Daily Light – Feb 13, 2020

How Do I Overcome My Fear of Death?

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

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

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

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

Active God

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

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

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

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

Immortal

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

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

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

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

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

More Precious Than Sparrows

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

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

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

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

Make My Day

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

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

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

Daily Light – Feb 12, 2020

Some Wounds Never Heal

Article by Greg Morse, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

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

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

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

We Are Not the Same

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

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

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

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

Gandalf did not answer.

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

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

Death’s Prolonged Victims

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

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

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

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

Pierced with Mary

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

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

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

A sword will pierce through your own soul also.

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

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

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

Where Can We Find Rest?

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

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

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

Life After the Sword

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

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

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

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

Daily Light – Feb 11, 2020

Would God Be Just as Glorified If We Were His Slaves?

John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

The Question:   “Couldn’t God be just as glorified in us if we were tireless slaves for him?” And the answer to that question is easy and clear: No, he could not be just as glorified.

But the best way to come at a question like this is not first to dig into the nature of God to explain why this is so. That’s what I was frankly tempted to do, because it’s not hard to do and it’s glorious to do it. But I think the best way is first to dig into Scripture to show that this is so — not just why it is so — that he does not seek tireless slaves for him. Because that will yield, I think, a more biblically sound and solid answer than if we try to jump over concrete texts and just jump to the nature of an all-sufficient God to argue why he doesn’t need slave labor. So, let’s do that.

There will be clear answers to the question of why God is more glorified when we receive power and blessing from him rather than receiving slave labor from him. Those answers are coming. But even if we couldn’t answer the question of why, it’s crucial that we submit to the teaching of Scripture that it is so. He doesn’t need and doesn’t use slave labor. He abhors the idea of being served as a slave who provides the poor, needy plantation owner with the labor that he’s lacking. God does get more glory from our serving freely, by faith in his enabling power, than by our providing needed slave labor.

So, let’s look at a few passages and then circle back to the question of why God would be more glorified this way than by tireless slave labor.

God Gives All Strength

Whoever serves, [let him serve] as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. (1 Peter 4:11)

So, God gets the glory because God gave the strength. The giver gets the glory. If we were the giver of slave labor and God were that needy plantation owner, dependent on us, then we would get the glory — our power and our wisdom and our resourcefulness providing his need. That’s the gist of the argument in 1 Peter 4:11. Here’s 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you.

So, God is glorified because he fulfills every good resolve and work of faith. We don’t provide his slave labor. He provides our strength to give any labor. That’s why he gets the glory, according to 2 Thessalonians 1:12.

God Owns All Things

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth . . . is [not] served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:24–25)

So, God’s glory is such that he is not and cannot be served as though he needed anything, especially slave labor. He’s the giver of all, not the receiver. And then Romans 11:34–36:

Who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?

Answer: Nobody. Nobody counsels God. Nobody gives God advice that he doesn’t already know.

Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?

Answer: Nobody. You can’t negotiate or barter with God. You can’t ever put him in your debt. He already has everything. If you give him anything, you’re giving him what he already owns.

From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.

So, he gets glory because nobody can give him anything that he doesn’t first give to us, for all is from him and through him and to him. The giver gets the glory. God’s way of saving us is by faith in his initiative and his gift and his empowerment. It is decisively from him, through him, to him from beginning to end.

God Does What He Promises

And so, Paul says of Abraham in Romans 4:20–21,

He grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

Faith in God’s promises of provision is how we glorify God, not by showing that we have resources for slave labor in ourselves to contribute to God’s faltering labor force. Jesus says to his disciples,

No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)

And he makes clear that his glory consists in his being the giver, not the taker. John 14:13:

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

So, God is glorified by being rich, resourceful, all-providing as our Giver-Father.

Bound by Joy

Here’s the answer to the question, “Couldn’t God be just as glorified in us if we were tireless slaves for him?” No, because having slaves shows a few glories: some wealth to purchase the slaves, some power to coerce the service, some wisdom to secure the investment. So, there’s a kind of glory for the slave master.

But the fullness of God’s glory would never be shown this way. His grace, his mercy, his patience, his kindness, would not shine that way. God knows that he is seen to be more glorious when the beauty of all of his perfections bind us to him, not with chains, but with cherishing; not with coercion, but with contentment; not because he’s a tyrant, but because he’s a treasure that we won’t leave. He’s not a tyrant that we can’t leave; he’s a treasure that we won’t leave, and therefore, he gets way more glory that way than if he operated by coercion that we had to fulfill against our delights.

No, God would not get more glory from a tireless slave-labor force. He gets more glory by being so beautiful in his character and in his ways that we are bound to him, not because we are held in jail, but because we are held by joy.

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

Daily Light – Feb 10, 2020

‘I Shall Not Be Shaken’

How God Removes Our Greatest Fears

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Real confidence is in rare supply. Playing it cool is one thing. It’s easy to straighten your shoulders, arch your back, stick out your chest, and talk tough. But genuine emotional confidence and security of soul is hard to find.

And it should not surprise us. After all, we are sinners, surrounded by other sinners, in a fallen and fragile world. How can any of us truly experience the deep peace and joy of authentic confidence in a world awash with facades of security?

In Psalm 16, we walk with King David the short but significant path from fear to confidence, from instability to security, from anxiety to authentic, lasting joy. He begins, in distress, with the plea, “Preserve me, O God” (Psalm 16:1). Then, amazingly, by verse 8, he declares with confidence, “I shall not be shaken.”

How does such a change of heart happen? Theology. Rehearsing who God is for us can transform everything. Far from detached thought-experiments and philosophical speculations, what we believe about God can be life and death for us today. It will make all the difference if we, like David, know God to be our reliable Savior, our sovereign Lord, and our greatest Treasure.

Reliable Savior

First, God saves us from harm by being both our safest refuge and our trusted counselor. “In you I take refuge” (Psalm 16:1). There is no safer place to hide than in the arms of the omnipotent God. “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel” (Psalm 16:7). Not only does he protect from without, but he provides wisdom from within through the leading of his Spirit.

God is able to save us from the fears that threaten us, not only by intervening to guard us from harm’s way, but also by guiding us out of trouble. Knowing God as our Savior — both as refuge and counselor — inspires confidence that, come what may, we have a resource beyond compare. But he is not only our utterly reliable Savior. He is also our sovereign Lord.

Sovereign Lord

David says in verse 5, “You hold my lot.” Whether we are drawing straws, rolling the dice, or simply seeking our next breath, whatever happens to us is from God. He rules over our lives, not just in the big picture, but in all the little details.

At first, it may not seem comforting to discover he is in control — when your life is difficult, for instance. But if we know ourselves to be God’s, and God to be ours, then such knowledge is remarkably stabilizing. It doesn’t mean that we will not walk through measures of pain or defeat, but it does mean that we are assured a final victory. It doesn’t mean we take every battle, but it does mean that we will most certainly win the war.

God is not only our reliable Savior and sovereign Lord, though; he is also our supreme Treasure. Side by side with David’s declaration in verse 5, “You hold my lot,” is his statement “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup.” And then, immediately after, he says, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6). Rejoicing in the sovereignty of God leads into embracing him as the greatest Treasure.

Greatest Treasure

In verse 2, David says, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” God is the ultimate good. He is the fountain of the river of all delight. All other goods are truly good only when they are in him. Apart from him, all other good things will prove empty in the end.

But doesn’t the next verse threaten David’s deep delight in God? “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3). How can all his delight be in other people, and God still be his greatest treasure?

Note that David does not say that he delights in God’s people rather than in God, but that people who reject his God give him no pleasure. Godless people, living in godless ways, do not meet with his approval and admiration. He is too captivated by God not to see the folly in godless living. Because he enjoys God as his supreme treasure, he also takes delight in those who treasure God as supreme as well. His love for God spills over in love for those who love God. His love for those who love God doesn’t compete with his love for God; rather, it complements it. Such delight in others is an extension and expression of his supreme delight in God.

Truly Solid Joy

Finally, David closes his song of growing assurance with the high note. Having begun with the plea for God to preserve him, he finishes in confidence and hope. He has moved from anxiety to awe, from pleading to praising, from bemoaning his troubles to basking in the glory of God.

My heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
     my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
     or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
     in your presence there is fullness of joy;
     at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:9–11)

As firm as David’s confidence is, ours can be even more solid today. Jesus took on our flesh, lived without blemish, bore our curse on the cross, and God did not abandon his soul to Sheol, the place of the dead. His flesh did not see corruption because God raised him to complete his conquest of the Serpent and rip the doors off the hinges from the inside. In Jesus’s victory over the grave, we are freed from the greatest fear. “Through death he [destroyed] the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver[ed] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14–15).

And now, seated at his Father’s right hand, he is the final destination on the path of life. He is our fullness of joy. In him are pleasures evermore.

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 – February 5, 2020

How Do I Grow in Wisdom?

John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

On April 26, 1998, John Piper preached a sermon on Romans 1:1. It was sermon number 1 in a new series he called “Romans: The Greatest Letter Ever Written.” He announced to his church it would be “a great ten years in Romans,” and people applauded. He would go on to complete the book in 225 sermons, in just 8 years, 8 months, finishing up on Christmas Eve, 2006. This Romans sermon series is now legend.

But back in the early months of the series, the church had to be prepared to plunge into Romans 1:18–3:20, a prolonged argument from Paul that diagnoses the world’s sin problems, and God’s righteous, wrathful response. This section alone would require 22 sermons. To prepare his congregation for such a heavy season ahead, Pastor John explained how hard texts about sin and wrath are vital for creating sages. Here’s a clip of him explaining from his August 30, 1998, sermon titled “The Wrath of God Against Ungodliness and Unrighteousness.”

For a couple of years, I have been throwing out from time to time a goal that I have for the church in the word sage. Through Sunday school, Wednesday night efforts, track-one TBI, small groups, preaching, worship, I want us to become a church in which we nurture and cultivate sages, sagacious people — that is, people who are wise, discerning, penetrating, people-loving, heart-knowing, God-exalting sages.

Grow in Wisdom

I’ve put it like this: all of you 20-, 30-, 40-year-old people should think — and I’m thinking of women and men. I’ve said it especially to some of you women. Some women wondered, “What’s my vision for my life spiritually as I grow older?”

Whether you are single or married, here’s one vision, one way to articulate to yourself why you’re on planet Earth: think of becoming a 60-year-old sage, to which hundreds of young women in their 20s and 30s and 40s will come streaming, because you penetrate, you see things, you understand things, you grasp things, you know nature, you know God, you know the heart, you know sin, you know ugliness, you know beauty, you know wrath, you know holiness, you know mercy. You know things. You’ve been into the human heart and worked around there and understood it and untangled the sanctity and the sin of the human nature. And people read all over you the aroma of wisdom.

And I just think the only reason that doesn’t happen more often than it does is that we don’t pray toward it, think toward it, work toward it, read toward it, listen toward it, act toward it, relate toward it; we just coast.

So, long after I’m off the scene, may some people in this room right now be remembering, “Remember 20 or 30 years ago when Pastor John Piper was here and he called us to be sages? There’s one, and there’s one; there’s one, and there’s one” — the men and women in their 60s and 70s and 80s, to whom people go because every time they go there’s a fountain of life. The lips of wisdom are a fountain of life (Proverbs 10:11).

Who drinks at your life? You are meant to be that. You are on the earth to become that way. And so many of you have low views of what you’re going to be when you’re older. Stop having low views. The Bible is written to make you wise unto salvation, and not just your own (2 Timothy 3:15). All of this is simply to tell you that to linger in the presence of an authoritative analysis of a human condition for some months is not an unhelpful thing to do if you want to produce sagacious, wise, penetrating, loving counselors to whom people go and get great help.

How Passion for the Gospel Ripens

Romans 1:18, which begins this whole section on sin, is giving us a support for the gospel. Do you see the word for or because at the beginning of verse 18? If you have the NIV, you don’t see it because they dropped it. Shame on them. I don’t know why they do that sort of thing, but if you have the NASB or RSV or KJV or one of the more literal renderings, you will see the word for or because at the beginning of verse 18, and it is absolutely essential for understanding the flow of the apostolic argument.

The gospel is power because in it righteousness is revealed for you to have by faith — it’s God’s, not yours — so that you can have peace in your conscience, acceptance with God, hope for everlasting life. And you need that because the wrath of God is against your sin mightily. Do you get the connection?

Which means that if you understand wrath, and you understand sin and ungodliness and unrighteousness, you will desperately look for the gospel. You will want a shield from that wrath more than you want anything in the world. And it’s there in Romans 1:17. We’re coming back to it every Sunday. So, if you wonder, “Will you leave the gospel behind and only talk about the problem for several months?” The answer is no. Because the only reason Paul talks about the problem is to make you love the gospel.

Never Skip over Sin

And if you try to do an end run around this section and jump from Romans 1:17 to Romans 3:21, you won’t love the gospel. That’s being taught all over the world today in the name of Christianity. “Let’s just jump over this sin stuff. Let’s just jump over this wrath stuff. This is not encouraging; it is not going to make people want to come back to my church on Sunday morning.”

I don’t believe that, by the way, visitors, whoever you are. Frankly, I think you’d like an interpretation of death and suffering and moral degeneracy in our society. I think the world is kind of interested in questions like “Where’d death come from? And is there any hope to overcome it?”

So, I’m not worried about talking about sin and chasing anybody away. People leave for all kinds of reasons, and people come for the most strange reasons you can ever imagine. God brings you here this morning for this message. You’re here for this message, and I pray that you’ll be listening.

Don’t Run from Your Diagnosis

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). The first thing I want you to see in that verse is the two uses of the word unrighteousness — twice. Wrath is coming against our unrighteousness. And we are holding down or suppressing or hindering the truth in unrighteousness.

Surely Paul, in writing those two words, unrighteousness, means for us to connect them with the word righteousness in verse 17. And he wants us to hear that the reason we need a righteousness from God is because we are unrighteous. That’s what he wants us to hear in these words. So, don’t miss that connection.

In other words, you can see right off the bat that the bad news of verse 18 is meant to highlight the good news of verse 17. And if you don’t get your condition as unrighteous, you won’t love the awesome reckoning of verse 17. So, don’t run from these things. Don’t run from the diagnosis.

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 – February 4, 2020

Let Not Violence Entertain You

Article by Dr. Kathryn Butler, Regular Contributor to desiringGod.org, and an author.

I trusted the friend who’d recommended the movie. When the opening scene depicted a murder in graphic detail, I shot her a nervous glance. A chase sequence ensued, with innocent bystanders slashed and bludgeoned. Then the vigilante protagonist tortured the villain with pliers.

My friend, enrapt, elbows on her knees, leaned toward the screen as I shrank into the couch. The directors had crafted a retribution narrative designed to stir up adrenaline. We were supposed to glory in the vengeance and the gore, to cheer with the disarticulation of each bloodied finger. They’d disguised brutality as entertainment.

“Please turn it off,” I blurted.

My friend laughed, assuming I was joking. When I repeated my plea, her eyes widened.

“You’re a trauma surgeon!” she cried. “Surely, you’ve seen worse than this!”

I gritted my teeth. I hadn’t seen worse, but I’d seen more. Blood-and-guts movies like this didn’t reveal the full aftermath of tragedy. They didn’t explore how blades, shrapnel, and shattered windshields meant grieving wives and orphaned sons. They didn’t elaborate on the language of wound edges, how the ragged tissue in blast injuries guaranteed months of future surgeries, how the clean margins of a bullet wound could hide a death sentence.

I’d seen the anguish that lingered among the heartbroken long after we’d cleaned the blood from the trauma bay. I’d witnessed the power of a trigger pull to demolish lives.

“I’ve seen enough,” I said. “Please turn it off.”

Does Violent Media Harm Our Kids?

Debates about violence in the media have broiled in the scientific community for over half a century. A decade ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued its statement alerting parents and pediatricians to a link between violent media and aggressive thoughts. Studies since then have reinforced their concerns, correlating violent film and video game exposure in young people with anger, desensitization to real-world violence, and diminished compassion.

And yet, while ardent, opinions on this issue aren’t unanimous. Some critics accuse organizations like the AAP of proclaiming unfounded conclusions. In particular, they note that most studies on violent content have focused on thoughts and feelings elicited in the laboratory, with comparatively little data about how media exposure affects real life behavior. Although watching gory movies can stir up aggressive thoughts, no study proves that these thoughts inspire violence against others. Without such data, skeptics argue, stern warnings about media are unsubstantiated.

The contentiousness in the medical community spills over into the public sector. Last year, when a series of high-profile shootings stunned the nation, politicians cited movies and video games as potential contributors. The backlash was swift and vehement, with protests riddling the internet. After the assaults, Universal Studios canceled release of its horror film The Hunt to avoid inflicting further grief. A few months later, the film Joker sparked controversy for its potential to inspire copycat killers. The dispute churns on, with tempers flaring on either side.

When Entertainment Harms Love

How does a disciple of Christ respond to this controversy? When our screens offer atrocities as entertainment, do we watch, or should we look away?

While no data links violent media to malicious actions, the current evidence should still give us pause. One systematic review states the following: “Violent media can also desensitize people to violence, making them less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.” Even if a bloody scene in a film doesn’t inspire us to commit violence, it can deaden compassion.

As followers of Christ, this should grab our attention. Our two primary calls as disciples are to love God, and to love our neighbors:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37–40)

Loving neighbors requires that we view others as image-bearers, infused with inherent worth and dignity. We’re called to extend compassion toward those who, like us, buckle beneath the burden of sin and cry out for help. As Christ loved us, so we also are to love one another (John 13:34–35). As the apostle John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for others. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:16–17).

When we indulge in gratuitous violence on screen, we risk detaching ourselves from the plights of our suffering brothers and sisters. We threaten our ability to love them. We exchange open hearts for a perverse CGI thrill.

Pain After the Credits

Not all media violence corrupts. When designed to convict, rather than to entertain, cinematic realism can confront us with our own depravity. Films that depict war truthfully, unveiling its power to destroy both body and soul, can unsettle us into contemplation, and emphasize our need for a savior. When approached with honesty and sensitivity, rather than recklessness, realistic film can prod us to repentance.

Too often, however, films exploit brutality, rather than condemn it. They treat it as a forbidden fruit, a rousing spectacle, rather than as sin unleashed. While graphics technology depicts exploding tissue and splattered blood in unprecedented relief, they gloss over the impact of such travesties on the soul, mind, and heart.

They don’t explore what any clinician in an emergency department knows: that violence leaves children maimed, and infants fatherless. That the easy pull of a trigger afflicts the grieving for decades. That a single outburst of anger can destroy the lives of people who love, and dream, and hope, not just for a moment, but for generations. That rather than cause for excitement, inflicted wounds are signatures of evil: God’s workmanship torn open, the Adversary’s handiwork in flesh and blood.

How to Know What to Watch

For guidance when we gaze upon media, be it film, video games, or print, we can turn to Philippians 4:8. In a beautiful exposition of discernment, Paul advises, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things.”

When we watch a violent film, does it elaborate upon what is honorable and true? Does it reflect what is pure, lovely, and commendable? Can we discern excellence in its frames?

Do its unsettling images convict us, and drive us to repentance? Do they enlighten us? Do they enhance our compassion for others? If the answer is “yes,” then with discerning eyes, minds turned to Christ, and hearts open to other, watch on. If the answer is “no,” then out of love for your neighbor, turn the screen off, and feast your eyes, instead, upon what is true and lovely — on what accords with God.

Kathryn Butler is a trauma and critical care surgeon turned writer and homeschooling mom. She is author of Between Life and Death: A Gospel-Centered Guide to End-of-Life Medical Care. She lives north of Boston, and writes at Oceans Rise.

Daily Light – February 3, 2020

Hell Will Not Unsettle Heaven

The Horror of Judgment and Promise of Joy

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

How many of us, if we’re honest, can barely stomach the thought of divine judgment?

We may genuinely believe the Bible, and acknowledge the reality (and rightness) of God’s wrath and an eternal hell, while mostly trying to avoid the subject. In a way, we tolerate God’s judgment, but our instinct is to turn away. At bottom, we may be a touch embarrassed by it. We celebrate Jesus’s self-sacrifice at the cross, but talk as little as possible about hell, even when sharing the gospel.

The idea that we might someday enjoy God’s justice and power on display in his judgment seems almost imponderable — much less the thought that we might actually appreciate him for it, even now.

Reconsidering Wrath

When we avoid hell, though, we miss deeper and wider vistas on the glory of God. We overlook, minimize, or neglect significant facets of who God is.

The wrath of God, and the reality of divine judgment, is one of Christianity’s most offensive claims today. Yet, as Tim Keller writes to skeptics, and to all of us, “If Christianity were the truth, it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place. Maybe this is the place, the Christian doctrine of divine judgment” (The Reason for God, 73).

What if our shyness about divine judgment actually erodes our joy in God, rather than preserving it? Healthy hearts, of course, are not warmed at the prospect of unbelieving loved ones facing omnipotent wrath for all eternity. And yet if we follow God’s revelation of himself to us in the Scriptures, many of us will find more joy to be had, even now, not only in his love and grace, but also in his wrath and justice. Take just two glimpses, among others, in pondering the possibility.

Judgment and Joy at the Exodus

In Exodus 14, God’s people were backed up against the Red Sea, and they could see Pharaoh’s army coming for them. They seemed trapped, and began to experience a collective panic. Speaking into their great fear, Moses promised, “The Lord will fight for you” (Exodus 14:14), and as Pharaoh’s army approached,

The angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. (Exodus 14:19–20)

God, manifesting his presence in the pillar, moves to stand between his people and their enemy. This is an act of war. He steps forward to shield his own. He puts himself in the middle. He says, in effect, I’ll take this fight. I’ll protect my people from their aggressors. Let me have the Egyptians.

DIVINE MAN OF WAR

Then, after he has parted the sea, and as the Israelites are walking across, with the Egyptians coming in after them, God ends the battle with terrifying force:

In the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.” (Exodus 14:24–25)

Moses stretches out his hand, the waters return to their normal course, and Exodus 14:27 reports, “The Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea.” God indeed has fought for them. He took their battle. He utterly destroyed their oppressors, and so, they break into song to celebrate their God, that “he has triumphed gloriously” (Exodus 15:1). They sing, “The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name” (Exodus 15:3).

Exodus 14–15 will not be the last time we see God as a divine warrior against the enemies of his people (see also Deuteronomy 1:303:2220:4Joshua 23:102 Chronicles 20:1732:8Psalm 35:1Isaiah 30:3231:4Zechariah 14:3). However, note in particular here at the exodus: he is not only a “man of war,” but his people praise him for it. They don’t cringe. They’re not embarrassed. In fact, they delight in his wrath. They sing. They even dance (Exodus 15:20). Why? Because he destroyed their oppressors.

WRATH SERVES LOVE

The people celebrate God’s love (Exodus 15:13) — but not only his love. They also celebrate his fury against their enemies. They enjoy the protection of his wrath:

Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power,
     your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries;
     you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble. (Exodus 15:6–7)

In the same moment, in the same action, God’s people are the object of his undeserved love, while his enemies are the objects of his well-deserved judgment. God’s demonstration of his wrath toward the Egyptians makes known his steadfast love to his people. He may patiently endure their mistreatment for a time, but in the end, his love compels the execution of justice against the wicked. Divine wrath serves divine love, and in this way, love wins.

Judgment and Joy at the End

We not only look back, though, to the exodus, but also forward to the final judgment. More blood flows in the pages of Revelation than anywhere else in the Scriptures. And yet what is the defining tenor of God’s people from beginning to end? They worship (Revelation 4:105:147:1111:16; and more). Their joy in God overflows in praise.

As God’s horrific judgments fall one after another on the wicked, the torments of the damned do not diminish the delight of the saints in heaven. In fact, God’s judgments inspire the praises of his people. They rejoice, and know themselves recipients of his grace, precisely as his justice descends on those who endure in their rebellion against their Maker.

When the clouds roll back, and we peek into heaven, we see martyrs cry out for justice: “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10). We hear an angelic call to worship “because the hour of his judgment has come” (Revelation 14:7). We hear yet another “song of Moses,” in which the saints in heaven proclaim, “All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:4).

JUDGMENT AGAINST THEM, FOR YOU

The worship of the heavenly hosts commends the justice of God’s judgments:

Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
     for you brought these judgments.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
     and you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve! (Revelation 16:5–6)

Heaven’s praises culminate in Revelation 18 and 19 with the final destruction of the wicked. God’s judgment displays his might for the watching eyes of his worshiping people (Revelation 18:8), and the destruction of Babylon summons his saints to worship:

Rejoice over her, O heaven,
     and you saints and apostles and prophets,
for God has given judgment for you against her! (Revelation 18:20)

“For you,” it says to the saints. Divine judgments against the wicked are for you.

HALLELUJAHS OVER HELL

The climactic moment comes in Revelation 19:1–6. Here, at the height of God’s judgment, his people break forth in four hallelujahs (verses 1, 3, 4, and 6) — the only four in this book transfixed on heaven’s worship. Why hallelujah now? God’s people praise him for the judgment through which he saves them:

Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute [Babylon] who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants. (Revelation 19:1–2)

Then, once more, they cry, “Hallelujah!” and declare, “The smoke from her goes up forever and ever” (Revelation 19:3).

The day is coming when the people of God will rejoice that his judgment has fallen on the wicked (so also Psalm 48:1158:1096:11–13). Then we will know in full what we perhaps only know and feel in part, for now.

What About the Wicked We Love?

Knowing that the eternal destruction of the wicked will not encumber, but in fact stir our eternal, ever-increasing joy in God Almighty does not mean we experience that joy fully now.

Jesus himself wept over the lostness of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37), and the apostle who knows these truths as well as any wrote of his “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” for his unbelieving “kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2–3). Yet in the very same chapter, he was able to exult in wonder before the God who “desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:22–23). That Paul can hold together both such sorrow and such glory gives us a glimpse of what our souls might be capable of, even in this life.

The horrors of hell will not spoil the joy of Jesus’s bride. And imponderable as it may seem to us now in this disorienting in-between age, the decisive and eternal demonstration of God’s justice and power in the eternal destruction of the wicked will occasion the praise and joy of God’s people.

Joy in the End — and Now

We can indeed find eternal joy in the God of eternal wrath. In fact, we would not be able to find eternal, ever-increasing, ever-deepening joy in a God who was unjust. Deep down we all know we do not want a God who has no wrath and power. We do not want a God who affirms the wicked, or simply leaves them be, while they mount their eventual attack on God and his people. In the end, we do not ache for a God who stands idly by and doesn’t love his people enough to protect them from evil.

In the end, the shades of grey will be gone, and those outside of Christ will be revealed for who they are: rebels against their Creator. Haters of the God we love. Abhorrers of the Christ we adore, and of his bride. There is an all-stakes war going on for the cosmos, and we have ignored it to our own peril.

Our inability now to see how the eternal destruction of the wicked will one day soon be a cause for joy does not mean we will remain unable forever. In fact, we can grow and mature even in this age. And what we can’t feel now, we will soon enough. If not here in fresh tangible measures, then certainly in the age to come. We will not cringe. We will cry hallelujah. We will not dodge the truth but delight in it. No more will we wonder how these things can be so. We will know, and we will worship.

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.