Daily Light – April 30, 2020

Keep Him from His Knees

Five Ways Satan Silences Prayer

Article by Greg Morse, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

(In The Globdrop Letters, a senior demon (Wormwood) corresponds with a junior demon (Globdrop) to advise him in the evil art of subtle deception. The series follows in the large footsteps of C.S. Lewis in his classic work, The Screwtape Letters.)

My Dear Globdrop,

Most regretfully did I receive your last letter. Slumped over at my desk for nearly the entire day, I failed to detect the slightest evidence of rational thought. You coughed and sneezed all over the page and still thought to send it, did you? Next time you desire to unclutter the pockets of your mind, rifle through the lint and half-gnawed bones with one of your peers instead of your superior officer.

The only nugget I found (and I admit to having slogged through only half of the small booklet you called a letter) was the bit about your man’s resolves to “give more time to prayer.” I hope, for your sake, that you have not applied standard protocol to such a vile practice.

In other pursuits, we consider it sport to let the game run free for a bit. We allow the patients to exercise new levels of self-control, discipline, purity, and the like. The joy they feel when they assume themselves finally free heightens our fun when, to their horror and despair, we recapture them in old habits. And this is not just for entertainment: The last state becomes worse than the first. The merry-go-round of failure weakens their will to fight back, and soon, they won’t attempt to run free even when the door is flung open. Their fresh starts make for more bitter endings.

But we do not trifle with prayer, ever. Have you forgotten that one stands on the other side of them, listening?

Keep the Prey from Prayer

This ought to be painfully apparent.

Would you allow an all-but-conquered army, surrounded and besieged, to send out even one letter pleading for reinforcements? Would you not hunt that messenger down, put arrows in his back, and burn the letter? It is bad enough that our bitter Enemy — I have it on credible report — actually wants to help them. No, silence toward the Enemy is hell’s only policy. You must silence him as soon as possible. A few pointers.

1. Distract him in his closet.

This first step is almost too simple to be devious: show him his surroundings.

When he has time to sit and observe — something he otherwise would rarely do — show him everything. The more bothersome, the better. Let him hear that horrid Mr. Snoodle bark at a squirrel down the street. Let him see the mailman walk irreverently across his yard. Let him notice the chipped paint upon the windowsill, the small crack in the ceiling fan, the children’s play toys left disobediently about on the carpet.

Once he is divided, end the affair promptly with something he can quickly do — he should clean the dishes or vacuum the carpet. Assure him, of course, that this will only be a temporary detour that will allow for greater focus. Send him away after anything and everything.

2. Remind him of righteous deeds to do.

Now, don’t be afraid to use even — and my pen recoils to write it — “righteous distractions.” This, I hope you can finally begin to appreciate, reveals how much we loathe the time he spends upon his knees — that place where all horrid events begin. Get him to say, as one of their generals has said,

You wouldn’t believe how many good things keep me from praying — not sin. Sin does not keep me from praying; righteousness keeps me from praying: answering holy emails or just checking out one more piece of relevant news to pray about. . . . It’s not evil that keeps us from praying; it’s good things.

So — only in times of deepest desperation, mind you — suggest a million fine deeds he could otherwise be doing: a friend could use an encouraging text message. The elderly man next store could use his driveway shoveled. Perhaps he ought to call and check in with that sister who is struggling. We can destroy those resolves in due time.

The act at hand, the speaking directly with the Enemy, stands priority. Without refueling, they can only get only so far.

3. Remind him how little he has prayed.

Perhaps you naively assume that this misses the point — why remind a starving man that he has not eaten enough bread? But this squanders an opportunity. If he is set on yelping to the Enemy, prostrating himself on the floor like a spaniel, two courses of action can proceed: either he gets fed and returns to the banquet over and over again — and we lose him — or we spoil the bread in his mouth by inducing a sense of guilt.

Instead of allowing him to begin where he is — one meal at a time, as it were — suggest all the ways he falls short of where he should be by now.

As he finally begins to intercede for his sister, ask, Why have you waited so long? Should he pray for our humans to follow the Enemy, inquire, Why were you unbothered by their plight till now? If he begins that wretched way he taught them, “My Father,” let the name turn to guilt before he finishes: Do other sons fail so much at prayer? Ten minutes of prayer seems like such a weak window for someone who has been a Christian so long.

A steady diet of shame turns prayer inward ¬— a gaze into the mirror at imperfections, not a gaze at the Enemy or his alleged perfections. Make prayer a reminder of everything your man is not, rather than a communing with all the Enemy is. Press blame upon him, and he soon may return to his unencumbered, guilt-free starvation.

4. Remind him that he is free from taking prayer too seriously.

Label all prayer habits as legalism. Planning to spend thirty minutes in prayer a day? That is law, not grace. Where — be sure to ask him — does the Bible say he needs to wake up at 6:30 in the morning? Anyone who tells him he must spend time communing with the Enemy doesn’t know what freedom the Enemy affords. Tell them that he is perfectly free to be prayerless before the Enemy — of course, by this we mean that he is free to stand clueless, weaponless, and defenseless before us.

Let him be regular in checking social media, regular in watching his shows, regular in playing Ultimate Frisbee and going to concerts, regular in walking the dog, eating, sleeping, and playing the saxophone — but make the idea that he might be regular in prayer works based. Keep him from prayer, and he shall surely become prey.

5. Remind him of tomorrow.

He works hard after all. Working two jobs. Busy with countless Christian activities. What does the Enemy really expect of him?

The Enemy’s Son sought to rouse his drowsy disciples to their prayer posts on the night everything changed, but he couldn’t. They were too tired to “watch and pray that they may not enter into temptation.” The spirit may have been willing, but the flesh was weak. We licked our lips as their eyelids drooped. You can always pray tomorrow morning was our lullaby.

A little sleep, a little slumber, a little tapping of the alarm clock, and we shall come upon them like a thief in the night.

Lead Them into Temptation

The Enemy instructs them to pray that they might not enter into temptation — I hope you see the seriousness by now. He even commands them to pray daily with the wretched words, “Lead us not into temptation.” Keep them from all of this. Leave them over-busy and exhausted, pushing prayer to the bookends of their days until it is little more than a half-conscious moan or sigh.

At all costs, do not let them truly believe that God is and, most of all, that he rewards those who seek him — with himself.

Your tried and tempted uncle,


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 – April 29, 2020

His Delight Is Not in Your Strength

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

We discover where we really find our strength not when we feel strong, but when we feel weak.

Exhaustion and frustration have a way of blowing away the fog, revealing what’s really happening inside of us: Have we been leaning on God for all that we need, or have we made his help, his strength, his guidance a kind of last resort? Many of us are more self-reliant than we would admit, and self-reliance is far more dangerous than it sounds.

The widespread delusion, especially among more secular people, is that I can do anything, if I am willing to work hard. I am stronger than I think, strong enough to do anything I want to do in the world. The reality, however, is that the vast majority of us are weaker than we realize — and yet love to think ourselves strong. And that false sense of strength not only intensifies our arrogance and our ineffectiveness, but it also offends our God.

His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
     nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
     in those who hope in his steadfast love. (Psalm 147:10–11

Our delight is often in the strength of our legs — our work ethic, our perseverance, our cleverness, our strategies. And that temptation touches every part of life — at work, in ministry, at home — because every part of life in a fallen world requires strength. But God is not pleased by all that we can do — unless we do all that we do in his strength, and not our own.

Rejoice in All He Can Do

One way to combat a sinful sense of self-sufficiency is to meditate on all that only God can do — all that he can do, that we cannot. Psalm 147 models how to expose and unravel the lies of pride with the strength and authority of God.

The psalm says that God alone places each cloud in the sky (Psalm 147:8). He chooses when, where, and how much rain will fall, and he tends every millimeter of every blade of grass.

God alone crafts every snowflake that falls, fashions every inch of frost, and decides just how cold it will be (Psalm 147:16–17). Every aspect of our winters is scripted and conducted by him, including precisely when they end (Psalm 147:18).

God alone feeds the elephants, the sharks, the squirrels, and even the ants (Psalm 147:9). When newborn birds whimper in hunger, he hears each faint cry.

God alone can count every star in the universe (Psalm 147:4) — and not only count them, but decide their number and give them each a name.

God alone heals the wounds of the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3). Very few are ever tempted to think we ourselves could bring rain, make snow, or count the stars, but we might be tempted to think we could heal a broken heart. We might imagine we could compensate for someone’s loss, or talk someone out of despair, or save someone’s marriage. But Psalm 147 says that God is the healing one.

God alone makes peace (Psalm 147:14). We cannot achieve real peace — in families or friendships, in a church or a nation — unless God quiets the conflict and awakens harmony. If we think we can achieve peace without God, we have not understood peace, or God.

“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (Psalm 147:5). Our power is small and often failing, but his power is abundant and never exhausted. Our understanding is extremely limited and often flawed, but his understanding is universal and inscrutable. Why would we ever rely on ourselves?

Embrace How Little You Can Do

Yet we do rely on ourselves. We slip into habits of living, and working, and serving that don’t require him, and sometimes that barely even acknowledge him. Jeremiah’s warning is as sobering in our day as it was in his: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord’” (Jeremiah 17:5). The man who deep down trusts in himself cannot help but slowly walk away from God.

We fight sinful self-sufficiency by glorying in all that God can do, and we fight by learning to embrace just how little we can do apart from him. Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Many of us can recite the phrase, and still quietly suspect that he’s really exaggerating. We know we can do something on our own. And if we won’t admit it, our prayer lives betray us.

The humble are strong precisely because they know how weak they truly are — and how strong God will be for them. They sing, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). They exhort one another, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). They serve “by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).

The humble have experienced what Isaiah promised: “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. . . . They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:29–31). By embracing their weakness, they found vast reservoirs of strength, strength enough to run and even fly.

Weakness Welcomes Strength

The apostle Paul knew how weak he was and where to find true strength. When he pleaded with God to remove the thorn that plagued him, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Why would God, in infinite, fatherly love for Paul, not spare him the pain and inconvenience of this weakness? Because our weakness welcomes the gracious strength and intervention of God.

Weakness welcomes grace. When we feel strong, we are not prone to rely on the grace and strength of God. We often begin to experience, and even enjoy, the delusion that we are strong. We forget God, and our need for him. But when we feel our weakness, we more fully experience reality — and we remember our tremendous, continual need for him. The intensity of our thorns unearths the depths of his grace and mercy. Without them, we would only play in the wading pools of grace, instead of exploring the endless storehouses God fills and keeps for us.

As Paul says earlier in the same letter, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). If you look strong in your own strength, very few will wonder how you are so strong. But if people watch you walk through intense or persistent weakness and adversity, with strength and faith and even joy, then God will look unmistakably strong in you. So, to the extent that you are weak, to that extent will you magnify the awesome height of his power and love.

We Have Done Nothing

We often learn to rely on our own strength because we want the recognition and respect of others. We want to be known as strong, not utterly weak; as independent, not deeply dependent; as self-sufficient, not uncomfortably needy. We want to be the achievers and creators, the healers and the heroes. But as J.I. Packer says,

If we think of ourselves or others as achievers, creators, reformers, innovators, movers and shakers, healers, educators, benefactors of society in any way at all, we are at the deepest level kidding ourselves. We have nothing and have never had anything that we have not received, nor have we done anything good apart from God who did it through us. (Praying, 147)

The happiest, strongest, most meaningfully productive people have embraced, and even rejoiced, in that reality: We have done nothing good apart from God who did it through us. “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion” (Psalm 84:5). They have been liberated from self-sufficiency, and now run, work, create, and serve in the happy fields of their utter dependence on God.

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 – April 28, 2020

What Cravings Will Take from You

How Jesus Fulfills the Longing Heart

Article by Christine Hoover, Guest Contributor

We spend our lives with hands out and mouths open, looking for what we might consume. This is our experience as humans, in part because of how God designed us: we eat because our bodies require energy, and we reach with gentle affection for those we love out of a shared hunger for relationships. We’re born in need, and our desires, implanted by God himself (Acts 17:24–27), send us on a search for fullness of joy.

Our desires, however, so easily turn into obsessions, leading us into wild over-consumption (James 4:1–3). Our desires become cravings, the ultimate pursuit and point of life itself. Rather than signals meant to send us off in exploration for the original source of joy (Psalm 16:11), they instead become taskmasters, demanding our undivided loyalty and taking our peace and joy right along with them.

In our unchecked drive to consume, we ourselves become the ones consumed.

My Primary (False) Allegiance

When we don’t allow our desires to send us seeking fullness of joy from the source of all joy — God himself — we develop an allegiance to false kings.

My primary false allegiance is to the love and admiration that come from other people. I crave validation, and I find myself performing for it like a circus animal. This is how I’ve come to know just how much I’ve allowed this false king to rule over me: the past few years have been brutal, full of confusion and emotional pain.

Somewhere along the way, my heart, bowing before this false king, started aching for belonging. I started wondering if my presence mattered as a person and not as a performance. I started wondering if I was truly known. I started wondering if anyone might notice my need. My deep self-focus drew me further and further inside, and at some point I simply disengaged my heart. If I couldn’t have what I craved, I would not give of myself any longer.

I began to look back at who I once was and how passionately I’d loved others, and I wanted so badly to be that person again. But I couldn’t manufacture love, and I started to believe that joy would never come again. My heart instead felt hard and apathetic, looking to be served, noticing every slight, envying the belonging of others.

False Kings Only Take

The trouble for an idolatrous heart (and the gift for the repentant heart) is that God will stubbornly interrupt and intercept our pursuit of joy as we seek it in anything less than him. He will not give us lasting peace in our false allegiances, because he is jealous for us to have the actual peace we’re pursuing.

In those years of struggle, a chorus of people could have sung my praises, and it never would have settled as peace in my heart. Anytime a friend offered a word of encouragement, my mind immediately turned to panic: “What must I do to keep that love?” Or I’d think, “What about the one who didn’t voice encouragement? How do I win her over?” I was so hungry and thirsty that I was withering away, consumed by what I was trying to consume.

False kings never give; they only take.

Kings Who Take

When the prophet Samuel was growing old, the Israelites worried about their future. Samuel had mediated for them well as both priest and prophet before God, but they needed a new leader, and humanly speaking, there were no options available. Samuel’s sons, the next sure thing for the nation, didn’t walk in the ways of the Lord, so the elders sought answers by looking around at how other nations were structured. They approached Samuel with their solution: “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5).

At first glance, this doesn’t seem like such a bad request, but Scripture says it displeased Samuel, and it also displeased God, because the elders hadn’t thought to bring God into their calculations (1 Samuel 8:6–9). Did they not already have a King? They had, in effect, spurned the perfect rule of the One who’d delivered, provided for, led, and protected them, and they’d turned in their desire toward another option. They weren’t ready to reject God entirely. They just wanted him plus a safe, tangible plan B king like everyone else around them.

Samuel’s response is a fair warning to us as well about plan B kings: they will only take from you. Samuel warns that a king appointed by people takes sons and sends them to war, takes children and turns them into slave labor, takes daughters into his service, and takes crops in order to feed his servants (1 Samuel 8:10–17). Samuel knows what false kings do: they take our best and then make us their slaves.

Kingdoms with Two Kings

We tend to believe the same as the Israelite elders: What will it hurt to have God and also hedge our bets a little? We want to believe we can pledge allegiance to King Jesus and also throw our heart to human kings or human things. But the Bible is plain: No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). A divided kingdom cannot stand (Matthew 12:25).

Jesus is our king, not merely a wise consultant we turn to when we need to know what to do. And as the Israelite leaders show us, a divided heart is actually not divided at all: it has already chosen sides. A divided heart is one that’s spurned God. We turn toward false kings who we think will give us comfort, security, belonging, approval, validation, love, sexual gratification — but in the end they only take.

They promise life but give death.

Consumed to Satisfy

But God. Through Jesus Christ, he made a way for us out of this death spiral, giving us a direction to point our desires, providing something we can consume that doesn’t consume us in return.

Jesus came saying, Repent and believe (Mark 1:15). His words were an invitation, a stretched-out hand, an open door for us to enter with him into the kingdom of God.

Jesus came saying, This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, poured out for you (Luke 22:19–20). Feed on me (John 6:51–58).

Jesus was consumed by death precisely so that we would feast on him. This king is called Bread of Life (John 6:35) and Living Water (John 4:13–14), so we might know we can, in our hunger, eat, and in our thirst, drink. When we consume him, we find ourselves consuming his good rule, loving provision, and peaceful reign. We cannot reach the end of him, but in him we can certainly satisfy the longing underlying all of our desires: the longing for joy.

The King Who Gives

The Israelites placed a mirror before my heart, helping me see my false allegiances clearly. My actions were their actions: turning toward kings who couldn’t fulfill their promises. Like them, my desires and needs weren’t all wrong; what had been wrong was where I turned with them. I turned in repentance to Jesus and found joy again in allegiance to him.

Do you have a need? A desire? Submit it totally to King Jesus. He doesn’t just require our allegiance, as if obedience is a form of punishment or something through which we grit our teeth. His demand of wholeheartedness is an invitation to receive what is his: the very kingdom (Matthew 5:3). He opens his treasury to us, sharing his peace, love, joy, life, and fruitfulness.

And perhaps best of all, we receive his allegiance in return (Romans 8:38–39Matthew 28:20Hebrews 13:5).

He is a king who gives.

Christine Hoover (@ChristineHoover) is the author of numerous books, including Searching for Spring: How God Makes All Things Beautiful in Time. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her husband Kyle and their three boys.

Daily Light – April 27, 2020

When Kids Won’t Bow to Your Idols

Article by Jennifer Phillips, Writer/Author

The most profound parenting quote I’ve ever heard is from Dan Allender: “One of the biggest sources of conflict between you and your kids is when they refuse to bow down to your idols.”

Angry Parent

When I had my first child, I was determined to knock this parenting thing out of the park. I read all the books. “If you do these things,” they promised, “your child will be on a predictable schedule and will sleep through the night by the time you come home from the hospital.” Or something like that. Except my son wouldn’t cooperate. He cried endlessly. He had trouble feeding and wouldn’t nap for longer than 20 minutes.

Do you know what my predominant emotion was in the midst of all of this? Anger. At an infant. I threw pillows in the middle of the night and yelled at my husband and said not-so-kind words. To my infant. Now, I’m sure that hormones and sleep deprivation played a role in my response, but more than anything I was upset because I had faithfully followed A and B and I wasn’t getting C. I deserved a child who would cooperate. All the books told me he would if I did my part, and I did my part. I was worshiping at the altars of control, success, convenience, and let’s just say it—reputation. But my son refused to bow down. And I was furious.

He turned 1 and became an easier child. I parented out of pride: “We’re such amazing parents! If only people would follow our lead.” I continued to bow down to my idols: Control. Reputation. Success. Convenience.

Then God gave me exactly what I needed: a second child who refused to do a thing we said. We disciplined. He laughed, and then did it again. He was an enigma, breakdancing to the beat of his own drum, daring anyone to try and tell him what to do.

My predominant emotion? Can you guess? Anger. How dare he. I had created a system of order I loved, and he pummeled through it every single day. So I controlled even more, commanding him to bow to my idol of a compliant, respectful child.

He wouldn’t bow. And I was angry.

Identify Your Idols

In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller says, “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’” Idols are the things that rattle us when they’re threatened.

How can you identify your idols? Here are four ways.

1. Pay attention to your negative emotional responses to your kids.

Think of the times you get the most frustrated with your child. More often than not, it’s not their behavior that’s causing your response—it’s that one of your idols is being threatened. Trace your feelings back to the source. What’s in jeopardy? Your picture of how your child should behave? Your reputation? Your comfort? 

Our reaction to our kids’ behavior often has little to do with brokenness over their sin and a lot to do with how irritated we are that they’re threatening our own desires. Take the time to follow those strong responses back to the source, and repent.

2. Identify what you put your hope in when things go well.

When your child obeys, whom or what do you credit? Your new behavior chart? That book you just read? Your faithfulness? If it’s anything other than the grace of God, you could be worshiping an idol.

3. Watch the comparison trap.

The root of comparison is idolatry. You might feel like a failure because you worship performance and reputation, and you’re devastated you don’t measure up. Or perhaps you feel superior because you worship performance and reputation, and you think you’re scoring an A+ compared to those around you. When you catch yourself comparing yourself to other parents—and your child to other children—take note of what you’re putting your hope in other than Jesus.

4. Name the good things you’ve turned into ultimate things.

What good desires have morphed into demands, to the extent you either try to force them or are greatly affected when you don’t get them? Is it your baby being on a schedule? Your kids speaking respectfully to you? Your child’s academic or athletic success? When good things become ultimate things, you’re in idol territory.

Why This Matters

It’s so important to identify your idols—not in order to feel bad about yourself (“I’m so sinful”) or good about yourself (“I’m so spiritual”), but to discover how to replace them with grace and truth. Discerning your idols accomplishes at least three things.

1. It brings humility to your parenting.

One of the greatest gifts God gave me was a child who wouldn’t play by the rules, because God used him to reveal and smash my idols. When I see how prone I am to worship things other than Jesus, I’m much more gentle in my discipline—not slack or irresponsible, but gentle. Empathetic. “How could you?” becomes “Forgive me . . . the same affection for sin that’s in your heart is in mine, too. We’re in the battle together, on the same side.”

One of the most important parenting skills is knowing how to repent. Humble yourself—your kids will remember your repentance as much as any family devotional you led.

2. It helps you teach your kids to identify their own idols.

Our behavior is driven by what we worship. If you can work to identify what you’re worshiping besides God, then you can help your kids see what they’re worshiping, too. This leads to deeper repentance and, hopefully, true heart change.

3. It changes your parenting goals.

I no longer want well-behaved kids. That’s not the end goal for me. I want Christ-worshipers who know how to love and repent. Who run to him when they fail. Only God can make this happen in their hearts—I can’t force it. But because this is the goal, I don’t sweat the small stuff as much anymore.

God Is Parenting You

In his book Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family [interview | workshop], Paul Tripp observes, “As we seek to parent our children, the heavenly Father is parenting everyone in the room.” As you parent your children, God is parenting you. And he’s committed to doing so for a lifetime.

So when you’re in that bedtime standoff with your child and you want to scream because all you want is a bowl of ice cream and Netflix, God is there to parent you through it. He’s there to show you your selfishness, your idolatry—and to meet you with his love and grace. You have a perfect Father who doesn’t tire of you when you return to broken cisterns. He draws you back and changes you, little by little, to be more like him. He parents you with grace so you can parent your own children with grace.

If that’s not the best news you’ll hear all day, I don’t know what is.

Jennifer Phillips is the author of Bringing Lucy Home and 30 Days of Hope for Adoptive Parents, and is co-author of the upcoming book Unhitching From the Crazy Train: Finding Rest in a World You Can’t Control, written with Julie Sparkman. She and her family currently live in Brisbane, Australia, where they work with University Impact, a franchise of Campus Outreach, and serve at Christ Community Church. You can follow Jennifer at jenniferphillipsblog.com.

Daily Light – April 24, 2020

7 Things the Coronavirus Hasn’t Changed

Article by Stephen Witmer, PhD/Pastor

Like an earthquake, coronavirus has shaken the ground beneath our feet. Things we assumed we could count on (meals together with friends, graduation ceremonies, the Major League Baseball season) have been canceled or postponed.

We’re doing some things we could never have imagined (washing the packaging on the groceries we bring home, standing six feet from friends), and we’re not doing many things we expected always to be doing (gathering in person for church, visiting our grandmothers, commuting to work). Soaring retirement accounts have plummeted. Secure jobs have disappeared. Education has shifted to homes. Loved ones have been hospitalized, and some have died.

Earthquakes are scary and dangerous because they shake what we assumed was strong and stable. Coronavirus has shaken our assumptions, and many of us are struggling to find our feet. We’re off-balance, disoriented, uncertain, lonely, grieving.

So, in this time, it’s particularly important and especially precious to consider and celebrate the things coronavirus can’t touch; the unchanging, unshakeable realities that haven’t changed, because, according to the Bible, they cannot and will never change.

These things were true before coronavirus and will remain true long after (and forever). They are massive pillars sunk deep down into eternal bedrock, and we can stand on them when much else we relied on has been shaken.

Consider seven things that haven’t changed.

1. God

The triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is unchanging in holiness, righteousness, and glory. God declares, “I am the Alpha and the Omega . . . who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8), and James tells us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). That’s true for God the Son as well: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). And the Holy Spirit is called “the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14).

Our God will outlast the heavens: “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment” (Ps. 102:26).

2. God’s Word

Coronavirus doesn’t call into question God’s truthfulness or trustworthiness. His Word is as sure and firm now as it has ever been. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8). “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Ps. 119:89). God’s Word is living and abiding and imperishable (1 Pet. 1:23).

3. God’s Love

God’s unchanging covenant love for us is the ground of our joyful praise of him:

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (1 Chron. 16:34)

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations. (Deut. 7:9)

Wonder of wonders, God is unchanging in his merciful disposition toward us: “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6). God’s love for us (a love which he also produces within us by his Spirit) is one of those unchanging, imperishable realities that persist from this life into the next.

4. God’s Purpose

Because God’s love for us hasn’t changed, neither has his good purpose for us. And because his good purpose remains constant, we have a certain hope—a strong, confident expectation that holds us securely through life the way an anchor holds a ship in a storm:

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. (Heb. 6:17–19)

5. Jesus’s Intercession for Us

Jesus was interceding to the Father on our behalf before coronavirus, and the current pandemic hasn’t stopped or slowed him. He is pleading his death for us now:

But this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever’” . . . Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb. 7:21, 25)

6. Judgment Day

This one is sobering. Coronavirus has canceled or postponed lots of meetings and forced many others online. But there’s a coming appointment that won’t be delayed, and won’t occur on Zoom:

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)

Each of us will keep this appointment in person (2 Cor. 5:10).

7. Our Final Destination 

Coronavirus is reshaping our journey, but not its end. When we get where we’re going, we’ll enter a future city that’ll last forever. “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). The servants of God in that new Jerusalem “will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:1–5).

That future, final destination hasn’t been diminished in the least by coronavirus. It can’t be, because it’s not here—it’s in heaven. We have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4).

Unshakable Believers

Unchanging realities produce unshakable Christians. Yes, we’re scrambling and adjusting and hurting. But we have some precious truths to hold us steady in a topsy-turvy time.

Let’s absorb them. Let’s live with a steady balance that magnifies Christ in a crazy world.

Stephen Witmer (PhD, University of Cambridge) is pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, Massachusetts, and adjunct professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is also the co-founder of Small Town Summits, an organization that serves rural churches and pastors, and has written Eternity Changes Everything (The Good Book Company), the volume on Revelation in Crossway’s Knowing the Bible series, and A Big Gospel in Small Places (InterVarsity Press). You can follow him on Twitter.

Daily Light – April 23, 2020

Sovereign Comfort for Uncertain Times

From John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the times are always uncertain and our lives in this world are far less stable than we realize. More and more, it seems like the only predictable thing about life is its unpredictability. So, in the middle of the current social and medical and economic upheavals that very few of us could have foreseen, what eternal promises root us? We have some amazing promises from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who apparently knew our lives would remain unpredictable until he returns. So, he left us with his closing words in Matthew 28:16–20. We read this:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus came up and spoke to them saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18 NASB). Now, that’s a very lofty claim for anybody to make. It has been given to him by God the Father. Because he died, he overcame guilt — he overcame condemnation. Because he rose again, he overcame suffering and he overcame death. And since he has triumphed over guilt and condemnation and suffering and death, he has also triumphed over Satan. Because the only way, ultimately, that Satan can damn the people of God is with guilt and condemnation. And the only way he can rough us up is with suffering and with death. And if suffering and death and guilt and condemnation have been conquered by Jesus in his death and in his resurrection, Satan is empty-handed today in his ability to destroy believers.

This is a tremendous thing. Philippians 2:9–11 says,

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is just another way of saying “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

Jesus Has All Authority

So, here’s our King, who’s commissioning us. This lofty claim, “All authority has been bought by me, possessed by me, given to me. I have all authority in the universe” — let’s ponder it for a minute. All authority. Really? All authority.

All authority over Satan and all demons and all angels, good and evil.

Authority over the natural universe: natural objects and laws and forces, like stars and galaxies and planets and meteorites.

Authority over all weather systems: winds and rains and lightning and thunder and hurricanes and tornadoes and monsoons and typhoons and cyclones, and all their effects like tidal waves and floods and fires.

All authority over molecular and atomic reality: atoms, electrons, protons, neutrons, subatomic particles, quantum physics, DNA, chromosomal reality.

All plants, all animals. Doesn’t matter what size: whales, redwoods, giant squid, and giant oaks. All fish, all wild beasts, he has authority over.

All invisible animals: bacteria and viruses and parasites and germs of every kind — he has authority over.

He has authority over all the parts and functions of the human body. Every beat of your heart, every movement of the diaphragm, every little jump across a million synapses in your brain — Jesus has all authority over all those physiological phenomena in your body.

He has all authority over nations and governments and congresses and legislatures and kings and premiers and courts.

He has all authority over armies and weapons and bombs and terrorists.

All authority over industry and business and finance and currency.

All authority over entertainment and amusement and leisure and media.

All authority over education and research and science and discovery.

All authority over crime and violence and all families and all neighborhoods.

And he has authority over his body, the church.

And he has authority over every soul in the universe and every moment and every second of every life lived, now or previously or forever and ever, anywhere in the universe.

He has all authority. Jesus has all authority. And that’s why he has a right to say, “Go everywhere.” Matthew 28:18 is the search warrant for breaking into other cultures. Almost nobody in America believes we have a warrant to do this today. This is a massively politically incorrect thing for us to do — namely, world evangelization. But we have a warrant. We have a warrant. You don’t do this kind of thing without a warrant. You don’t go into somebody’s culture or house and say, “Jesus is Lord of this house; Jesus is Lord of this culture,” without a warrant. What’s the warrant? Matthew 28:18 is the warrant: “I have died. I have risen. I have triumphed over all my enemies. I have all authority in heaven. I have all authority on earth. Go.”

He Gives and Takes Away

Jump over verse 19 with me to verse 20 to see not only the lofty claim, but the loving comfort: “And behold, I am with you always [literally, all the days], to the end of the age.” There are three pieces to this. I call them identification, continuation, and duration. That’s the three pieces in verse 20 at the end.

What do I mean by identification? I mean: Would you please, for a moment here, ask the Lord to reveal to your heart what stands in the page, that the One who promises never to leave you and always be with you is the One who has all authority in the universe? Would you please, right now, whisper a prayer in your heart? I’m whispering it right now for you that God would open your eyes to what that means. Lord, just do it. Would you come at this moment and put these two verses together? Lord, you have all authority in the universe, all power, all right, the right and the power to do as you please in every area of life, every culture, every people, every religion — the right and the power to be Lord and King. You have spoken to your people, “I will always be with you to the end.” Friends, do you get it? The One who said, “I will always be with you,” is that One. That’s the identification.

The continuation is found in the word always or all the days. And what I mean by that is not just length of time, but unbroken time. Do you see the point? He doesn’t go on vacation on Mondays. Pastors think he goes on vacation on Mondays, and so they get real depressed and discouraged on Monday morning. “Where’s God?” Well, the answer is this: as close as your skin, because he doesn’t break his word. He does not break his word. I don’t care how blue the day is, Jesus doesn’t lie. “I will always be with you.” Dark, bright, up, down, bad, good, death, life — “I will always be with you.” Hebrews 13:5: “Be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”

Though he giveth or he taketh,
God his children ne’er forsaketh;
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them, pure and holy.

Swedes have good theology. “Though he giveth or he taketh, God his children ne’er forsaketh.”

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

Daily Light – April 22, 2020

Stay Safe — Forever

Article by Greg Morse, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

The email, wishing my family and me wellness amid the coronavirus crisis, ended in an altogether startling way: “Stay safe. Meaning, be always ready to die in Jesus.”

Search the get-well cards or the positive messages of this world, and you will not find anything like this pastor’s plea. None of the optimistic emails from credit-card companies nor the well-wishings of different politicians told me this. No celebrities, with their messages of being united and staying strong, meant what he did.

Safety in today’s world means what it has always meant during times of crisis: Stay alive. Stay healthy. Protect yourself from the present distress. Wash your hands. Distance yourself. Take necessary precautions. But this is not the safety the pastor wished for my family, and it is not the safety I wish for everyone who reads this. It’s not safe enough. His plea to me, and my plea to you, is simply this: stay safe — forever.

Are You Ready to Die?

The need of every day, for every soul, whether diseases spread, or bombs threaten, or old age beckons, is to be ready always to die. We can pass from this world in countless ways — some slower, some faster; some more painfully, others less. Calamities and pandemics present us with the opportunity to consider our end before it comes, and to put our soul affairs in order. So let me ask you, whether you’re young or old, single or married, fearful or not — are you prepared to pass into eternity?

I’m not asking if you are prepared to leave all that you have ever known or loved in this world unfeelingly. Nor if you are ready to cause deep pain to your most beloved on the earth. Nor if you are ready to enter that whimpering state that they call “dying”— a tumultuous and unpredictable realm.

No, are you ready to die — meaning, are you prepared to meet Jesus face to face? Are you ready to be seen and judged by him? Are you staying watchful and ready for his return? Three final realities approach: death, judgment, and eternity. Are you ready for them?

To stay safe in light of these bids us to do more than to keep our hands clean, avoid touching our faces, distance ourselves from others, and stay at home unless necessary. To stay safe ten thousand years from now, when we will have stood before God and given an account for our lives, calls us to flee to Christ — and remain safe in Christ — from that something far more dangerous than a deadly virus and even death itself: sin.

Danger Worse Than Death

Hear Christianity’s scandalous claim for all who can bear it: Better coronavirus and death than unrepentant sin and life. Better to meet the virus and die trusting Christ than to be enslaved to lust, or greed, or any other sin, and live a few decades longer in unbelief.

I plead with you to consider this: Almighty God does not pause heaven’s uproarious praise, summoning the angels to “be appalled, . . . be shocked, be utterly desolate,” because of sickness, financial ruin, or death — but because of sin (Jeremiah 2:12–13). Of sins — not diseases — is it most solemnly written, “On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:5–6).

It is not ultimately because of coronavirus or cancer or car accidents that we actually die — the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Jesus did not counsel us to worry about what could only kill the body; he warned against provoking a holy God to kill both body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28) — as a judgment against our God-belittling lifestyles of sin.

Is not this pastor’s admonition most needed today? I read recently that free VIP access to pornography is being offered to areas of the world under quarantine. Rates of consumption have gone up by double digits. As millions are quarantined, Satan enters those areas hit hardest and persuades many to guzzle spiritual cyanide, opening themselves to the coming fury of God, all as they seek to avoid the danger of the coronavirus. We shut ourselves off from the world, but our greatest problem is quarantined with us.

Plea to the Unprepared

What can I say to you to consider your soul? In times like these, most of us will not even leave for the grocery store unprepared — will we leave this world, cross the cold sea of death, and travel into eternity unprepared? Will we work tirelessly to secure proper provisions for our body in this life — clothing it, feeding it, bending to its needs — yet leave our souls starved for the next? Will we think of anything and everything but our souls, our God, and eternity?

While the grave is uncomfortably placed before you, consider it. Do not let this season of clarity pass. Many before you have heard the good news and decided to put it off until tomorrow. Today if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts in rebellion (Hebrews 4:7).

The sickness Jesus came to address was not physical. If a cure for the coronavirus were ready-made and available, and this upheaval passed, death would still be waiting, demons would still be laughing, sin would still be enslaving, and judgment would still be pending. But here is the antidote, the good news that makes men fearless to state plainly the bad:

He was pierced for our transgressions;
     he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
     and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Here, the prophet shows forth heaven’s most precious and costly remedy to our rebellion against our God: the death of Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners. He is your only hope of safety from the judgment to come.

And he stands ready to forgive. His very name, Jesus, sings of redemption: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Do you feel a great need for forgiveness? Is your sin horrible and your disease deep? He came for sinners. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Look to Christ dying for the sins of world, believe, turn from sin, and be saved.

Plea to Christians

J.I. Packer once mentioned Christians of old who “prepared themselves for death, so as always to be found, as it were, packed up and ready to go” (Quest for Godliness, 14). Scares like the coronavirus show us how ready we truly are. Have we — the people of resurrection, the people of eternal life, the people whose citizenship is in heaven — stared death in the face, with sweaty palms perhaps, yet without flinching? We ought to live in this world to the fullest, yet always packed up and ready to leave.

Do we not long to go to Christ, who is our life (Colossians 3:4)? He longs for us to be where he is; do we instead long to stay away? How deep do the words of Thomas Brooks cut? “It is no credit to your heavenly Father for you to be loath to go home” (Works of Thomas Brooks, 5:455).

Now is not time to lower the sails. We are nearer every day to our true country. Would we really curse the gust of wind called coronavirus if God should use it to bring us more quickly than we expected to himself? I hope we all would struggle (myself included) with something closer to what Mr. Whitefield wrestled with when he prayed, “Lord, keep me from a sinful and too eager desire after death. I desire not to be impatient. I wish quietly to wait till my blessed change comes” (George Whitefield’s Journals, 318).

Stay Safe, Forever

None of this is meant to demean the real fear, real deaths, and real suffering caused by this pandemic. I lament the news of new cases and increased deaths. But when each update comes, I cannot help wondering, with the pastor’s sentence seared in my mind, “How many stayed safe — meaning, how many died in Jesus?” That question, I assure you, tears at my heart far more than any other news could.

So please, stay safe from the virus. Be wise, and make the best use of the time. But as you take utmost pains to avoid the disease, heed the pastor’s words, and stay safe forever, preparing yourself to die and see Jesus.

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 -April 20, 2020

Why Funerals Are Better Than Feasts

Article by Matt McCullough, PhD, Pastor, Nashville, TN

Of the many upheavels the COVID-19 outbreak has brought to our lives, one has been especially on my mind. This pandemic has simultaneously confronted us with our mortality and also eliminated many of the distractions we normally use to shield ourselves from the truth. It has exposed the fragility of everything we take for granted (our healthy bodies most of all) while depriving us of so many favorite opportunities for escaping the harsh realities of life under the sun.

My preferred mind-numbing escape route has always been sports. Over the past few weeks, out of habit, I’ve opened my ESPN app only to find stirring headlines like “Peyton Manning crashes Tennessee online class” and “Justin Bieber treks through house in ‘floor is lava’ game.” I don’t know about you, but clickbait like this just isn’t enough to pull my eyes from the staggering unemployment numbers or the rising daily death totals.

Whatever else the Lord may be doing in this strange providence, he’s offering us the gift of wisdom. Wisdom in the Bible is an instinct for living well in the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. Wisdom doesn’t hide from what’s grievous about life in this fallen world.

This wisdom is the goal of Ecclesiastes overall, and particularly of the series of proverbs that opens chapter 7.

These stark, provocative comparisons are meant to set off the way of the wise from the way of the fool. But like so much of Ecclesiastes, these proverbs disorient us in order to orient us. We’re told that the day of our death is better than the day of our birth (Eccles. 7:1). How can that be? We’re told that it’s better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting (Eccles. 7:2). That doesn’t sound right. And we’re told that sorrow is better than laughter (Eccles. 7:3). What does that mean?

Avoiding Two Ditches

Two clarifications are especially helpful.

First, the Preacher (the writer) has a specific kind of feasting and laughter in mind. He’s not against having fun or appreciating the goodness and beauty in the world. For all its moments of bleakness this book also celebrates joy in the good gifts of God (Eccles. 3:4; 5:18–20). Parties have their place.

But there’s a sort of feasting and laughter that’s deceptive and counterproductive. It’s the sort that Derek Kidner describes as the “hectic, empty gaity of fools, quick to catch alight, quick to fade.” This sort of levity is a substitute for careful reflection and honest emotional response to life. It’s a strategy, willful or not, for avoiding whatever might weigh us down or spoil our good time.

Parties have their place. But there’s a sort of feasting and laughter that’s deceptive and counterproductive.

Second, when the Preacher says that mourning is better than feasting or death better than birth, it’s not because sorrow and death are good in themselves. This isn’t simply resignation, some nihilistic acceptance of the power of darkness. It is rather that, as Kidner puts it, “the day of death has more to teach us than the day of birth.”

It’s not that death is better than life. It’s that we have more to learn from the sheer fact that our lives will end than from the fact that we’re alive in the first place. We learn these lessons not in the house of feasting, where quick-hitting pleasures keep our minds out of gear, but in the house of mourning, where we look long and hard at the truths that rightly break our hearts. “This is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Eccles. 7:2).

When the Preacher tells us it’s better to go to the house of mourning, he’s warning us not to numb ourselves with one diversion after another, living our lives like one long Netflix binge, hoping for happiness in that next episode.

When the Preacher tells us it’s better to go to the house of mourning, he’s warning us not to numb ourselves with one diversion after another, living our lives like one long Netflix binge, hoping for happiness in that next episode.

But he doesn’t aim to depress us, either. Perhaps the most surprising statement in these verses comes in verse 3: “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.” The reward of sorrow is something better than laughter: genuine gladness.

Sad Faces, Glad Hearts

But how? How do sad faces bring glad hearts?

I see at least two ways, one from within the perspective of Ecclesiastes, and another for which Ecclesiastes prepares us.

1. Putting God’s Gifts in their Proper Place

Ecclesiastes helps us enjoy the good gifts of life by preventing us from worshiping or trusting them. Under the sun no good gift is ours to keep. That’s what we learn in the house of mourning, and it’s a hard lesson.

If we fail to learn this lesson—if we aim for security in reputations or fortunes or careers or whatever else we build for ourselves—we’ll eventually deal with crippling futility and frustration. As permanent safeguards even the best gifts of life are vanity. To trust ourselves to them is to ruin any chance of truly enjoying them.

Under the sun no good gift is ours to keep. That’s what we learn in the house of mourning.

But if we accept the grief that comes with loss that comes with time, these gifts of God, like manna in the wilderness, don’t have to spoil. They can instead be what they are, what he intends them to be—not his competition, but tokens of his love for his children.

Consider encouraging passages like Ecclesiastes 2:24: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God” (cf. 3:12–13; 5:18). These are the Preacher’s sermon applications. The book’s brutal honesty about what time does to everything aims at joy in God’s good gifts. Mourning helps us accept their limitations. Accepting their limitations helps us see them for what they are, not for what they aren’t.

2. Setting Our Hearts on True Joy

Second, the sorrow that Ecclesiastes calls wisdom helps us set our hearts on the only source of true, resilient joy. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

If Christ isn’t raised, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, faith in him is as vain and futile as everything else. May as well eat, drink and be merry (1 Cor. 15:32). Let’s everybody meet up at the house of feasting after all! But in fact Christ has been raised, the firstfruits who will bring many sons to glory, beyond the sun, where God himself will be our light (Rev. 21:23).

We skip some parties now not because feasting is wrong, but because not all feasts are equal.

The house of mourning, where we tell the truth about the fragility of all that we love in this world, helps to lift our eyes and our hopes beyond this world, to the only true comfort in life and in death.

And in this way, ironically, the house of mourning stands in solidarity with another house of feasting. We skip some parties now not because feasting is wrong, but because not all feasts are equal. We’re saving our appetites for the banquet Christ has prepared for us, our endless feast in the house of Zion (Isa. 25:6).

Matt McCullough (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is pastor of Trinity Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and the author of Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living Hope (Crossway, 2018) and The Cross of War: Christian Nationalism and U.S. Expansion in the Spanish-American War.

Daily Light – April 20, 2020

Why Do We Confess If Our Sins Are Already Forgiven?

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

Why do we keep confessing our sins if all our sins have been canceled in Christ? It’s a great question from a listener to the podcast named Andy, who represents a lot of listeners out there asking this very same question. Here’s how Andy put it: “Hello, Pastor John! Can you help me understand the work of Jesus, whereby all of our sins — past, present, and future — were forgiven in Christ, and yet, we are called to continually confess? I’m thinking specifically of the ‘It is finished’ statement in John 19:30, and the amazing reality that Christ ‘forgave all our trespasses’ and ‘canceled our record of debt that stood against us’ in Colossians 2:13–14. But then we’re called to constant confession too in 1 John 1:9. How do you make sense of these truths?”

I love that question because it gives me an occasion to exult with you, and with all of our listeners, in the immeasurable greatness and beauty and preciousness and wonder of what Jesus did, in fact, on the cross, achieve once for all when he died and rose again for his sheep. And I say “for his sheep” because Jesus says in John 10:15, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”

In other words, in the death of Jesus, God has a very special, peculiar design or intention or purpose to purchase and create a flock for himself, including the purchase of our faith, our union with Christ, our forgiveness of every sin (past, present, future), our eternal right standing with God as adopted children and as new creatures in Christ — all that purchased once for all by Jesus. That’s what God intended and achieved when Christ died and stood in the place of his sinful flock, his sheep.

Paid in Full

Now, Andy sees this glory; he sees it and he’s exulting in it with me, I believe. He sees in John 19:30: “It is finished.” And he sees in Colossians 2:13–14: “God made [us] alive together with [Christ], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Those just have to be some of the most amazing verses in all the Bible for describing what became of our debt that we could never pay: canceled, nailed to the cross. And you can add to what Andy has seen and pointed out:

Hebrews 7:27: “[Christ] has no need, like those [Old Testament] high priests, to offer sacrifices daily . . . since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.”

Hebrews 9:26: “He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

Hebrews 10:14: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

Hebrews is really good at this. There it is: “once for all” — not repeated. Not repeated in history, not repeated in the Roman Catholic mass Sunday after Sunday, not repeated in any kind of Protestant religious performances that we may attempt through baptism or whatever. Once for all: done, finished, complete, debt paid in full, can’t be added to, can’t be improved upon. That’s the foundational glory of the achievement of Christ when he died for us on the cross.

So, Andy’s question is this: “Well, if the death of Christ achieved the forgiveness of all the sins of all God’s people for all time, what does 1 John 1:9 imply when it says, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’?” Or verse 7: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light . . . the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” So, Colossians 2:13 and the passages that we saw in Hebrews sound like our forgiveness was achieved, completed in the death of Christ. But 1 John 1:9 and 1:7 sound like our forgiveness and our cleansing depend on our confessing those sins and walking in the light.

That’s the issue that Andy is raising. Now, here’s how I would resolve the tension biblically. There are two steps in the resolution.

Whosoever Will Must Come

We should distinguish between the purchase and the permanent securing of our forgiveness once for all at the death of Jesus, on the one hand, from the personal possession and enjoyment of that benefit, which comes to us through faith, on the other hand. At the death of Jesus, our sins are canceled, nailed to the cross, debt fully paid. So, payment and securing are accomplished once for all — never to be repeated, permanently, infallibly for all God’s people when Christ died.

But the personal reception, the possession, the enjoyment of that achievement, that purchase, that securing of forgiveness comes to God’s people only through faith in Christ — union with Christ by faith. I say that because of texts like Acts 10:43: “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.” I mean, that’s clear. Everyone who believes receives forgiveness of sins. And Romans 3:28: “We hold that one is justified by faith.” So, we are justified, including forgiveness of sins and right standing with God, by faith.

And the reason there’s no conflict, no tension, between the absolute certainty of the forgiveness achieved in the moment of Christ’s death, and the fact that this forgiveness is dependent upon, contingent upon, God’s people coming to faith in Christ — the reason there’s no conflict, no danger of anyone missing out who was died for in that way is that God sees to it in his sovereignty that all those for whom he fully paid do in fact come to faith. There are no dropouts. Those whom he foreknew, he predestined; those whom he predestined, he called; those whom he called, he justified; those whom he justified, he glorified (Romans 8:29–30). He sees to it. That’s the first step in resolving the tension between Colossians 2:13 and 1 John 1:9.

Confess and Kill

Here’s the other one. The Bible teaches that there are traits that God’s people have that show they are in fact God’s people and do truly belong to Christ — truly born again, truly united with Jesus. These traits are how we can know that our sins were fully paid for and that our forgiveness is fully secured by the death of Jesus.

And one of those traits is how we deal with ongoing sinning in our lives. This is the complicating issue: Christians sin. That’s what John is dealing with in 1 John 1:8: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” So, the question becomes this: “Well, if you are a true child of God, and if your sins are truly and fully paid for — covered, canceled — what will you feel? What will your thoughts and actions be toward your ongoing sinning? What trait will mark you?” Here are two biblical answers.

Colossians 3:3: “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” That’s a description of wonderful, completed salvation. We’re already home. Then comes Colossians 3:5: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire.” So, one trait of those whose sins are fully paid for is that we make war on our sinning. That’s the mark of those whose sins are fully canceled: We make war on our sinning. We put them to death. But you can’t do that if you don’t admit — that is, confess — that you have any.

The second trait is confession (1 John 1:9). You have to confess your sins in order to make war on them. If you don’t think you have any, if you’re not confessing, “Yes, I have sinned and I’m sorry,” you won’t make war. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.”

So, confessing our sin is the agreement with God that we have sin and it must be fought and killed. If we don’t confess this truth, we’re living, John says, in an illusion. We’re lying, we’re deceived, we’re calling God a deceiver, and we’re not saved. If we believe we have no sin and that it doesn’t need to be killed, we’re living in an illusion, not in salvation. So, confession of sin is not the basis of our forgiveness; it is one of the traits that shows we are truly in Christ, where all our sins are covered by his blood.

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

Daily Light – April 17, 2020

Where’s God When COVID-19 Kills My Business?

Article by Dave Harvey (thegospelcoalition.org)

Steve grew up in a single-parent family with a mom working two jobs to ensure her kids had food and clothing. He lived aware of all they lived without. It sometimes made him ashamed. Steve vowed that when he was an adult, he’d always have what he needed.

When Steve proposed to Rebecca, he told her he would dedicate his life to ensuring their family never knew want. The first 10 years of their marriage were satisfying and prosperous. Steve’s business grew and Rebecca worked part-time whenever she desired. God was faithful, and material needs never knocked on their manicured suburban home.

COVID-19 Crusher

No one saw the coronavirus coming.

In a few short weeks, COVID-19 has flipped our society. We now live in a world where disease lurks around the corner, and for some, death isn’t far behind. We practice self-quarantines and social isolation, resulting in major financial hardships for those who own and operate small businesses.

The impact goes far beyond bank accounts by threatening the very existence of certain businesses. And that’s just the financial picture; the personal one is equally tender. When roles, relationships, income, and daily rhythms are rearranged, it chews away at a person’s self-worth.

Imagine what happens when someone like Steve begins to experience this sweeping sense of loss.

Over the last two weeks, the revenue from Steve’s business has been in the toilet; the deleterious effects of the virus now threatens his company’s existence. Steve and Rebecca once had money left over at the end of every month.

Now Rebecca see lots of month left over at the end of their money.

In one month, Steve’s profits have tanked, and he has had to let employees go. Now he’s up late at night, reading about financial assistance that may be available for LLCs and sole proprietors. Should he apply for a Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan? Should he wait to see if even more federal assistance is coming?

What’s the path a person walks when COVID-19 threatens to kill their business? Where does the soul go when Steve’s greatest fear—having his family experience financial need—has come upon him?

Indulge me as I flesh out Steve’s thoughts. As I do, we’ll discover how God uses suffering—even a global pandemic—to invite us into a journey of questions, vulnerability, and ultimate purpose.

1. Expect Doubt

As his bank accounts dwindle, Steve begins to ask all the why questions. Why did God allow this to happen? After all, Steve and Rebecca have given generously to their church and Christian causes; they’ve served faithfully.

This sort of severe suffering feels unjust, and when he’s honest, it makes Steve angry. He’s been more irritable with Rebecca and his kids, more distant from God. Steve just can’t seem to reconcile why God would allow this to happen—particularly when everything was going so well.

Why? is a question only God can answer, but nonetheless we waste enormous emotional energy dissecting it. Every Christian in this pandemic stands before the carousel of why? and must decide whether they will step aboard for that circular ride—the one that steals our time and ultimately delivers us back to the same place.

To the question of why? there is one answer: faith. A confidence rooted in God’s Word that he is good and is actively working in our suffering, even when answers elude us. Doubts stirred during pandemics must be met by faith, the kind that “believe(s) that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6).

Some reading this post are there now—the revenue is drying up and it seems like the handwriting is on the wall. To make matters worse, God isn’t explaining himself, and you’re still on the carousel seeking answers to the why question. God understands your doubts. He invites us to draw close to him and experience him as one who is real, one who is good, one who rewards those who seek him.

2. Welcome the Weakness

When the virus began to ravage Italy, Steve wondered what the impact would be here in the states. He was afraid of what this could mean for his business. But he kept it bottled: I’m probably overreacting.

When his fears materialized, Steve knew he and his wife needed to work through this together. But honestly, Steve felt ashamed: If I get into the financial weeds with Rebecca, she’ll know I’ve failed. She’ll know I’m not the strong provider I promised to be. Rebecca will lose respect for me. She’ll never look at me the same way, and I just can’t handle that right now!

Rebecca had been worried, too. Until yesterday, Steve had assured her they’d be fine. Last night, though, Steve whispered a prayer, opened his heart, swallowed hard, and quietly told Rebecca, “We need to talk.” And oh boy, did they talk. Steve unpacked the financial impact, his fears and the paralyzing shame he felt.

Rebecca listened intently and sized up the situation pretty quickly. Rebecca reminded Steve of their Lord who bore their shame upon the cross (Heb. 12:22 Cor. 3:4–5). Rebecca reminded Steve that, because of Jesus, he is freed from the stigma of shame.

Rebecca also began to think of ways she could help. In her response, Steve saw that the gospel has true relevance, even in the throes of a pandemic, and that God was present with them in the midst of this turmoil. Through their humble vulnerability, God was teaching them to depend on him and be honest with each another.

3. Remember God’s Promises

In 2 Corinthians 1:3–4, Paul says:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

God promises to meet us in the midst of great suffering and affliction. He met Steve and Rebecca, and in doing so, he positioned and empowered them to comfort others.

With the business failing, Rebecca has taken on some online freelancing to help make ends meet while Steve and the kids do extra chores around the house. Steve is also organizing some small business owners to swap ideas, pray, and encourage each other. He’s also volunteering some extra time at the church, organizing a drive-thru coronavirus testing site.

Everyone’s pitching in.

Because Steve feels less impervious and more vulnerable, he has a new freedom in communicating his fears and weaknesses. Steve is more transparently honest.

Rebecca actually confided to a friend that she’s seeing a side of him she hasn’t seen in years. She wasn’t prepared to celebrate the loss, but Rebecca can’t deny there’s some strange power at work in her husband—a humility that has connected Steve to God’s power as he has experienced God’s comfort and passed it along to others.

Something Better Than Why?

The beginning of 2 Corinthians 1 reminds us that even in the midst of suffering and uncertainty—even when there’s no answer to why?—we can know the comfort of God’s presence.

When we bring our doubts and weaknesses to him, we’ll discover some surprising purposes for the pain of pandemics. During these times, his promises take priority and we are reminded he is present to comfort us and to position us to comfort others with the very comfort we received. Even during a pandemic.

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.