promise of angels guarding him (Psalm 91:11–12) wouldn’t keep him from the cross, but that his Father would raise him up. Jesus would strike against the stone at Calvary, but in doing so, he would “tread on the lion” and “trample [the serpent] underfoot” (Psalm 91:13). In Christ, we need not fear the terror of the night, the arrow that flies by day, or any pestilence or destruction (Psalm 91:5–6) — not because we’re immune to hardship in this world, but because we will be brought safely through them into ultimate security.

God doesn’t pledge to keep us from all worldly suffering and trouble, but he does promise to be with us, rescue us in his perfect timing, and graciously honor us for walking the path of pain with a heart of faith.

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 – April 26, 2019

End Your War Against Weakness

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

For a few weeks during my freshman year of college, I was a man at war.

You could find me in the campus library, hunched over a book, my fingers furiously scanning the page. Never had anyone consumed Victorian literature and oceanography textbooks so quickly, so intensely. Nor, perhaps, had anyone retained so little.

The path was well-worn. As with so many other students of merely average reading abilities, I was working to master the art of speed. And, along with the majority, my reading legs eventually couldn’t handle the sprint, and I returned to walking through books.

Looking back, those weeks appear to me now as a skirmish in a larger war — one I’ve been waging for a long time, one many of us give our whole lives to. Too often, we spend our days on the battlefield, waging war against our own weaknesses.

At War with Weakness

By weaknesses, I mean those parts of us that keep us from doing what we want to do or being who we want to be. Unlike sins, weaknesses are morally neutral, traits that usually do not (and need not) change as God’s grace renovates us.

We are, for example, not as intelligent as we wish we were, not as athletic, not as good-looking, not as musically gifted, not as charismatic in front of a crowd, not as witty, not as productive, not as skilled at leading, not as fast at reading, not as creative in writing. Although some of these weaknesses yield to disciplined attempts to overcome them, many of them are firm as a rock face. We may push, strain, and put our shoulder into it with a running start, but we find over time that the rock is going nowhere. This weakness is our lot.

Our war with such weaknesses is understandable. The tamest of them can be embarrassing — the sort of thing that gets you laughed at in middle school. The worst of them can act like a collapsed bridge, keeping you from the only road you ever wanted to take in life. So, instead of learning to boast in our God-given thorns (2 Corinthians 12:9–10), many of us spend our time, energy, and money trying to pull them out.

But Christians need not fight a war we cannot win. While many in the world respond to weakness by gathering more troops for battle, Christians remember that some weaknesses are there not to be warred against, but to be welcomed.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Weak

God, in his good creation and providence, sends us into this world beset with weaknesses. “Who has made man’s mouth?” he asks Moses, the meekest of men with the weakest of speech. “Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11). What’s true of our mouths, ears, and eyes is true of the rest of us. None of our weaknesses escaped God’s notice when he stitched us together in our mother’s womb. We are fearfully and wonderfully weak (Psalm 139:13–14).

The new birth, for all of the radical change it brings, rarely erases the weaknesses we received at our first birth. God’s redeemed community, in fact, is a kingdom of glorious inequality, where one’s weakness is complemented by another’s strength (Romans 12:3–5). God has made some of us feet, some hands, some eyes, and some mouths — and he expects the mouth to have a hard time walking, and the eyes to struggle with words (1 Corinthians 12:14). Some in the church can preach, and others shake at the sight of a microphone. Some administer with excellence, and others have a hard enough time remembering their children’s names.

When, for one reason or another, we continue our attempt to overthrow the weaknesses God has given to us, even after all reasonable efforts have failed, we are probably being driven less by faith than by discontentment. And discontentment never did anyone good. If persisted in, we risk spending years of our lives trying to become someone God never made us to be.

Make Peace

There’s only one sane way forward: Give up the war. Raise the white flag. Call for a treaty. Make peace with weakness.

Many of us have spent untold months and years trying to overcome our weaknesses, and now we must embrace them? Even become well pleased with them (2 Corinthians 12:10)? Yes. For when we do, we will find that God never sets a boundary that is not for our flourishing.

We will find that great relief comes from dropping the false standards we have raised for ourselves — perhaps even mistaking them for God’s. Some of us have carried such standards like a boulder on our backs for years and years, and what a relief to cast it alongside the path! The new mom need not be as productive as the seasoned mother of five. The firstborn need not live up to his parents’ vocational hopes. The man made to be a deacon need not become a pastor. The high-school girl need not aspire to look like the prom queen.

What a relief when Peter stops trying to be John, and John stops trying to be Peter, and both hear Jesus say to them, “What is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22). Our glory is not to acquire the strengths of so and so, but to pursue actual righteousness with all of our hearts, and to become the most Christlike versions of ourselves — with all of our strengths and weaknesses — that we can be.

Live for His Good Pleasure

When we stop trying to make other peoples’ gifts our own, we can finally embrace those gifts God has given to us (1 Corinthians 12:4–7). The foot, done trying to be a hand, can start to get good at walking. The eye, finished with trying to talk, can hone its ability to see.

Of course, this brings us back to the nub of the issue, because our war against weaknesses so often begins by despising our strengths. Our strengths, we fear, would not go for much at an auction. Perhaps they are mundane, unseen, and underappreciated: we stand in the sound booth and not on stage; we clean the hallways rather than teach in the classroom; we balance the checkbooks instead of leading the meetings. These are the sorts of gifts people rarely notice until they’re gone.

But contentment never comes from having a certain gift or skill over another. Contentment comes, rather, from receiving every gift with thanks, discharging our duties faithfully, and praying all the while that God would take these meager offerings and turn them into something corresponding to his great worth (1 Peter 4:10–11). Contentment comes from making much of Christ — in our strengths, however great, and in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).

Teach Me, My God

We would all do well to adopt the posture of that humble poet George Herbert, who prayed,

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for thee. (“The Elixir”)

Those who can pray such words from the heart, and then use their gifts in God’s strength, will find soon enough that they hear the words “Well done,” whether their talents were ten, five, or just one (Matthew 25:21). And they will feel down to the depths of them that his good pleasure cannot be matched by the world’s applause, though the ovation should last till kingdom come.

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

Daily Light – April 25, 2019

I Want Jesus to Be My Treasure – Is the Wanting Enough?

Article/Interview – by John Piper

I want Christ to be the treasure of my life. In fact, I often find the wanting of him to be my treasure a more common reality in my life than the actual act of treasuring and enjoying him as my treasure. Is that normative? It’s an important question, and this time it comes from a podcast lister named Kai.

“Hi, Pastor John! I keep hearing your answers on this podcast talking about how we need to enjoy God’s glory, be satisfied in Jesus, and embrace him as our treasure. But I cannot seem to manage it. I always want Jesus. I always want to glorify God. It is always my ambition to do so. But I almost never feel as though I actually have Jesus or love the glory of God. I feel like I’m always wanting and recognizing my lack without being satisfied by him. Is this normal? Is my experience normal?”

Insecure and Discouraged

Back in the 1980s, I was thinking about writing a book on Christian Hedonism (actually, they were sermons first). This truth would become my life passion and ministry. Back in the 1980s, I wondered, “What should I call it?” J.I. Packer had written a book called Knowing God, and Charles Colson had written a book called Loving God, so I decided on the title Desiring God.

“The born-again person’s desires are owing to a new taste, a new spiritual taste for God.”

I liked the ring of it. I liked lining up behind those two guys. But there was something more — there was so much more significance behind that title. I can remember in those early days of my pastoral ministry walking to church seven minutes from our house. I’ve done it fifteen to twenty thousand times. In those early years especially, I would regularly feel insecure and a little discouraged. I would be praying all the way to church for God’s help, whether I was going to a staff meeting or a funeral or a preaching service or some tough counseling session.

Hope in God

I remember that two Bible passages dominated my mind for an important season in the mid eighties, maybe even longer than that. They were like the music on the answering machine in my brain. If I called in for help, this would be the message of my mind.

One of them was Psalm 42:5: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God.” We put that on a big sign so I could see it. It was a big sign on the old sanctuary. It’s torn down now, but for a decade or more, we had this big “Hope in God” sign so that John Piper would take heart as he’s walking to church.

The psalmist says, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:11). You can see that this is the prayer of a man whose heart is not as full of God as it should be, because he says, “I shall again praise him,” meaning praises are not spontaneously welling up joyfully from his heart, and he knows it.

He’s preaching to himself that God is infinitely worthy of being trusted, and he’s declaring confidence that praises are going to return. In other words, this is the prayer of a man who has tasted and known the satisfying preciousness of God as better than anything else, and he’s not experiencing it to the degree that he knows he should. Now, that was one of the texts.

Whom Have I But You?

Here’s the other one: Psalm 73:24–26. I can remember being called on to pray in many situations where I wasn’t expecting it. I would push this button in my brain; I called into my brain, and this is the music that came out. “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:24–26).

“Even your wanting is a kind of satisfaction, a true experience of satisfaction in Jesus.”

Now, probably if there were one text that I could trace to the title of the book Desiring God, that would be it: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”

When he says, “There’s nothing I desire besides you,” I think that is the psalmist’s way of saying what Paul said in Philippians 3:8: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Technically, there are other desires. We get hungry. We get thirsty. We have sexual desires. We get sleepy. But compared to God and his fellowship — all that he is for us in Christ — these other desires fade.

If You Have Tasted

What kind of desire is this in Psalm 42 and 73? The key to its essence, I think, is found in 1 Peter 2:2–3. It says, “Like newborn infants” — this is a command coming up — “long for [that’s an imperative of the verb desire] the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” Now comes this all-important if clause: “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2–3).

Think carefully about that with me for a minute. There are desires that unbelievers have for something beyond this world that they can’t name. These desires may lead them to God. They did for C.S. Lewis, for example.

Until a person is born again, these desires are not spiritual desires. They are not the work of God’s Spirit and are not based on a true experience of the beauty and worth of God. They are simply expressions of the empty place in our heart that’s made for God. What must happen for those desires to be spiritual and God-pleasing desires, desires that really magnify God, is this: “if indeed you have tasted.” You can desire God if you’ve tasted God.

The difference between the desires of the non-Christian and the born-again person is that the new desires of the born-again person are owing to a new taste, a new spiritual taste for God. They have seen something, smelled something, tasted something spiritually that is different than anything they had known before.

Tasting True Desire

Here’s what I’m saying to Kai when he says, “I always want Jesus, but I almost never feel as though I actually have Jesus.” I am saying that if, by the work of God’s regenerating Holy Spirit, you have tasted the true glory or beauty or worth and greatness of Jesus, that taste is present in all your wanting. It’s present in all your wanting, all your desiring. Therefore, even your wanting is a kind of delighting; even your wanting is a kind of satisfaction — a true experience of satisfaction in Jesus.

“On earth we will never have an experience of joy in God that is not composed mainly of desiring.”

C.S. Lewis analyzed the relationship between desire and satisfaction as deeply as anybody I know. He said that joy is the experience “of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction” (Surprised by Joy, 19). Let me say that again because that’s pretty profound for somebody like Kai to come to terms with. Joy is the experience “of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” In other words, the taste of the desired in that desire is better than any other satisfaction.

I think he’s right when he says that on earth we will never have an experience of joy in God that is not composed mainly of desiring. In other words, only in God’s immediate presence in heaven, or in the new age, is there “fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

For now, in this fallen world, satisfaction in God will be in measure, not in fullness. The most common way we will experience those measures will be in desiring and wanting and longing based on a true taste. If we have tasted the true goodness of the Lord by his Spirit, that desiring, as Lewis says, will be more desirable than any other satisfaction, and God will be honored in it.

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

Daily Light – April 24, 2019

Friends…this is wonderful deep food today…wonderful truths…please make yourself absorb and digest ‘so that’ it will feed your heart and mind 🙂

The Good We Can’t Let Go

How to Guard Against Subtle Sins

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

For many of us, the most dangerous sins are not the ones that will get us excommunicated or bring public shame on our families. They are the sort that we can carry right into church without anyone noticing.

Friends are unconcerned. Our small group sees no problem. Even we assure ourselves that we have kept our feet from every forbidden tree in God’s garden. All the while, we have forgotten that often, the serpent’s subtlest temptations are not to pluck the fruit God has forbidden, but to crave the fruit he has given. We have closed our grip around the good gifts of God, and slowly, even imperceptibly, have become unable to let go.

We should not be surprised if we trick even ourselves. Like all sin, this idolatry is deceitful (Ephesians 4:22) — especially because it so easily wears the mask of virtue. We numb ourselves with entertainment in the name of rest. We grow too dependent on a friend in the name of fellowship. We control our children in the name of responsibility.

The result is a domesticated disobedience, a nearly invisible idolatry, a respectable rebellion — a spell that can be broken only by heeding Jesus’s blunt command to “be on your guard” (Luke 12:15).

Be On Your Guard

Jesus and the apostles never assume that any of us, even the born again, could live in the midst of God’s gifts without being on guard. Jesus gives his command in the context of money and possessions — good gifts that can become devouring idols (Luke 12:13–21). And, according to Paul, what’s true of wealth is true of all good things. When the Corinthians told him, “All things are lawful for me,” he replied, “But I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Given the chance, our flesh is ready to enslave us to any good thing: money, reputation, marriage, comfort, success, control, beauty, food, children, sleep, career, free time, friends.

Sometimes, God delivers us from such subtle idolatry by sending us into the wilderness: he removes his good gifts for a time to remind us that his “steadfast love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). But what if he doesn’t? How do we remain on our guard in the land of plenty?

Scripture gives us dozens of ways to be on our guard. Before we look at four of them, it bears mentioning that the goal is never to permanently distance ourselves from God’s gifts, as if holiness keeps creation at arm’s length. Our goal, rather, is to raise up some fences around God’s gifts so that we might, as G.K. Chesterton puts it, “give room for good things to run wild” (Orthodoxy, 9).

1. Come awake to the danger.

The battle against idolatrous desires begins with coming awake to the danger. Many of us have already fled into our fortresses and bolted the door against bad things: sexual immorality, lying, angry outbursts, gossip. But we have not realized — or we need to remember — that sin has already infiltrated the fortress, hidden under the cover of good things.

Perhaps some of us feel like saying, “But what’s so bad about having a good marriage? Or my kids’ safety? Or enough money? Or some downtime?” The answer is nothing. Used rightly, each of these gifts is an ally to our joy in God, not an enemy. They are part of the very good God spoke over Eden, wonders sprung from the joy of the triune God, designed for our delight (Genesis 1:31).

Where, then, does the danger come from? Not from God’s gifts, but from our flesh, that defeated foe who still finds a way to whisper in our ear. The day is coming when the angels of God “will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin . . . and throw them into the fiery furnace” (Matthew 13:41–42). Until then, the devilish suggestion to grasp for God’s gifts remains with us. The enemy is always inside the gates, because it is always inside our chests. So, Jesus tells us, “Be on your guard.”

2. Pay attention to your emotions.

We would be wrong, however, to interpret “Be on your guard” to mean, “Lock yourself away in the cellars of your soul, and don’t come back out till you’ve found every idol.” Some of us are tempted to become little Hezekiahs, hunting our hearts for every high place and pillar (2 Kings 18:4). The search often goes awry, and we end up inverting the famous counsel of Robert Murray McCheyne: “For every look at Christ,” we say, “take ten looks at yourself.”

David Powlison writes, “Our renegade desires are not so ‘inward’ as to call for intense introspection” (“Revisiting Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair,” 41). Although these desires often hide in the cellar, they can’t help but show their faces from time to time — often in distorted emotions.

Our emotions are never just givens; they are ambassadors of the heart, sent to tell us what’s happening there. Negative emotions like worry, anger, and sorrow tell us that something we care about is under attack. Sometimes, of course, we feel negative emotions for the right reasons: we are angry because injustice is happening; we are sorrowful because a close relationship has ended.

But much of the time, our negative emotions reveal that one of our idols is under fire: we are angry because someone has crossed our desires for control; we are sorrowful because we have lost someone who had given our lives meaning. When I drove to work a few days ago in a little palace of self-pity, the emotion was uncovering an enemy: my desire for comfort had gone rogue. No longer a gift to be received with thanks, it had become a right to be expected.

Positive emotions, too, can raise warning flags. The world is filled with happy idolaters, people like the rich fool who kept his joy in bigger barns (Luke 12:16–20). Sometimes, our deepest problem is not that we are anxious, sorrowful, or fearful, but that we are incredibly happy for all the wrong reasons.

From time to time, we need to query our emotions before giving them a room in our hearts — especially emotions that visit quite often. We need to ask ourselves, “Why am I irritable right now? Why am I worried? Why am I so happy?” Often, such questions will lead us to an idol that has been pulling the levers of our heart for too long.

3. Gauge your spiritual desires.

When we enjoy God’s gifts as he created us to, they will not compete with Christ for our affections; they will take us in hand and, like a godly friend, say, “Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1). God made us to wrap our arms around a spouse, or fill our stomachs with food, or feel a thunderstorm shake the ground, and say, “These are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him!” (Job 26:14).

But when an idol eclipses the light of God’s face, spiritual desires limp. Bible reading becomes a formal affair. Spontaneous prayer dries up. Fellowship feels less urgent. We would do well to heed the advice of McCheyne, who was more jealous to guard his spiritual desires than most: “Brethren, if you are ever so much taken up with any enjoyment that it takes away your love for prayer or your Bible, . . . then you are abusing this world” (“Time Is Short”).

Left unchecked, innocent enjoyments become thorns, ready to choke out our spiritual desires (Mark 4:18–19). If we find that a hobby, friendship, or form of entertainment is keeping us from God’s word, or from our knees, something radical needs to change.

4. Occasionally ask, ‘What if God takes it away?

Perhaps no test helps us discern hidden idolatry more than occasionally looking at our most precious earthly gifts, and asking ourselves, “What if God takes it away?”

We should not expect to consider this question with an unruffled heart. The thought of losing a spouse, a child, a dear friend, or a lifelong dream should stir up waves within us. Mature godliness does not create stoic detachment from this world; it creates real lament arising from real anguish directed to the real God. He who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3) will not reproach us when sorrow’s deep waters rise up to our necks.

The test is this: Will we, as far as we know ourselves, resolve to bless the Lord rather than curse him, even if the worst comes (Job 1:21)? Will we believe that God’s mercies will be new with the sunrise, no matter how dark the midnight (Lamentations 3:22–23)? Will we still say, though tears be our food, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)?

“What if God takes it away?” is not a question to ask every day. Most days, we should hold God’s gifts in hand, thank him from the depths of us, and keep what-ifs outside the door. Only every now and then should we subject ourselves to such introspection, and always with the aim of recalibrating our hearts so that we might throw ourselves back into the enjoyment of his gifts.

Keep Christ In

The four strategies above are all defensive — ways of climbing up into the watchtower to keep guard over our soul. Such battle plans, though necessary, are never sufficient. Unless we fill our souls with light, we will sweep the floors only to welcome more darkness (Matthew 12:43–45).

A.W. Tozer reminds us, “The best way to keep the enemy out is to keep Christ in” (Tozer on the Holy Spirit, 27). Our struggles with wayward desires arise chiefly because we have kept Christ outside the door. But when Christ is the host, all the guests take their places and get along famously. The best way to protect our souls, then, is not merely to keep idolatry out, but to keep Christ in.

For the sake of our souls, we must seek him. No matter how long ago we heard his “Follow me,” there is more of Christ to be had. More of his beauty to be seen. More of his wisdom to be admired. More of his power to be feared. More of his friendship to be enjoyed. More of his grace to be treasured. More of his comfort to be felt. More of his authority to be hailed. More of his worth to be confessed.

When Christ is in, the gifts of God will not compete with him. Every one of them will bow its knee before his throne, and bid us to go further up, and further in, to him.

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

Daily Light – April 22, 2019

He Rose Again to Warn the World

The Empty Tomb — and Coming Judgment

(article by Jason Meyer, Pastor, Minneapolis, Minnesota)

I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” (Psalm 2:7)

Beep . . . Beep . . . Beep.

The timer starts slow, but then gets faster and faster. Beep. Beep. Beep.

Heart rates rise. The air gets thick. The end draws near. Beep, beep, beep.

The accelerating clock makes all the difference in the game Catch Phrase. Each player tries to help his teammates guess the word or phrase, without saying it, that appears on the handheld device. Once they guess correctly, he passes the device to the opposing team. While the teams are passing it back and forth, the timer is running down — first slowly, and then with increasing speed: beep, beep, beep. Whatever team is holding the device when the beeps stop loses that round.

One often overlooked aspect of the resurrection of Jesus is how it signals that the time is short. Easter tells us that history now is beeping more and more rapidly, calling for our repentance. The nations soon will be a footstool for the feet of the Son (Psalm 110:1). They, and each of us, should kiss the Son and take refuge in him before it is too late (Psalm 2:12).

Today I Have Begotten You

The refrain of resurrection returns many times in the Psalms, but it makes its first appearance in Psalm 2. Do you hear the refrain?

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
     today I have begotten you.” (Psalm 2:7)

The today of Psalm 2:7 is Easter Sunday. It is as if the psalmist sings, “Christ the Lord is risen today.” How do we know that the today of Psalm 2 is the same day as Easter Sunday? Listen to the apostle Paul preach and apply Psalm 2.

As It Is Written

Acts 13 is the clearest text that establishes the connection between the resurrection of Jesus and the today of Psalm 2. There, Paul preaches the good news of the gospel, from the Old Testament Scriptures, to unbelieving Jews. He declares that God raised Jesus from the dead in fulfillment of the promise to the fathers. What text will he choose to prove it?

We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,

     “You are my Son,
           today I have begotten you.” (Acts 13:32–33)

Paul’s sermon ought to provoke some pondering on our part. How could the psalmist say that there is a day (“today”) that Jesus was declared the Son of God (“You are my Son”)? The eternal Son of God never had a beginning; there was never a moment when he suddenly came into existence and God the Father declared him to be his Son. This text, however, seems to say that there was a moment when God the Father made a sonship declaration.

Declared to Be King

At the start of Romans, Paul unpacks the good news of God’s Son (Romans 1:1–3). He highlights the greatness of the Son of God from two different vantage points — his earthly life (as a descendant of David according to the flesh) and his resurrected life:

[He] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:4)

When was the eternal Son of God declared to be the Son of God in power? Answer: “by his resurrection from the dead.” This declaration is a moment of enthronement because he is the Son of God “in power.” This phrase in poweris related to the first phrase “descended from David.” He fulfills the promise of the royal Son of David who would rule on Jerusalem’s throne in power. The moment of fulfillment is the resurrection.

Tale of Two Thrones

This New Testament reality of the Son of God’s enthronement resolves a perplexing tension in the Old Testament. God is King — his dwelling place is in heaven. But he also said that his dwelling place was in the temple in Jerusalem. And there was a throne there too — a human king descended from David would sit on that throne. The kings of Israel often rebelled against God’s rule. Therefore, the King of the universe often had to judge the king of Israel. How and when would those two thrones ever come together and reign as one?

Answer: the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Jesus took his seat on the throne promised to David’s Son. Where is that throne? The earthly David had a throne in the earthly Zion (Jerusalem), but great David’s greater Son has a throne in the heavenly Zion. Because Jesus is risen and cannot die, the heavenly throne is filled forever (Hebrews 1:1–5).

Advance Warning

What is the Easter lesson for us in Psalm 2? The nations urgently need to hear heaven’s decree: Jesus is risen. Psalm 2 calls all nations, and all rulers, to stop raging (Psalm 2:1–3) and start repenting (Psalm 2:10–12). Why? God has installed his resurrected king on the throne of the universe.

The resurrection is the advance warning that judgment is coming. The King has been raised. The rebellion failed. The resurrection changes everything. Since the Son rose from the dead, history is now racing toward judgment, like a freight train with a full head of steam.

Paul makes the same point in Acts 17. The resurrection has happened. “The times of ignorance” have ended, and the time for repentance has come:

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30–31)

The resurrection, among other things, is the assurance that God means business. Judgment is coming. Let all peoples be warned. And let those who have bowed to the Son “rejoice with trembling,” for “blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:11–12).

Jason Meyer (@WePreachChrist) is the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Churchand associate professor of preaching at Bethlehem College & Seminary. He’s the author of Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life: Doctrine and Life as Fuel and Fire. He and his wife, Cara, have four children.

Daily Light – April 19, 2019

Continuing with David Niednagel’s daily S.O.A.P in Genesis (study, observe, apply, pray)

Genesis 14:17-24  God at work in “bad news”

17 After Abram returned from his victory over Kedorlaomer and all his allies, the king of Sodom went out to meet him …  18 And Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High, brought Abram some bread and wine. 19 Melchizedek blessed Abram with this blessing: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And blessed be God Most High, who has defeated your enemies for you.” Then Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the goods he had recovered.

21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give back my people who were captured. But you may keep for yourself all the goods you have recovered.”

22 Abram replied to the king of Sodom, “I solemnly swear to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will not take so much as a single thread or sandal thong from what belongs to you. Otherwise you might say, ‘I am the one who made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept only what my young warriors have already eaten, and I request that you give a fair share of the goods to my allies—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre.”   NLT

Melchizedek means “King of Righteousness”, and he was the actual King of Salem (which was later called Jerusalem, and he was also a priest of the Most High God who is also the Creator of heaven and earth, and the God who defeated the coalition of kings. Whew! Hebrews 5-8 speaks much of Melchizedek, who was either a manifestation of God-the-Son or a “type” of Christ in the OT.

Abram probably did not see God at work when he first heard that Lot had been captured. He probably only thought of it as really bad news, but he was courageous and chased and attacked those four large and powerful armies. But here we see there was much more going on than met the eye, more than battles and plunder. By this point he realized God was doing so much more than he imagined. Yahweh, the Creator of everything not only won the battle for Abram, but now pronounced a blessing on him. This was a bigger and more significant spiritual battle than it was a physical battle.

Lord God, You are Creator of the universe, so nothing is too difficult for You. But if I forget or doubt You are the Creator, I will not have the faith in You that will honor You or allow You to show Your greatness. And I praise You that You are more than just the Creator, but the Living God who now can work and accomplish more than I can imagine. Help me look for You at work when I hear something that sounds like bad news. You have blessed me more than You blessed Abram, for we have all spiritual blessings in Christ, AND, you are also our great High Priest who always lives to make intercession for us. So, instead of getting upset when “things go wrong” may I always worship You with my whole heart!!! Amen.

Daily Light – April 18, 2019

Continuing with David Niednagel’s daily S.O.A.P in Genesis (study, observe, apply, pray)

Genesis 14:1-16  Covenant loyalty

14:1 About this time war broke out in the region … 8 Then the rebel kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (also called Zoar) prepared for battle in the valley of the Dead Sea. 9 They fought against King Kedorlaomer of Elam, King Tidal of Goiim, King Amraphel of Babylonia, and King Arioch of Ellasar—four kings against five … 11 The victorious invaders then plundered Sodom and Gomorrah and headed for home, taking with them all the spoils of war and the food supplies. 12 They also captured Lot—Abram’s nephew who lived in Sodom—and carried off everything he owned. 13 But one of Lot’s men escaped and reported everything to Abram the Hebrew, who was living near the oak grove belonging to Mamre the Amorite. Mamre and his relatives, Eshcol and Aner, were Abram’s allies. 14 When Abram heard that his nephew Lot had been captured, he mobilized the 318 trained men who had been born into his household. Then he pursued Kedorlaomer’s army until he caught up with them at Dan. 15 There he divided his men and attacked during the night. Kedorlaomer’s army fled, but Abram chased them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 Abram recovered all the goods that had been taken, and hebrought back his nephew Lot with his possessions and all the women and other captives.   NLT

Abram was wealthy, but no match at all for the powerful kings of the East. Yet with only 318 men he went after them, 140 miles to Dan where he attacked them at night, then another 100 miles North of Damascus where he finally defeated the last of them and recovered all the people and possessions taken in the battles. Why? What motivated him to such a foolhardy action? Loyalty. Covenants.

Even though Lot cared more about his own wealth than his Uncle Abram, Abram felt a family obligation to rescue Lot. Also, Mamre, Eshcol and Aner are called Abram’s “allies” – the word is actually “covenant”. Abram had made mutual defense covenants with his neighbors, so they went with him to pursue the powerful kings. Covenants were serious, and they were binding. We don’t have anything in our culture like that. We make contracts, but we get good lawyers to help us break them when we want out of the obligations.

But Yahweh made a covenant with Abram and his descendants to be their God, and He made a New Covenant with us, the church. He wants us to count on Him, and wants us to keep our loyalty to Him, and to “His Body”, the Church– the others who are also a part of the same covenant. Sadly, in our culture we just don’t have that mindset. We are independent and value our own freedom and comfort above obligations to Christ or His church.

LORD, Thank You for Your faithfulness to us! Even to the point of dying on the Cross to make this New Covenant. At the core, I am selfish and do not want to be obligated to others, but I see the blessings of You and others being loyal to me and I am convicted of my sin. As I was awake in the night You spoke to me about a particular commitment You want me to make, and I will do it. Let me demonstrate Your nature in the way I live out a life of loyalty to You and people around me. Amen

Daily Light – April 17, 2019

Continuing with David Niednagel’s daily S.O.A.P in Genesis (study, observe, apply, pray)

Genesis 13  Learning from every event

13:1  So Abram left Egypt and traveled north into the Negev, along with his wife and Lot and all that they owned. 2(Abram was very rich in livestock, silver, and gold.) 3 From the Negev, they continued traveling by stages toward Bethel, and they pitched their tents between Bethel and Ai, where they had camped before. 4 This was the same place where Abram had built the altar, and there he worshiped the Lord again.   NLT

I wonder if his worship was more mature this time? Not just for the “blessings” but also for the sovereignty He experienced in Egypt. I hope he had more “fear of the Lord” this time.

5 Lot, who was traveling with Abram, had also become very wealthy with flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, and many tents. 6 But the land could not support both Abram and Lot with all their flocks and herds living so close together. 7 So disputes broke out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. … 8 Finally Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen. After all, we are close relatives! 9 The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.”

Abe seems to have a mature trust in the Yahweh for all his needs, and was therefore non-threatened and generous in offering Lot first choice.

10 Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the LORD or the beautiful land of Egypt. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. 12 So Abram settled in the land of Canaan, and Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. 13 But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord.

Lot’s land was better for his flocks, but not his family. Location. Location. Location.

14 After Lot had gone, the LORD said to Abram, “Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. 15 I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. 16 And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! 17Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.” 18 So Abram moved his camp to Hebron and settled near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. There he built another altar to the LORD.

Yahweh told more about His covenant. He would give all that land to Abe. Abe would not have to purchase it or fight for it. So Abe worshiped again, and (I think) he worshiped better.

Lord, help me learn and reflect on each event in Abram’s life, and then reflect on every event in my life whether itseems good or bad. May that reflection result in more genuine and trusting worship, and may my life show worship long after the songs are over. You have been faithful to provide all my needs, so help me be generous in giving to others, and be an instrument of Yours just like You have used others to provide for me. Help me think about future consequences of all my decisions, so I don’t choose immediate benefits and forfeit eternal ones. Amen