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A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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God Isn’t Impressed with Your Duty: The Willing and Eager Heart of Christianity

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 8:02pm

One of the most liberating discoveries of my life has been coming to find that God does not pursue his people through coercion but by winning us from the heart. True Christianity cannot be coerced. God works — through his word and his Spirit — from the inside out. The faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) is indeed at its heart a faith, not an action, as it advances not by the sword of coercion and military campaign, but by the sword of the Spirit and the movement of souls.

What God says to, and expects from, pastors tells us how he wins people. It’s powerfully revealing. Church leaders are first and foremost sheep, and not above the flock. “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you,” says the good shepherd, “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). And what Peter has to say about how pastors should serve is an insightful description of the heart of the everyday Christian life: “not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly” (1 Peter 5:2).

Linger with me over what it means for our faith not to be “under compulsion” or “for shameful gain,” but willing and eager.

Not Under Compulsion

Where do we find compulsion in the New Testament? On the darkest day in the history of the world, Roman soldiers compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, to carry Jesus’s cross (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21). And three times in Galatians, Paul mentions false teachers trying to force Gentile Christians to do what they do not want to do, namely, be circumcised (Galatians 2:3, 14; 6:12). Roman soldiers and false teachers don’t major on making appeals to the heart. They aim at external conformity, not the joy of faith (Philippians 1:25; 2 Corinthians 1:24). They seek to force or compel others to do what they don’t want to do. But such is not the case with Christianity.

Rather, when Paul, as an apostle, could have commanded Philemon, he chooses instead, for love’s sake, to appeal to him (Philemon 8–10). “I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord” (Philemon 14). And when he invites the Corinthians to contribute to the relief of the impoverished saints in Jerusalem, he wants each person to “give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

God wants us to be willing, not feel obligated. His people rejoice to give willingly, with their whole hearts, “offering freely and joyously” to him (1 Chronicles 29:9, 17). He wants our generosity to be “as a willing gift, not as an exaction” (2 Corinthians 9:5). It is “a willing spirit” that tastes the joy of his salvation (Psalm 51:12), and it is a glory to our King when his people “offer themselves freely” to his worship and service (Psalm 110:3). Christian faith cannot be forced. God wants to win us from within, and empower Christians by his Spirit to live willing, freely, from the heart.

Not for Shameful Gain

But “inside out” alone is not enough. Some desires of the heart are holy, righteous, and good; others are not. Whereas “compulsion” or “force” comes from the outside, the desire for “shameful gain” comes from within. So 1 Peter 5:2 is not just saying don’t be forced from without, but also don’t be driven from within by sinful (selfish) desires, but rather by righteous desire.

So, what does it mean to be motivated by shameless desire, instead of shameful? C.S. Lewis helps us with the nature of rewards and righteous desire in the Christian life:

There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man’s love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by its very nature, seeks to enjoy its object. (The Problem of Pain)

It is not enough that we would live simply from desire and willingness, and not compulsion and obligation. We want to live from righteous desire, not for shameful or sinful gain — desire that is fitting to its object. But don’t think that means we do not live for gain!

God wants us to be eager. He commends those who, like the faithful Bereans, receive his word “with all eagerness” (Acts 17:11). Paul himself modeled it: eager to preach the gospel (Romans 1:15), eager to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10), eager to see his converts face to face (1 Thessalonians 2:17), eager to honor Christ in life and in death (Philippians 1:20). Paul lived with a kind of heart hunger, a kind of holy discontent, and a kind of contagious eagerness that came from his pursuit of shameless (not shameful) gain. He lived out a life of righteous desire given by the Spirit, with love for, and enjoyment in, the object of his pursuit.

As God Would Have You

But the best phrase of all in 1 Peter 5:2 sits right in the middle: “not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” God himself is like this. God himself does not act from compulsion. God himself is not moved by shameful gain. And this is how he wants it to be for us too.

The one true God is the willing and eager God. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6). God does not save his people reluctantly or under compulsion. “I will rejoice in doing them good,” he says in Jeremiah 32:41, “with all my heart and all my soul.”

He is not like the gods of the nations. We cannot force his hand. We cannot compel him by our actions to do anything contrary to his heart. We don’t change him. He changes us. Which is magnificent when he is, literally, “the happy God” (1 Timothy 1:11).

God lives and works in our world, and in our lives, not from obligation or from shady motives, but willingly and eagerly, free and shameless, unforced and indomitably happy. Our God is not constrained by duty. He is the God of great delight. And so he would have it be for us as well — not just for pastors, but for all who call upon his name.

God Isn’t Impressed with Your Duty: The Willing and Eager Heart of Christianity

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 8:02pm

One of the most liberating discoveries of my life has been coming to find that God does not pursue his people through coercion but by winning us from the heart. True Christianity cannot be coerced. God works — through his word and his Spirit — from the inside out. The faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) is indeed at its heart a faith, not an action, as it advances not by the sword of coercion and military campaign, but by the sword of the Spirit and the movement of souls.

What God says to, and expects from, pastors tells us how he wins people. It’s powerfully revealing. Church leaders are first and foremost sheep, and not above the flock. “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you,” says the good shepherd, “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). And what Peter has to say about how pastors should serve is an insightful description of the heart of the everyday Christian life: “not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly” (1 Peter 5:2).

Linger with me over what it means for our faith not to be “under compulsion” or “for shameful gain,” but willing and eager.

Not Under Compulsion

Where do we find compulsion in the New Testament? On the darkest day in the history of the world, Roman soldiers compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, to carry Jesus’s cross (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21). And three times in Galatians, Paul mentions false teachers trying to force Gentile Christians to do what they do not want to do, namely, be circumcised (Galatians 2:3, 14; 6:12). Roman soldiers and false teachers don’t major on making appeals to the heart. They aim at external conformity, not the joy of faith (Philippians 1:25; 2 Corinthians 1:24). They seek to force or compel others to do what they don’t want to do. But such is not the case with Christianity.

Rather, when Paul, as an apostle, could have commanded Philemon, he chooses instead, for love’s sake, to appeal to him (Philemon 8–10). “I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord” (Philemon 14). And when he invites the Corinthians to contribute to the relief of the impoverished saints in Jerusalem, he wants each person to “give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

God wants us to be willing, not feel obligated. His people rejoice to give willingly, with their whole hearts, “offering freely and joyously” to him (1 Chronicles 29:9, 17). He wants our generosity to be “as a willing gift, not as an exaction” (2 Corinthians 9:5). It is “a willing spirit” that tastes the joy of his salvation (Psalm 51:12), and it is a glory to our King when his people “offer themselves freely” to his worship and service (Psalm 110:3). Christian faith cannot be forced. God wants to win us from within, and empower Christians by his Spirit to live willing, freely, from the heart.

Not for Shameful Gain

But “inside out” alone is not enough. Some desires of the heart are holy, righteous, and good; others are not. Whereas “compulsion” or “force” comes from the outside, the desire for “shameful gain” comes from within. So 1 Peter 5:2 is not just saying don’t be forced from without, but also don’t be driven from within by sinful (selfish) desires, but rather by righteous desire.

So, what does it mean to be motivated by shameless desire, instead of shameful? C.S. Lewis helps us with the nature of rewards and righteous desire in the Christian life:

There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man’s love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by its very nature, seeks to enjoy its object. (The Problem of Pain)

It is not enough that we would live simply from desire and willingness, and not compulsion and obligation. We want to live from righteous desire, not for shameful or sinful gain — desire that is fitting to its object. But don’t think that means we do not live for gain!

God wants us to be eager. He commends those who, like the faithful Bereans, receive his word “with all eagerness” (Acts 17:11). Paul himself modeled it: eager to preach the gospel (Romans 1:15), eager to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10), eager to see his converts face to face (1 Thessalonians 2:17), eager to honor Christ in life and in death (Philippians 1:20). Paul lived with a kind of heart hunger, a kind of holy discontent, and a kind of contagious eagerness that came from his pursuit of shameless (not shameful) gain. He lived out a life of righteous desire given by the Spirit, with love for, and enjoyment in, the object of his pursuit.

As God Would Have You

But the best phrase of all in 1 Peter 5:2 sits right in the middle: “not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” God himself is like this. God himself does not act from compulsion. God himself is not moved by shameful gain. And this is how he wants it to be for us too.

The one true God is the willing and eager God. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6). God does not save his people reluctantly or under compulsion. “I will rejoice in doing them good,” he says in Jeremiah 32:41, “with all my heart and all my soul.”

He is not like the gods of the nations. We cannot force his hand. We cannot compel him by our actions to do anything contrary to his heart. We don’t change him. He changes us. Which is magnificent when he is, literally, “the happy God” (1 Timothy 1:11).

God lives and works in our world, and in our lives, not from obligation or from shady motives, but willingly and eagerly, free and shameless, unforced and indomitably happy. Our God is not constrained by duty. He is the God of great delight. And so he would have it be for us as well — not just for pastors, but for all who call upon his name.

Am I Less Human If I’m Sexually Unfulfilled?

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 8:00pm

You don't need sex to be happy. Jesus never married, never had a romantic relationship, never had sex, and he was the most complete man to ever live.

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Your Morning Will Come: Trusting God in the Darkest Nights

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 8:01pm

We took our 2-year-old daughter to the hospital for what we thought would be an ordinary visit. I threw in my bag the two books I had been reading that day. One was by a Christian leader diagnosed at age 39 with a rare form of incurable cancer. The other was a book on Romans 8 by Ray Ortlund, who writes, “A strong confidence in God’s loving intentions and enveloping care fortifies us to face whatever life throws at us.”

That same day, life threw something big at me. While we were at the hospital my daughter was diagnosed with cancer, which has been the deepest sorrow I have known and the greatest threat to my hope. Currently, our daughter continues her treatment. More than ever before, my soul needs to know how to face the future without fear. Where can we turn when the cares of our hearts are many, and fears threaten to overwhelm us?

Whispers in the Dark

No one is better equipped to speak to our fears than Jesus Christ. On the night before he was crucified, he helped his disciples as they considered their future and were fearful, distressed, and lonely. He said to them, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). And Jesus not only gives the command; he speaks truths designed to lead them from fear to faith. He gives them good news about their future.

The answer is not to stop thinking about the future. Rather, we overcome fear of the future by remembering our future in Christ. That night, when confidence was waning, and the disciples were troubled by the days to come, Jesus reminded them that he was going to prepare a place for them (John 14:3). He said that he will give them a Helper, the presence of the Spirit for power and comfort and instruction, to be with them forever (John 14:16). Jesus gives his disciples the promise of eternal life with God: “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).

I naturally spend more time dwelling on what I don’t know about my future than what I do. But the word of God reveals glorious truths about our future in Christ. What we know about the future needs to shape the way we view what we don’t know.

More Grace Will Come

One morning, when my daughter was so weak from battling cancer that she could not walk, and our family was more exhausted than we have ever been, my wife read a Charles Spurgeon quote to me from the book Beside Still Waters. She read it through tears. They were tears of sorrow, tears of comfort, tears of hope.

We have great demands, but Christ has great supplies. Between here and heaven, we may have greater wants than we have yet known. But all along the journey, every resting place is ready; provisions are laid up, good cheer is stored, and nothing has been overlooked. The commissary of the eternal is absolutely perfect.

Military posts usually include a commissary, which is a store of food and supplies. Our needs are many, but Christ knows all of our needs and has already prepared to meet them. Nothing has been overlooked. God promises to provide for our future needs by giving us future grace. We are poor in ourselves, but we will find riches of grace in Christ.

Godly Optimism

Those who belong to Christ have every reason to be optimistic about the future. Hope dominates our outlook. We look at everything that could possibly come our way in life and consider ourselves more than conquerors. Randy Alcorn says, “Because of the certainty of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and his promises, biblical realism is optimism.”

The Bible promotes optimism, but it is a certain kind of optimism. It is not the secular optimism of positive thinking, or the natural optimism of a laid-back personality, but the godly optimism of Christian hope. True hope endures in the darkness. It is through tears of faith-led lament that we see the beauty of our hope most clearly. Godly optimism is marked by realism and mixed with grief. We know that in this world we will have trouble, but we take heart trusting the one who has overcome the world (John 16:33). Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Why Your Future Is Bright

What do we know about the days to come? We know that for every changing circumstance, there is new mercy from our faithful God (Lamentations 3:22–23). We know that whatever trials we face, God will be with us to guide and preserve us (Isaiah 43:2). We know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38–39).

You don’t know everything about your future, but you know the most important parts:

  • God will be with you.
  • Christ will intercede for you.
  • The Holy Spirit will empower you.
  • God will supply your needs.
  • The risen Lord will protect you.
  • The love of God will keep you.
  • All things will work for your good.
  • The defeat of sin and death is sure.
  • You will see Christ face to face.
  • You will worship the Lamb who was slain.
  • Your body will be resurrected.
  • Your sorrows will be no more.
  • You will be with loved ones in Christ.
  • You will be richly rewarded.
  • Christ will make all things new.

We often fall short of the hope and courage we ought to have as Christians. But day by day, Christ is changing us and empowering us to face the future with confidence in him. Therefore, be strong in the Lord Jesus. Let your heart take courage. Look to the days ahead with joy-filled hope.

By the grace of God, we are learning to expect a bright tomorrow. If you trust him, your morning will come.

The Bible’s Meaning Never Changes

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 8:02am

God’s word alone will stand forever. From age to age, country to country, and reader to reader, God’s truth, as revealed in Scripture, remains the same.

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How to Leave Porn Behind

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 8:01pm

My older sister sat across from me at the Taco Bell and listened carefully. She knew I was lying, but she was too concerned to be angry. As she questioned me about the double life I had been living, which had been unwillingly exposed to my family and friends, she calmly heard my mistruths and told me that she knew better.

For years I had been hiding beneath the identity of being a pastor’s kid in the church worship band while yielding myself totally to pornography. I was broken, but not broken enough, and still trying to put up a crumbling façade.

As she surgically deconstructed my lies, she knew I was broken. She knew I needed a path toward healing as soon as possible. So she looked at me and said something that still echoes in my mind eight years later: “I want you to pursue a radical lifestyle of repentance.”

This frightened me. What did she mean? Yes, I knew I had to repent. Yes, Jesus had used this destruction in my life to show me his gospel in a saving way for the very first time. I was ready (or so I thought) to turn from my sin. The solution seemed obvious enough: (1) I had to confess openly my problem with porn, (2) I had to get an accountability partner, and (3) I needed to see a counselor at my school (I ended up doing all three).

But her words “radical lifestyle” — radical, not garden-variety; lifestyle, not sporadic or occasional — suggested unknown depths of discipline. I squirmed in my seat, nodded, and quietly feared my future. Little did I realize how life-giving a “radical lifestyle” could be.

Why So Many Are Losing the Battle

If you had asked me, I would have said that my life was just fine as it was, except for the porn. But I’ve come to realize that this perception was wrong.

The sin of pornography goes much deeper than the singular moments of watching and downloading. It’s about entire daily patterns of unbelief, laziness, self-absorption, and much more. Thus, repentance from enslavement to pornography must seek more than behavior modification in one isolated habit. It must be a resolve to bring every piece of the heart’s architecture, every beat of the rhythm of life, into the light of the gospel.

Many Christian men are fighting a losing battle with pornography because they are trying to remove the sin without adopting a radical lifestyle of repentance. They know their spiritual lives would be sweeter without giving way to lust. They know their capacity for rich relationships with other believers would expand tenfold if they weren’t smothered by midnight shame. They know their Godward ambitions for vocation and missions and pastoring are being squashed by it.

They really do want it gone, but they want everything else to stay where it is — and then they are perplexed why it just won’t work, even with accountability partners and internet filters. It won’t work long-term because this is not how God designed us.

How Badly Do You Want to Win?

Repentance has a radical character to it precisely because repentance happens in the heart. Human beings are not equally partitioned creatures: one part intellect, one part body, one part soul, and so on. In his glorious, image-bearing design, God creates us with a center of existential gravity. The heart is that center.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). God promised to give his covenant people new hearts that would lead to authentic and holistic obedience (Ezekiel 36:26). Jesus explicitly taught us that our external rituals pale in comparison to our inner heart-delights (Matthew 15:18). Because our heart orients everything else, and since real repentance happens foremost in the heart, turning away from heart-enslaving sin often has far-reaching implications.

If you are losing the battle against porn, let me exhort you, as a fellow fighter by God’s grace: You need to make radical changes in parts of your life that you might not intuitively think need changing.

What about your job? Could the chokehold that porn currently has on you be strengthened by your daily vocation? Sometimes companies require you to have a smartphone, or to be online, alone, during late hours. While God has grace for every situation and promises the opportunity to resist temptation, I’ve met more than one fellow struggler who would have been much better off had they laid down their vocation at the feet of Jesus, and chosen radical repentance instead. What does it profit a man to gain the world but forfeit his soul to the lust that will damn him?

Likewise, I’ve known friends, especially men, who don’t realize how their lack of industriousness (or their dead-end job) is actually feeding a sense of aimlessness that makes them more vulnerable to the lure of porn. But the gospel commands those who are born again to reckon themselves dead to sin and alive to Christ (Romans 6:11). If you aren’t being a faithful steward of your time in helpful, character-building work, take radical repentance with you to a different situation.

Consider too your hobbies. Most people who are serious about fighting lust know intuitively there are some movies and sitcoms they need to leave behind. A friend of mine was deeply frustrated at his lack of progress in this battle. He loved video games. But as he spoke and confessed that failure was still the norm, I started to realize that radical repentance for him would look like cultivating better, more life-giving hobbies. He was trying to negotiate with his old habits, instead of infusing them with radical repentance. His three hours of daily gaming were not neutral; they were actually artifacts of a cloistered lifestyle that had been tailored to resist valuable means of grace in the fight against lust.

Repentance Brings Us Gain, Not Loss

Radical repentance isn’t just subtraction; it’s addition too. One of the most helpful pieces of counsel I received was that I should start cultivating the skills, ambitions, and opportunities God had given to me, instead of merely sitting on the couch, retreating from life out of shame at the past.

What holy ambitions have you been ignoring while merely trying to keep your head above water? Don’t just passively sit on the forgiveness and new life Jesus gives you. Turn it into a new job, one that empowers you to work heartily and serve others. Turn it into new hobbies, especially offline ones that can take you outside your own head. Turn it into a new lifestyle of sacrificial giving and of “radically ordinary” hospitality. Sin has no power over you, because you are under grace (Romans 6:14) and bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). Why not live like it?

Jesus offers much more than a cleansing purge. He offers an eternally springing fountain of himself that spills into every well in our heart. Trust me, whatever you lose in radical repentance is not something you want to keep. Radical repentance begins and ends with delight: delight in God, delight in what he loves, delight in his good gifts, and delight in his promise to never cast you away or leave you. Go to him — radically.

Why God Sanctifies Us Slowly

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 8:00am

If God changed us in an instant, we wouldn’t have to depend on him every single day for mercy to keep us going.

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Don’t Underestimate the Enemies of Your Soul

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 8:02pm

Spiritual warfare is not a metaphor. It would be more accurate to say that human warfare is a metaphor — and an expression — of the even more real and pervasive spiritual war being waged all around us. And unless we engage it seriously, we will not be serious players in it, and may be swept away by it.

Demonic powers are in no way impressed by our intellect or other abilities. What impresses them is the strength of the Spirit of God and the weapons he provides. And these have divine power to destroy the works of the devil and cause us to stand firm in the evil day (2 Corinthians 10:4; 1 John 3:8; Ephesians 6:13).

And God wants us to stand our ground and not yield an inch. More than that, God wants us to take back ground that Satan has seized and free others he has enslaved through fear (Hebrews 2:14–15).

Schemes of the Devil

The evidence that a soldier takes his battle seriously, and understands the strength of his enemy, is seen in how he arms and prepares himself. That’s why when Paul launches into the most famous spiritual-warfare exhortation in the Bible, the first thing he says is this:

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:10–11)

Like any other war, there will be no defeating our spiritual enemy if we do not have the right equipment. Wars waged carelessly are wars lost. Protective armor and offensive weapons matter.

And all we have to do is look at the armor that the experienced warrior lists to understand the nature of this fight: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:14–17). This is a war over what is real, which means it is psychological warfare at its worst.

Look around you to see the destruction it wreaks. When humans are deluded over what’s real, they think and do terrible, unspeakable evil, individually and collectively. Look carefully, longer than you want to. See the horrors, too diverse to begin to catalog. What you are seeing are the outcomes of the devil’s schemes. This is what he wants to do to you and those you love. You know that, because you know what goes through your mind and what pulls at your depravity.

You can stand against these schemes, and more than that, you can defeat them and drive your enemy back. But you need to understand who you’re up against and take them with all seriousness.

We Do Not Wrestle Lightweights

Listen again to how Paul describes these foes:

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Many Christians in the West respond to Paul’s description of these spiritual beings like they do to descriptions of smallpox: a terrible scourge that really doesn’t affect our lives today. They wouldn’t say this in so many words, but they live like it. Which is a massive mistake, and likely evidence that they aren’t really engaged in the war.

Try taking spiritual territory from “cosmic powers” and you know what happens? All hell begins to break loose. We are assaulted with oppressive psychological warfare, we are tempted to suspect people we love, sickness hits, relationships go sideways, churches strain at the seams, and more. If you’ve been in the battle, you know what I mean. Press against a spiritual stronghold of evil, and very quickly our flesh will scream at us to get away from there.

This is not meant to scare us away from the fight. We have a superior power and better weapons at our disposal (1 John 4:4). But we ought not underestimate our enemy.

If we are going to follow Jesus, we will confront beings far beyond our natural selves, beings who are more powerful than we thought and who attack us in ways we don’t expect, beings who will do everything they can to delude us about what is real while trying to destroy us and everything we love.

Stand Your Ground, Take Your Enemy’s

If speaking like this makes us tremble, good! Soldiers only take their armor and weapons seriously, and learn how to use them, if they believe they really need them. God wants us to know that we really need our armor and weapons.

But God also wants us to know that our armor and weapons make our enemies tremble too. They are scared to death of God. And nothing on earth is more dangerous to a demonic cosmic power than a Spirit-filled Christian who wears his armor and wields his weapons. That person is pure destruction to evil. The fiery darts of deception are ineffective against a shield of faith. And the word-sword of the Spirit hews holes in the demonic line.

Battles are intense affairs. But if we take the battle seriously, and use the divine equipment God provides us, we will “stand against the schemes of the devil . . . in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:11, 13). Do not underestimate your enemy, but do not underestimate your spiritual Ally either. We will win.

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God . . . and having done all . . . stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). Stand your ground. Do not yield an inch. More than that, press your enemy back, and take his ground. He will fight back, and it will get ugly at times. Don’t panic. Fight. “With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes” (Psalm 108:13).

The Christian Debate over Sexual Identity

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 8:00pm

Sam Allberry, who has been attracted to the same sex his whole life, gives an insider’s take on the current debates over sexual identity.

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The Purest Act of Pleasure: Why God Delights in Election

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 8:02pm

Unconditional election is God’s decision to choose a people for himself, a bride, from out of all the God-ignoring sinners on earth.

God will begin with a whore and make himself a splendid spouse. This bride is the object of his eternal love. She will be pulled from the brothel of sin. It’s all “unconditional” because it is not based on any positive condition in the bride. He cannot love this new bride for her beauty; only his unrelenting love will forge beauty in her.

From among every ethnicity, God chooses men, women, children, ranchers, sailors, bankers, graphic designers, the disabled, poets, schoolteachers, merchants, athletes, and housewives. He even chooses murderers, prostitutes, blindly religious people, and tax collectors. He chooses the soft-spoken and the brash. He chooses some who are famous, some who are geniuses, and some who are wealthy. But mostly he chooses nobodies (1 Corinthians 1:18–31).

God does not elect every sinner. He chooses only some. Why? The apostle Paul addresses this hard and sobering question in Romans 9:22–23, where we’re told that God’s choice is his indisputable prerogative. His election is deeply personal. God will set his unstoppable love on sin-blind sinners, and this was his plan from eternity past. Depraved souls stuck in the unceasing cycle of sin and death will be the objects of his boundless love (Ephesians 1:3–23), a reality that speaks not to the merit of the sinner but to the magnificence of God’s love. And he loves to have it this way.

Delighting to Love

God’s love makes no accidents. The theme of God’s electing love adorns the storyline of the Old Testament, like in Deuteronomy 10:14–15: “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.”

God’s election in Scripture is predicated on this foundational phrase: he “set his heart in love” on his chosen people (Deuteronomy 7:7; 10:15). God’s language for election is vivid and strong. Literally: “The Lord delighted in your fathers to love them” (Deuteronomy 10:15). To be elected is to be the object of Yahweh’s delighting love (Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4–5).

God delights to love us with the intensity that most of us can perceive only in the picture of romantic attraction and marriage. This love is not solemn or stifling. God’s love for us is untamed and consuming.

Pure Act of Pleasure (for Glory)

We see, then, that election is not the act of a pardoning judge who is disconnected, distant, and reluctant. God really has drawn close to us because he wants to. God delights to elect.

A passage that communicates the essence of God’s heart in election is found in the new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 32:41: “I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” It means God chooses people not simply out of pity, but out of delight.

In the history of the church, few theologians have grasped this reality more deeply — or have been more deeply grasped by it — than Puritan Thomas Goodwin. The seventeenth-century theologian defines election as God’s “pure act of good pleasure.” And he encourages Christians to “consider that God, in choosing you, not only loved you, but delighted to love you. It was not barely an act of will that he would choose some, he cared not whom, as being indifferent about it; but it was an act of love, and not of love only, but of good pleasure and of delight too. . . . God rejoiced over you from everlasting, in his intentions to do you good, with his whole heart and his whole soul” (Works of Thomas Goodwin, 7:248).

God loves because he takes infinite pleasure in his handiwork, his beloved people. Election displays God’s whole heart and soul in action. God loves us with his entire heart and soul because our redemption from sin praises his infinite majesty. Goodwin wrestles with how to say this best, and eventually expresses it like this: “Look one way, and you think he loved us as if he regarded nothing else; look on the other side, and the glory of his grace does so appear that we seem to be forgotten, and God’s glory alone shines in it” (Works, 6:175).

We are certainly not forgotten. These two angles are like two angles on one glorious diamond. Angle one: God acts because the elect are on center stage, and he is selflessly devoted to creating a bride without spot or wrinkle. Angle two: God acts to take center stage to show himself the Supreme Being in the universe (1 Peter 2:9). And it’s both! Goodwin has tapped a profoundly glorious truth. In election, God pursues his own exaltation by inviting sinners to enjoy him forever.

Images of Grace

The beautiful marriage metaphor fits best. Unconditional election is the very first step toward a wedding planned in eternity past. It sits so far back in time that no sinner on earth could see it coming. It is the first sight of a woman by a man, unbeknownst to her, from across a crowded room — a sight that will lead to a conversation, which will spark a relationship, which will bring about a proposal, which will lead to marriage vows. God’s plan is personal, but even older. He sets the wedding plans in motion when he knows the name of the bride, but the bride doesn’t yet exist!

To make this marriage metaphor work, we must stress one further distinction. The marriage of election did not begin with the attractive beauty of the fiancée. God made his redemptive move toward this future companion while she was morally repellent. This is pictured in the marriage of Hosea and Gomer: to be elected by God is to be a specially chosen whore pulled from a red-light brothel of idolatry (Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 647). We cannot make sense of election’s beauty without its dark backstory. In eternity past, God made up his mind. He elected for himself depraved spiritual adulterers, and he will love them for all eternity (Ephesians 5:22–33).

So God’s electing pursuit of us is settled and resolved. He alone initiates this love. His grace is unconditional and self-determined. There is nothing in the elect to attract God’s love — no beauty, no value. What sinners receive from God for their happiness is entirely unmerited. The worth of God’s elect is generated entirely by God’s delight in setting his love on them.

We are invited to back up in time and to see that before the creation of the universe God’s heart swelled with eager delight to redeem his people. To be predestined means God decreed your eternal joy prior to any foresight of faith or good works in you (Works of Jonathan Edwards, 18:282–83). If we grasp the depth of our total depravity, election should leave us totally staggered, in awe of his love, and eager to magnify him.

Five Reasons Not to Be Anxious

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 8:00am

The remedy for every anxiety is not one-time deliverance. The remedy for every turmoil is continual trust in the Deliverer.

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What Is the Mystery of Marriage? The Most Beloved (and Misunderstood) Wedding Text

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 8:02pm

Ah, the mystery of marriage. What an enigma, that a young, energetic man would fall head over heels for a maiden. And what an even greater riddle, that she, mature and competent, would overlook his immaturities and join herself to him. At every good wedding, we perceive a glory that defies description, a beauty past finding out. We marvel at something we can’t quite understand or articulate. As an inspired wise man muses,

Three things are too wonderful for me;
     four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
     the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
     and the way of a man with a virgin. (Proverbs 30:18–19)

There is indeed a mysterious element to romance and marriage. Even the classic Christian text for husbands and wives, Ephesians 5:22–33, mentions “mystery.” However, the mystery here is not what we may be prone to think — and it’s a vital lesson for every marriage. If the “mystery” in Ephesians 5 is not the universal enigma of romance we often admire (and even joke about), then what is it?

Not a Secret to Keep

Mystery is a common word in the New Testament, and only rarely does it refer to what we might expect: something enduringly mysterious that remains puzzling or uncertain. Rather, mystery typically means what was hidden, concealed, or unclear in the past, but now has been revealed in light of Christ’s coming and his gospel. “Mystery” is not a secret to keep but truth to tell, and especially so for Paul who talks this way most.

How does God strengthen Christians? “According to the gospel” — or another way to say it: “according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed” (Romans 16:25–26). For “long ages” God “kept secret” his goal and intention in all history. Until “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10), God sent his own Son as the long-awaited Messiah, and climax of history, to reveal his purposes all along — the great secret of the universe.

In Colossians 1:26–27, Paul unpacks “the stewardship from God that was given to me for you.” What is it? “To make the word of God [the gospel] fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints” (Colossians 1:25–26). Far from keeping secrets quiet, Paul wants Christians “to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2–3).

Make the Mystery Known

But Paul says the most about mystery in Ephesians, which, of course, is where he says of marriage, “This mystery is profound” (Ephesians 5:32).

At the beginning of the letter, he says that in the gospel, God is “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time” (Ephesians 1:9–10). And at the end, he asks for the Ephesians to pray for him, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).

Right in the middle, in Ephesians 3:1–12 (which sets the context for what he will say in chapter 5), he not only unveils God’s mystery through preaching, but also through penning letters. “When you read this,” he writes, “you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:4–5). The essence of his ministry is “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:9–10). God’s mystery: once hidden, now revealed.

Mystery of Marriage?

Finally, then, when he writes in Ephesians 5:32, “This mystery is profound,” he’s not saying it’s too profound to understand or express. He’s not echoing the wonder of Proverbs 30:18–19 (“I do not understand . . . the way of a man with a virgin”). He’s not approaching a wedding-day enigma, but a great, clear, compelling truth to tell. His next words disclose what was once hidden related to human marriage: “I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” The mystery, long hidden, is now public: human marriage points to the God-man and his girl.

For millennia, humans the world over married and were given in marriage. Across cultures and societies, they felt a strange pull not just to procreate but to commit, though they didn’t know God’s deeper reason why. And even God’s covenant people, entrusted with his oracles (Romans 3:2), didn’t know why. There was indeed a great mystery to marriage. Why did God design the world this way? Why two sexes, and why one male and the other female? Why one called to lead, provide, protect, and shoulder final responsibility, with the other called to actively receive, beautify, and strengthen humble initiative and care? Why a dance of two complementaries, rather than just two of the same?

Did God simply make marriage what it is for no reason, some must have wondered, or is there an answer to the riddle? Is marriage pointing? Is there some deep magic that discloses a cosmic meaning? Paul empathized with the mystified, “This mystery is profound.” But in Christ, he now had found the key: “I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

The mystery in particular is in the quotation from Genesis 2:24 in the previous verse: “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31). And we find here the same pattern we’ve seen elsewhere: a mystery in the past, now made known with the coming of Christ. God’s great secrets are out. And one of the best — Paul says, literally, “this mystery is great” — is marriage. One man, one woman, covenanted for life. Why did God do it this way? Why have a man leave father and mother and become one with his wife?

Joined to One Other

What does it mean to “hold fast” or “cling to,” or literally “to be joined to,” another person? Marriage establishes and protects one’s most fundamental human relationship. More fundamental than father and mother. More fundamental than the resulting children, precious as they are. More fundamental than a best friend. Not that marriage becomes one’s only relationship or only friendship (it need not and should not), but it forms one’s most fundamental human relationship. God made humans, in this sense, “to be joined” to one other. Husband to wife. Wife to husband.

And don’t miss who does the joining. It’s a passive verb: “be joined.” Husband and wife don’t take the ultimate action to join each other together. Rather, they are joined together by another. Which is why, when Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 (in Matthew 19:5), he makes the joiner explicit: “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

Mystery No More

The now-solved mystery of marriage holds a lifetime of lessons for husbands and wives, but don’t miss the most vital one.

Yes, the world is deceiving us when it gives us the impression that marriage is an egalitarian partnership, a mere covenant friendship, in which each party bears equal loads — a union in which, ironically, we’re left to expect less of men (and make women more vulnerable). But the most vital lesson is that even the best husband is only a poor reflection of Jesus’s loving initiative, leadership, protection of, and provision for his church.

God joined our first parents in the garden, and men and women ever since, to point us — oh so imperfectly but truly — to the kind of love and care his Son would give his people. And Jesus doesn’t break his promises to us because we’re still sinful and inconsistent. He doesn’t disown those who are genuinely his because we fail him. Rather, he shoulders the final responsibility, and tirelessly serves us when we’re exhausted, and holds us up when our knees are weak. What good news it is that Christ is the husband of his church and not her egalitarian partner or mere friend. We are indeed his friends (John 15:15), but so much more. Together we are his wife. He gladly died for his church, and she gladly submits to the God-man.

And so a maiden who finds a man willing to die to himself for her good is not afraid of Paul’s shocking charge, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). In fact, she is a very wise woman who will have these words read at her wedding, because she knows the weighty charge that will follow: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

Does God Want Me to Be Happy or Holy?

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 8:00pm

Does God want us to be happy or holy? John Piper explains how holiness and happiness are not at odds, but work together.

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Read to Discover Meaning, Not Create It

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 8:01am

Those who come to a text without humility will only leave with their opinions. Those who come to the Bible to learn will leave with God’s truth.

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Let Precious Moments Pass You By

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 8:02pm

We sat alone, not a soul for miles. From a ridge in the cliff, we overlooked Lake Superior as waves beat against rock. We breathed the fresh air of solitude. I remember going back and forth with friends, Should I record it? What if she wanted to watch it later? What if she wanted to show others?

Only I, my wife, and the Lord know what was said that day. The smiles, the laughter — the chipmunk — the crying. As she finally said yes, only God’s smile and mine met hers. One of the most precious events of our lives went unrecorded. The beautiful moment, fully enjoyed, slipped through our fingers.

When Beautiful Moments Slip Away

With the touch of a button, we can memorialize our kids on their first day of school. We can record her laughter from the Ferris wheel on our first date. We can hear his corny joke over and over, seeing that weathered face one last time with every push of play. Life is a vapor, and God has gifted this generation with the ability to seize our little mist like never before.

But with all good gifts handled by fallen man, it can become misused. The photo can become prized above the moment it captures. Who doesn’t feel pressure to keep the phone within reach to catch special moments as they come? Mankind has traded God for images resembling mortal man (Romans 1:23); have we further traded away the priceless moments he gives us for images resembling them? Each of us is tempted, like none who came before us, to live-stream our life but forget to live.

Memory Hoarders

By all means, enjoy taking souvenirs from the past. But when stockpiling and photo-taking becomes compulsive, when we start living for the next uploadable Instagram, when we can no longer enjoy unrecorded beauty, when we become amateur photographers with no vacations days or holidays, when we carry a selfie-stick like it’s a driver’s license, then, we have become memory hoarders.

We miss precious moments not because we didn’t have our phones, but because we did. Like kids texting at the dinner table, we forgot to look special moments in the eye. We pass on the first take of life in favor of a later viewing, trading the real for the replica, and in so doing, counterfeiting our joy.

And our camera-usage professes much. I believe it reveals three crucial truths about us.

1. We Fear Death

Memory hoarding reveals what we all already know but rarely consider: life is fleeting. “Here today, gone tomorrow” terrifies us. It was just yesterday we attended sleepovers and played outside at recess.

We dread death, and this fear subjects us to “lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:15). The grave beckons, the walls close in, fear besets us as we await the grim reaper. And as the shadow prowls in the dark, we attempt to squeeze as much life from the peel as we can, while we can.

One way memory-hoarding attempts this is by documenting every passing moment worth remembering. We try to keep the portal open to the past so that we might travel back and forth, eating the best of both seasons’ harvest. The brevity of life makes it too small a thing to enjoy moments only once.

But our panic often backfires. Our incessant filming often disrupts the very moments we attempt to capture. To record our children playing, we stop playing with our children. To stop. Grab the phone. And proceed. Is often to introduce periods into life, mid-sentence.

2. We Seek Immortality

I talked to a dead man recently. He had not updated his profile in some time. I found out a week ago he has been dead for as long. The incident struck me as bizarre. Funny quips hung on his wall. He smiled in his profile pic. His personality and image were in pristine condition. His life’s work stood a click away. He, as many of us hope to be, was embalmed on the Internet. Though he died, he lives.

Collecting memories, at its most relaxed, is an attempt to savor the best wine life offers. At its most frantic, a shot at immortality. If science has not cured death, at least technology can prolong our image, our thoughts, our names on the World Wide Web. Some of us use our phones, not so much as a portal to the past, but as a portal to a limitless audience. And like an actor with a part too small for his liking, we spend a lifetime sashaying across social media, drawing as much attention as possible, before being forced to exit stage right.

We long to be remembered. We are not beasts, content to live and die in the field nameless. We are made to live forever; God has placed eternity into our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We pine for the place where remarkable moments cannot be stolen. But instead of trusting the one who destroyed the power of death to deliver us from fear (Hebrews 2:15), we use God’s gift of technology to seek what it has never truly offered: eternal life. We frantically write our names on the walls of the Titanic.

3. We Have Forgotten Our Hope

Our piles of photographs suggest that even we Christians hold to this life with strained knuckles. We embrace the lovely as though we don’t expect to see it again.

Although we might not articulate it, we may feel apprehensive about being reminded that this world is not our home. We read the truth, “The world is passing away” (1 John 2:17), secretly saddened. This is understandable. This world is the only one we’ve known. All our joys have been here. Our loves have been here. But faith reverses the priority. “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

As the world’s final page is turning, “whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). The best, for us, is yet to come. We need not doubt nor fear our immortality. The grandest moments here — the ones which compel us to grab our phones to smuggle what we can for a keepsake — are, at their most precious, rumors of what is to come.

Eternity’s Epic Tale

There exists a glory for the Christian in letting precious moments, after being fully tasted and delighted in, pass without regret. He alone need not obsessively stuff memories and prop them up on display like some do wild animals. This is not the closest we will get to heaven.

For the child of God, all precious moments worth recounting here will be given us in the next life. Earth’s history will be the epic of heaven. The best moments in this age will taste even better in the new world. “In eternity,” writes Marilynne Robinson, “all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets.” Even now, myriads of glorious heavenly creatures listen with astonishment (1 Peter 1:12).

In eternity, God himself will tell it. He will take ages upon ages to page through earth’s chapters containing the immeasurable riches of his kindness and mercy towards his people. And we each will have our part to tell. The golden thread of his steadfast love will be traced throughout all our pasts. Calvary will be our refrain. We will laugh over his mercy, cry over his compassion, cheer over his triumph, smile over beautiful moments, and glory in the fullness to which they all pointed. There, the essence of all that pleased us here and now will return to us in full when we see him face-to-face.

None of Our Misery Is Meaningless

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 8:00am

Satan tries to convince us that our suffering is meaningless. But God says that every millisecond of his children’s suffering is adding to their reward.

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When God Isn’t There

Sun, 07/08/2018 - 8:02pm

God’s absence makes us uncomfortable. I titled a book When God Isn’t There, and people kept asking me, “When God isn’t there? Don’t you know God’s always there!”

It isn’t easy to think about God being absent, but if we avoid the tension created by God’s absence and presence, we forfeit joy. I’ve learned to state the tension like this: God is often absent in the ways we most desire, but present in the way we most require.

God has been, and still is, present with us in all the ways we require: sustaining the world, revealing his word, making covenants, sending his Spirit, and, preeminently, giving us Jesus.

Not Yet Here

But God is also, simultaneously, often absent in the ways we most desire. While we live on this earth and inhabit unglorified bodies, we cannot see the face of God (1 Corinthians 15:35–50; 1 Timothy 6:16). The Bible uses God’s face to refer to his tangible, unmediated presence (Revelation 22:4). This is the presence of God that we will only experience when Jesus returns, glorifies believers’ bodies, and brings the new heaven and new earth (1 John 3:2). It is this form of God’s full presence that we most desire (Psalm 73:25). “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Until then, we are like Moses, asking to see the glory of God but running into the limits of what our fallen, human existence can bear (Exodus 33:18–20). Until that day, we are like the woman from Song of Solomon, hearing the king at the door only to fling it open and find that he is gone (Song 5:4–6). Until Jesus brings the full presence of God, we are like King David, who knows that fullness of joy and everlasting pleasure can only be found before God’s face and at his right hand (Psalm 16:11). We are like Paul, groaning with all creation for the day of Jesus’s return (Romans 8:22–23).

His Absence Is No Accident

You are experiencing God’s absence this very moment. You want more of God than you can currently have or experience. Such news can actually come as a sweet relief. You may feel guilty, as if you were a second-class Christian, because God feels far. All manners of doubt flood your heart when you bump up against your longing for the actual presence of Jesus. You fear that you are lacking in faith because God’s nearness isn’t as immediate as you know it could be.

But such guilt, doubt, and fear do not necessarily follow from God’s absence. God is absent in the way you desire, but present in the way you most require. Knowing this can give shape to how you experience God in this life, while still extending all the hope and assurance you long for.

God’s absence is not an accident. God engineered all reality (1 Chronicles 29:11–12; Isaiah 46:9–10; John 1:3), including this reality. Therefore, since God always seeks his glory and the good of those who love him, we can know that our experience of God’s absence in this life is actually for God’s glory and for our joy (Isaiah 64:4; Romans 8:28). Consider four ways God’s absence is for your joy.

Pleasure in Pursuit

We do not pursue what we already possess. We do not chase that which we already hold close. God uses the distance of his full presence to provoke us to strive for him. Running after God is one of the great joys of the Christian life (Psalm 34:10).

Does God feel distant? Perhaps God is using his absence to draw you into a chase. Take pleasure in pursuing the one most worthy of your energy and effort.

Elation in Expectation

Do you remember what it felt like to be a kid on Christmas morning? You would wait eagerly in your bed for that moment when you could run downstairs and discover what untold treasures lay beneath that tree, hidden behind wrapping paper. God made us to experience great joy in expectation.

As our desire for God’s nearness rises in this fallen world, our expectancy of his coming fullness grows. God will elate your heart in a unique way as you uncover the gift of expecting his return. “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28).

Wonder in Wanting

I miss my wife when I’m not with her. Why? Because I love her. That may seem like an obvious statement, but we miss this logic all the time in our relationship with God. We think that something is wrong with us when we don’t feel as close to God as we want. We desire God’s presence, but something is just not right. He feels distant. Could it simply be that we love him and miss him like a loving wife misses her husband?

Your desire, or wanting, is not necessarily proof that God is far from you in a bad way. Perhaps you just want him to be nearer to you. Your sense of lacking, or wanting, proves that your desires for God are strong. In this way, God’s absence helps prove that you long for his presence, which is a gift of the Spirit. Allow yourself to wonder in amazement at his work in your wanting.

Merriment in Mystery

I love a good mystery story. I love discovering things about my wife I never knew before. I love seeing a new bit of truth in a biblical text I’ve read a hundred times. Humans love mystery. But most mysteries come to an end. When the mystery resolves, the thrill of the mystery fades. And there is no greater mystery than God (Romans 11:33).

The fact that there remains an elusive element to God’s presence can fill us with joyful wonder. What will his glory look like? What will the full revelation of his mercy feel like? The unresolved mysteries of God, which we get to experience more acutely in this present absence, is for our joy.

Foretaste of Forever

Beyond the mystery is the discovery. Each layer we peel back reveals just how deep the journey of discovering God’s majesty truly is — and that discovery is never-ending. This constant uncovering is but a glimpse into what we will enjoy for eternity. We will never cease discovering the depths of God’s goodness, mercy, faithfulness, justice, and power.

What a gift of grace it is that God gives us a foretaste of this eternal discovery as we press into those places in our lives where he feels absent. What an amazing truth it is that God has given us the down payment of his future presence in the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:14).

Even the fullest joys we experience now in his absence — in pursuing, expecting, wanting, inquiring, and wondering — are but an appetizer to the never-ending feast of revelation we will receive when his full presence comes.

Did Paul and Moses Prioritize Mission over Joy in God?

Sun, 07/08/2018 - 8:00pm

If Moses and Paul wished to be personally damned so others could be saved, didn’t they prioritize mission for others over joy in God?

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Even This: Trusting God in Your Darkest Day

Sat, 07/07/2018 - 8:02pm

My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” –Isaiah 55:8–9

God doesn’t promise to protect you from all harm here and now. He loves you too much for that. He cares too much to guard you from every pain and trial. But in and through every hurt, every suffering, every hardship, he is unfolding his purposes for your everlasting good. He is working this — even this — for your final joy.

God gives us glimpses into his peculiarly loving ways throughout the Bible, but he does so with particular power at the very turning point of Jesus’s own ministry (Matthew 16:15; Mark 8:27; Luke 9:20).

Human Expectations

Having asked his disciples for a briefing on who others thought he was, Jesus now asks for their opinion. “Who do you say that I am?” From here, he will pivot toward Jerusalem to fulfill his surprising calling, and along the way he will brace his men for the coming shock.

In response, Peter steps forward as spokesman for the twelve. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). He has answered rightly. But this is not to his own credit, but a gift from God. “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,” Jesus says, “but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).

At long last, Peter and the rest of the disciples are catching on, and yet they still have a major obstacle ahead of them. They still need to be turned upside down. They have human expectations, that the Christ will conquer his foes and come directly into his glory. So, Jesus must begin to dispel their man-made ways and thoughts. He announces he must “go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).

Then Peter, perhaps with newfound confidence having answered the previous question and received commendation, takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him. “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus turns on Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23).

Higher Than Ours

Peter and the disciples may have accurately identified Jesus as the Christ, but they do not yet understand what that really means — what it means on God’s terms. They are setting their minds on the things of man, rather than the things of God. Jesus is indeed the Christ — but he will be crucified. He will triumph and come into his glory. But on the way to conquering, he first will give himself to be conquered. He will walk the path of suffering and shame.

Peter’s paradigm, with his mind set on the things of man, is this: Jesus is the Christ; therefore he will not die; and we will triumph with him. But Jesus’s paradigm, which he now begins to introduce to his disciples, with his mind set on the things of God, is this: I am the Christ; therefore I will be shamed for my people, and rise in honor; and my people too will be shamed with me, and then rise with me in honor.

Peter was right about the end (glory and honor) but not about the means (suffering and shame). He still was thinking naturally. He was setting his mind on the things of man. He still had human expectations.

And so it has been for God’s people from the beginning.

Joy in the Heaviness

Finite and fallen, we are not just prone to human expectations; we are trapped in them. And as God declares through the prophet Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9).

Left to our own ways and assumptions, we would never see our darkest day as a time for us to discover peace. We would never see the wilderness as a place where we could find life. We would never see in our heaviness the possibility of supernatural joy.

But God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours. He takes the pain and suffering we never would have chosen, and — not just despite them, but in them and because of them — he makes us increasingly like his Son, even as his Son embraced his darkest day and wilderness and heaviness at the cross for our everlasting salvation.

No matter how much we seem to be surrounded by foes now, we will see the enemy run. No matter how inevitable defeat may appear, we will see the victory come. This we know: God’s ways are higher than ours, and in our hardest moments here and now, Jesus is unfailing.

Desiring God partnered with Shane & Shane’s The Worship Initiative to write short meditations for more than one hundred popular worship songs and hymns.

Read Every Book with Humility

Sat, 07/07/2018 - 8:01am

Pride opens the Bible and reads without reading. Humility opens the Bible and asks God to give insight.

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