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In 1672, about fifty miles northwest of London in Bedford, John Bunyan was released from twelve years of imprisonment. As with suffering saints before and since, Bunyan found prison to be a painful and fruitful gift. He would have understood the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, three hundred years later, who, like Bunyan, turned his imprisonment into a world-changing work of explosive art. After his imprisonment in the Russian gulag of Joseph Stalin’s “corrective labor camps,” Solzhenitsyn wrote,

I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!” I . . . have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!” (The Gulag Archipelago, vol. 2, 617)

How can a man pronounce a blessing on imprisonment? Bunyan’s life and labor give one answer.

Beginning of God’s Work

John Bunyan was born in Elstow, about a mile south of Bedford, England, in 1628. Bunyan learned the trade of metalworking, or “tinker,” from his father. He received the ordinary education of the poor to read and write, but nothing more. He had no formal higher education of any kind, which makes his writing and influence all the more astonishing.

Bunyan was not a Christian believer during his growing-up years. He tells us, “I had few equals, especially considering my years . . . for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God. . . . Until I came to the state of marriage, I was the very ringleader of all the youth that kept me company, in all manner of vice and ungodliness” (Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, 10–11).

He “came to the state of matrimony” when he was 20 or 21, but we never learn his first wife’s name. What we do learn is that she was poor, but had a godly father who had died and left her two books that she brought to the marriage: The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven and The Practice of Piety. Bunyan said, “In these two books I would sometimes read with her, wherein I also found some things that were somewhat pleasing to me; but all this while I met with no conviction” (Grace Abounding, 13). But God’s work had begun. He was irreversibly drawing the young married Bunyan to himself.

‘Thy Righteousness Is in Heaven’

During the first five years of marriage, Bunyan was profoundly converted to Christ and to the baptistic, nonconformist church life in Bedford. It was a lengthy and agonizing process.

He was poring over the Scriptures but finding no peace or assurance. There were seasons of great doubt about the Scriptures and about his own soul. “A whole flood of blasphemies, both against God, Christ, and the Scriptures were poured upon my spirit, to my great confusion and astonishment. . . . How can you tell but that the Turks had as good scriptures to prove their Mahomet the Savior as we have to prove our Jesus?” (Grace Abounding, 40). “My heart was at times exceeding hard. If I would have given a thousand pounds for a tear, I could not shed one” (Grace Abounding, 43).

Then comes what seemed to be the decisive moment.

One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. (Grace Abounding, 90–91)

So in 1655, when the matter of his soul was settled, he was asked to exhort the church, and suddenly a great preacher was discovered. He would not be licensed as pastor of the Bedford church until seventeen years later. But his popularity as a powerful lay preacher exploded. The extent of his work grew. “When the country understood that . . . the tinker had turned preacher,” biographer John Brown tells us, “they came to hear the word by hundreds, and that from all parts” (John Bunyan: His Life, Times, and Work, 105). In the days of England’s religious toleration, a day’s notice would get a crowd of 1,200 to hear him preach at seven in the morning on a weekday (John Bunyan, 370).

Prison and a Clear Conscience

Ten years after they were married, when Bunyan was thirty, his wife died, leaving him with four children under ten, one of them blind. A year later, in 1659, he married Elizabeth, who was a remarkable woman. The year after their marriage, however, Bunyan was arrested and put in prison for not conforming to the High Church standards of Charles II, the nation’s new king. Elizabeth was pregnant with their firstborn and miscarried in the crisis. Then she cared for the four children as stepmother for twelve years alone and bore Bunyan two more children, Sarah and Joseph.

For twelve years, Bunyan chose prison and a clear conscience over freedom and a conscience soiled by the agreement not to preach. He could have had his freedom when he wanted it. But he and Elizabeth were made of the same stuff. Though he was sometimes tormented that he might not be making the right decision in regard to his family, when asked to recant and not to preach he said,

If nothing will do unless I make of my conscience a continual butchery and slaughtershop . . . I have determined, the Almighty God being my help and shield, yet to suffer, if frail life might continue so long, even till the moss shall grow on mine eyebrows, rather than thus to violate my faith and principles. (John Bunyan, 224)

In 1672 he was released from prison because of the Declaration of Religious Indulgence. Immediately, he was licensed as the pastor of the church in Bedford, which he had been serving all along, even from within prison, by writings and periodic visits. A barn was purchased and renovated as their first building, and this was where Bunyan ministered as pastor for the next sixteen years until his death. (There was one more imprisonment in the winter and spring of 1675–76. John Brown thinks that this was the time when The Pilgrim’s Progress was written.)

In August 1688, Bunyan traveled the fifty miles to London to preach and to help make peace between a man in his church and his alienated father. He was successful in both missions. But after a trip to an outlying district, he returned to London on horseback through excessive rains. He fell sick of a violent fever, and on August 31, 1688, at age 60, he followed his famous fictional Pilgrim from the City of Destruction across the river into the Celestial City.

‘Jesus Was Never More Real’

The question, then, that I bring to Bunyan’s suffering is: What was its fruit? What did it bring about in his own life and, through him, in the lives of others? Knowing that I am leaving out many important things, I would answer that with just one observation: his suffering drove him into the word and opened the word to him.

Prison proved for Bunyan to be a hallowed place of communion with God because his suffering unlocked the word and the deepest fellowship with Christ he had ever known. He wrote,

I never had in all my life so great an inlet into the Word of God as now [in prison]. Those scriptures that I saw nothing in before were made in this place and state to shine upon me. Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now. Here I have seen him and felt him indeed. . . . I never knew what it was for God to stand by me at all times and at every offer of Satan to afflict me, as I have found Him since I came in hither. (Grace Abounding, 121)

Bunyan especially cherished the promises of God as the key for opening the door of heaven. “I tell thee, friend, there are some promises that the Lord hath helped me to lay hold of Jesus Christ through and by, that I would not have out of the Bible for as much gold and silver as can lie between York and London piled up to the stars” (Works of John Bunyan, vol. 3, 721).

One of the greatest scenes in The Pilgrim’s Progress is when Christian recalls, in the dungeon of Doubting Castle, that he has a key to the door. Very significant is not only what the key is, but where it is:

What a fool, quoth he, am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle. Then said Hopeful, That is good news, good brother; pluck it out of thy bosom, and try.

Then Christian pulled it out of his bosom, and began to try at the dungeon door, whose bolt (as he turned the key) gave back, and the door flew open with ease, and Christian and Hopeful both came out. (The Pilgrim’s Progress, 132)

Three times Bunyan says that the key was in Christian’s bosom, or chest. I take this to mean that Christian had hidden it in his heart by memorization and that it was now accessible in prison (though he had no Bible available) for precisely this reason. This is how the word sustained and strengthened Bunyan.

He Bled Bible

Everything he wrote was saturated with the Bible. He pored over his English Bible, which was all he had most of the time. Which is why he can say of his writings, “I have not for these things fished in other men’s waters; my Bible and Concordance are my only library in my writings” (John Bunyan, 364). The great London preacher Charles Spurgeon, who read The Pilgrim’s Progress every year, put it like this:

Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God. (Autobiography, vol. 2, 159)

This, in the end, is why Bunyan is still with us today rather than disappearing into the mist of history. He is with us and ministering to us because he reverenced the word of God and was so permeated by it that his blood was “Bibline” — the essence of the Bible flowed from him.

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Article by Mark Vroegop

On the first day of the new year, I felt the paradox of Christianity.

While on vacation in the Grand Canyon, I forced my family to get up early so that we could watch the sunrise. I dreamed of witnessing the first light of the new year over the mile-deep canyon. A winter storm dumped a half a foot of snow the night before, making it look like someone sprinkled powdered sugar over the massive rock formations and deep ravines.

As the sun broke over the eastern sky, the Grand Canyon flooded with hues of red and purple. A rainbow appeared. The first light of the new year penetrated the cold canyon, and the clouds melted away. A clear, blue sky prevailed overhead.

My eyes became a portal for my soul. I stood speechless at the grandeur of God’s creation. My heart was filled with worship. It was easy to be thankful.

A few hours later on our drive home, a text arrived that I feared might be coming soon: “Tyler Trent just passed into heaven.”

Cancer Came Three Times

Not only was I his pastor, but I had been his basketball coach, and he was a friend of our boys. Based upon what I was hearing from his parents, who are dear friends, I knew Tyler was entering his final days. But the sober reality of that definitive text was gut-wrenching.

Over the last four years, I’ve watched Tyler and his family battle osteosarcoma. I’ve seen, firsthand, Tyler’s steadfast faith in Jesus. I’ve prayed for his dad as he told Tyler that he had cancer not just once and not twice — but three times.

The swirl of emotions that ran through my soul was incredible. Tyler modeled how to suffer as a follower of Jesus, and when ESPN told his story, he used his fame as a megaphone for winsome, Christ-centered perseverance. I was honored to be his pastor.

But I also was troubled. I hate death, and cancer is evil — one of the clearest evidences of the brokenness of the world. I was deeply grieved. Candidly, it was hard to be thankful.

Grandeur and Grief

In the span of a few short hours, I felt the tension of Christianity: God is good, but life is hard. I marveled at God’s grandeur and mourned the presence of grief. When my heart is overwhelmed with this uncomfortable paradox, I’m grateful the Bible has a language I can use: lament.

Biblical lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust. Over a third of the Psalms were written in this gutsy and honest voice. Lament turns to God in pain, tells him why we are sad, asks for his help, and leads us to trust.

The morning after Tyler passed, I woke up early and wrote a lament. It was what my heart needed. I was really sad, and yet I knew that God is good. When I’m stuck between my tears and what I believe, lament is the language I need.

O Lord, we turn to you on this hard and painful day. We look to you, the author of life and the giver of grace, because our hearts are broken with grief. A young man, so full of life and joy, is gone.

We grieve the loss of Tyler.

How long, O Lord, must cancer steal our loved ones away? This evil disease doesn’t fit with your goodness. It mars, destroys, and kills. We hate its presence in the world.

Lord, we prayed for healing. And your answer is hard to accept. We watched our friend and brother persevere. Twenty years doesn’t seem long enough for Tyler. We long for the day when osteosarcoma is no longer a part of our vocabulary — or our prayers. We’d rather have a different ending to this story.

Yet we know that you have purposes beyond what we can see.

We witnessed glimpses of your plan in the meteoric rise of Tyler’s story. We marveled at the favor and the kindness showered upon him through his journey. We rejoiced at the platform you gave him to share his faith in Jesus.

Lord, we ask you to bring comfort to Tyler’s family. They’ve walked beside him through this journey. They need your grace both now and in the months and years to come.

We pray for wisdom and creativity for those researching the treatment for Tyler’s cancer. We ask that his donated tumor and the money raised might yield life-saving options for future cancer patients. Would you heal many from Tyler’s death?

But even more, Jesus, we ask for your name to be lifted high through Tyler’s life.

You were the bedrock of his strength. You were the one who captivated his heart and gave him hope as his physical strength declined. We pray that thousands — even millions — of people will be led to the kind of relationship that Tyler shared with you.

On this hard day, O Lord, we choose to trust you. We believe you have ordained eternal purposes that we can’t see right now. We believe you gave Tyler every grace he needed to persevere.

We believe Jesus rose from the dead so that one day our tears will be wiped away once and for all. Through our pain and questions, we rest our hope in the One who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). We know this was the strength that made Tyler strong. We saw it. Tyler lived it.

In Jesus’s name,
Amen

Tuesday in Glory

On Tuesday evening thousands will gather at our church for another paradoxical moment. We’ll mourn Tyler’s death and celebrate his life. We’ll do what Christians have done for centuries starting with the resurrection — we’ll weep and rejoice.

We’ll rehearse the gospel that provides hope. Tyler believed Good Friday led to Resurrection Sunday. He knew the power of the cross and the victory of the empty tomb. He often quoted his grandfather, who modeled faithfulness in his own battle with cancer: “If I live, I win. If I die, I win.”

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. . . Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10)

Do you remember the time you were lost as a child, or slipping over a precipice, or about to drown? Then suddenly you were rescued. You held on for “dear life.” You trembled for what you almost lost. You were happy. Oh, so happy, and thankful. And you trembled with joy.

That’s the way I feel at the end of the year about my rescue from God’s wrath. All day Christmas we had a fire in the fireplace. Sometimes the coals were so hot that when I stoked it my hand hurt. I pulled back and shuddered at the horrendous thought of the wrath of God against sin in hell. Oh, how unspeakably horrible that will be!

Christmas afternoon I visited a woman who had been burned over 87 percent of her body. She has been in the hospital since August. My heart broke for her. How wonderful it was to hold out hope to her from God’s word for a new body in the age to come! But I came away not only thinking about her pain in this life, but also about the everlasting pain I have been saved from through Jesus.

Test my experience with me. Is this trembling joy a fitting way to end the year? Paul was glad that “Jesus . . . delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). He warned that “for those who . . . do not obey the truth . . . there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:8). And “because of [sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness] the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6).

Here at the end of the year, I am finishing my trek through the Bible and reading the last book, Revelation. It is a glorious prophecy of the triumph of God, and the everlasting joy of all who “take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17). No more tears, no more pain, no more depression, no more sorrow, no more death, no more sin (Revelation 21:4).

But oh, the horror of not repenting and not holding fast to the testimony of Jesus! The description of the wrath of God by the “apostle of love” (John) is terrifying. Those who spurn God’s love will “drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:10–11).

“And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). Jesus will “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15). And blood will flow “from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 184 miles” (Revelation 14:20). Whatever that vision signifies, it is meant to communicate something unspeakably terrible.

I tremble with joy that I am saved!

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John Newton (1725–1807)

Article by John Piper

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Throughout his 82-year life, John Newton was a depraved sailor; a miserable outcast on the coast of West Africa; a slave-trading sea captain; a well-paid surveyor of tides in Liverpool; a beloved pastor of two congregations in Olney and London for 43 years; a devoted husband to Mary for 40 years until she died; a personal friend to William Wilberforce, John Wesley, and George Whitefield; and finally, the author of the most famous hymn in the English language, “Amazing Grace.”

Why am I interested in this man? Because one of my great desires is to see Christians become as strong and durable as redwood trees, and as tender and fragrant as a field of clover — unshakably rugged “in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Philippians 1:7), and relentlessly humble and patient and merciful in dealing with people.

Tender Hearts, Tough Roots

It seems to me that we are always falling off the horse on one side or the other in this matter of being tough and tender, durable and delightful, courageous and compassionate — wimping out on truth when we ought to be lionhearted, or wrangling when we ought to be weeping. How rare are the Christians who speak with a tender heart and have a theological backbone of steel.

John Newton did not always get the balance right. But though he had feet of clay, like every hero other than Christ, his great strength was “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). He carried in his heart a tenderness that loved the lost, lifted the downcast, welcomed children, and prayed for enemies. And his tenderness had roots as tough as a redwood’s.

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October 22, 2008

Article by John Piper

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Voting is like marrying and crying and laughing and buying. We should do it, but only as if we were not doing it. That’s because “the present form of this world is passing away” and, in God’s eyes, “the time has grown very short.” Here’s the way Paul puts it:

The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7:29–31)

Let’s take these one at a time and compare them to voting.

1. “Let those who have wives live as though they had none.”

This doesn’t mean move out of the house, don’t have sex, and don’t call her Honey. Earlier in this chapter Paul says, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights” (1 Corinthians 7:3). He also says to love her the way Christ loved the church, leading and providing and protecting (Ephesians 5:25–30). It means this: Marriage is momentary. It’s over at death, and there is no marriage in the resurrection. Wives and husbands are second priorities, not first. Christ is first. Marriage is for making much of him.

It means: If she is exquisitely desirable, beware of desiring her more than Christ. And if she is deeply disappointing, beware of being hurt too much. This is temporary — only a brief lifetime. Then comes the never-disappointing life which is life indeed.

So it is with voting. We should do it. But only as if we were not doing it. Its outcomes do not give us the greatest joy when they go our way, and they do not demoralize us when they don’t. Political life is for making much of Christ whether the world falls apart or holds together.

2. “Let those who mourn [do so] as though they were not mourning.

Christians mourn with real, deep, painful mourning, especially over losses — loss of those we love, loss of health, loss of a dream. These losses hurt. We cry when we are hurt. But we cry as though not crying. We mourn knowing we have not lost something so valuable we cannot rejoice in our mourning. Our losses do not incapacitate us. They do not blind us to the possibility of a fruitful future serving Christ. The Lord gives and takes away. But he remains blessed. And we remain hopeful in our mourning.

So it is with voting. There are losses. We mourn. But not as those who have no hope. We vote and we lose, or we vote and we win. In either case, we win or lose as if we were not winning or losing. Our expectations and frustrations are modest. The best this world can offer is short and small. The worst it can offer has been predicted in the book of Revelation. And no vote will hold it back. In the short run, Christians lose (Revelation 13:7). In the long run, we win (Revelation 21:4).

3. “Let those who rejoice [do so] as though they were not rejoicing.”

Christians rejoice in health (James 5:13) and in sickness (James 1:2). There are a thousand good and perfect things that come down from God that call forth the feeling of happiness. Beautiful weather. Good friends who want to spend time with us. Delicious food and someone to share it with. A successful plan. A person helped by our efforts.

But none of these good and beautiful things can satisfy our soul. Even the best cannot replace what we were made for, namely, the full experience of the risen Christ (John 17:24). Even fellowship with him here is not the final and best gift. There is more of him to have after we die (Philippians 1:21–23) — and even more after the resurrection. The best experiences here are foretastes. The best sights of glory are through a mirror dimly. The joy that rises from these previews does not and should not rise to the level of the hope of glory. These pleasures will one day be as though they were not. So, we rejoice remembering this joy is a foretaste and will be replaced by a vastly better joy.

So it is with voting. There are joys. The very act of voting is a joyful statement that we are not under a tyrant. And there may be happy victories. But the best government we get is a foreshadowing. Peace and justice are approximated now. They will be perfect when Christ comes. So our joy is modest. Our triumphs are short-lived — and shot through with imperfection. So we vote as though not voting.

4. “Let those who buy [do so] as though they had no goods.”

Let Christians keep on buying while this age lasts. Christianity is not withdrawal from business. We are involved, but as though not involved. Business simply does not have the weight in our hearts that it has for many. All our getting and all our having in this world is getting and having things that are not ultimately important. Our car, our house, our books, our computers, our heirlooms — we possess them with a loose grip. If they are taken away, we say that in a sense we did not have them. We are not here to possess. We are here to lay up treasures in heaven.

This world matters. But it is not ultimate. It is the stage for living in such a way to show that this world is not our God, but that Christ is our God. It is the stage for using the world to show that Christ is more precious than the world.

So it is with voting. We do not withdraw. We are involved — but as if not involved. Politics does not have ultimate weight for us. It is one more stage for acting out the truth that Christ, and not politics, is supreme.

5. “Let those who deal with the world [do so] as though they had no dealings with it.”

Christians should deal with the world. This world is here to be used. Dealt with. There is no avoiding it. Not to deal with it is to deal with it that way. Not to weed your garden is to cultivate a weedy garden. Not to wear a coat in Minnesota is to freeze — to deal with the cold that way. Not to stop when the light is red is to spend your money on fines or hospital bills and deal with the world that way. We must deal with the world.

But as we deal with it, we don’t give it our fullest attention. We don’t ascribe to the world the greatest status. There are unseen things that are vastly more precious than the world. We use the world without offering it our whole soul. We may work with all our might when dealing with the world, but the full passions of our heart will be attached to something higher — Godward purposes. We use the world, but not as an end in itself. It is a means. We deal with the world in order to make much of Christ.

So it is with voting

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The Lionhearted Listener

The Habit That Set Luther on Fire

Article by Marshall Segal

“See how much he has been able to accomplish through me, though I did no more than pray and preach. The Word did it all” (Here I Stand, 212). On this date, now more than five hundred years ago, the word of God waged a serious war against threats to the gospel emerging from the Roman Catholic Church, when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

The Ninety-Five Theses may not have been nailed to the door, as the scene has been famously painted. They were probably pasted with glue. Pieces like these were often posted to the door, which served as a bulletin board for the university. Luther likely did not even post the theses himself. But his ninety-five nails drove deeper than any metal might have, because they were forged for this emerging war in the fire of divine revelation.

His Ears Led the Way

Timothy George writes,

What Luther did do, what he was called to do, was to listen to the Word. “The nature of the Word is to be heard,” he remarked. . . . He listened to the Word because it was his job to do so and because he had come to believe his soul’s salvation depended upon it. Luther did not become a reformer because he attacked indulgences. He attacked indulgences because the Word had already taken deep root in his heart. (Theology of the Reformers, 55–56)

George goes on to quote Luther: “If you were to ask a Christian what his task is and by what he is worthy of the name of Christian, there could be no other response than hearing the Word of God, that is, faith. Ears are the only organs of the Christian” (56). We often remember Luther for his extraordinary mouth, but it was first and foremost his ears that led to his challenging the Roman Church. He launched a revival of faithful and valiant listening — to God.

Long before he composed “A Mighty Fortress,” before he was driven into exile, before he stood fast at the Diet of Worms, before he courageously debated Eck at Leipzig, before he posted his ninety-five theses at the Castle Church, Martin Luther listened. And while he listened to God, he gave birth to centuries of lionhearted listeners.

How Luther Listened

The listening began for Luther long before the reforming, while he still lived and served as a devoted monk in the cloister at Erfurt. Herman Selderhuis writes,

While in the monastery, Luther learned that Bible reading is actually ‘listening to the Bible’: a text had to be read but also heard, again and again, as frequently as necessary until one gained an understanding of what the text said. . . . The goal was to read and listen until one heard God’s voice in the Word. (Luther: Spiritual Biography, 59)

Luther himself explains the importance of good listening: “If you want to become a Christian, you must take the word of Christ, realizing that you will never be finished learning, and then with me, you will recognize that you still do not even know the ABCs. If one was to boast, then I could certainly do that about myself, because day and night I was busy studying the Bible, and yet I have remained a student. Every day I begin like someone in the primary school” (Spiritual Biography, 59).

Behind the brilliant rhetoric and revolutionary leadership was a tenacious humility to hear from God. Luther did not pretend to have mastered Scripture, even as one of the greatest theologians in history, but considered himself always a student, and an elementary school student at that. And by opening the Bible as if he had not seen anything yet, he saw far more than most — certainly far more than the respected priests and scholars of his day.

Selderhuis continues, “Luther searched in the Bible, he ‘knocked’ on the texts, he shook them like the branch of a fruit tree, and then he listened to find words of comfort and reassurance to drive away his fears” (59). Good listeners search and knock and shake the word of God until they hear God speak — until he gives the long-awaited answer, or whispers their fears away, or leads them with clear direction, or breathes fresh inspiration and strength into their life and ministry, or reassures them with his promises. Listening to the very words of God in the Scriptures is not only the quiet key to the Protestant Reformation, but to the faithful, fruitful, and happy Christian life.

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What Makes Sundays More Satisfying

Article by David Mathis

Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

Not every Sunday is a mountaintop. Our hearts often feel sluggish when we come to worship. Distractions around us may abound. Shame over sin can make us feel like hypocrites. Our lives in this fallen world are endlessly up and down. Even in corporate worship. Perhaps especially.

This is what makes our weekly gathering so important. We lift our voices together and turn from that week’s “fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25) to the superior pleasures to be had in Christ. We help each other move higher up the mountain. And in that process of being renewed, and gaining strength for the daily and weekly demands of life, we find our coming together in worship to be the single most important means of deep and enduring joy in God, even as coming to enjoy him can be an extended process.

But up or down, high or low, with what frame of mind and heart do we come to worship together?

Our God is the all-satisfying fountain of living waters (Jeremiah 2:13). When we seek to quench our deep soul-thirst in him, corporate worship becomes the stunning opportunity to gather together not just with fellow believers, but with fellow enjoyers of God.

Come to the Fountain

The prophet Isaiah raised his voice to summon God’s people not simply as believers but enjoyers:

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55:1–2)

In worship, we enjoy Jesus together as water for our thirsty souls, as milk to nourish our spirits, and as wine to gladden our hearts. God offers a banquet to the human soul — not mainly for individual snacking but for corporate feasting.

We do find encouragement in gathering consciously with fellow believers. In a world that suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18) — and lies to us subtly and overtly at every turn that self, not God, is in control — finding ourselves in the assembly, in the congregation, of believers can have a powerful effect on reinforcing our faith. God exists. He made our world. He rules over its every detail, even our sin. And he sent his own Son to rescue us from our sins, and the punishment we justly deserve, by faith in him.

And yet, when we gather in corporate worship, we are more deeply knit together than simply the truths we affirm. A stronger tie that binds us is whom we enjoy. We share in a common joy with uncommon worth: the greatest treasure in the universe.

Come to the Faith

Is it assuming too much to think of your fellow worshipers as fellow enjoyers of Jesus? Not at all. Saving faith is not indifferent to its Savior.

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus says, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Note the parallels in what Jesus says. Not hungering pairs with never thirsting. And coming to Jesus pairs with believing in him. What, then, according to John 6:35, is Christian faith? It is “coming to Jesus” — not bodily or geographically but in the soul — to have our soul-hunger satisfied and our soul-thirst quenched.

There is an irreducible aspect of enjoyment in such faith, whether the believer is conscious of it yet or not. There is a kind of “joy” that is not only the fruit of faith (Galatians 5:22) but an essential aspect of faith (Philippians 1:252 Corinthians 1:24). Fellow believers in Jesus are fellow enjoyers, with us, of him. Our corporate worship truly is an enjoying Jesus together.

Come to the Father

Whether or not we come in worship as enjoyers, not just believers, may reflect how deeply we see God as our Father — a true Father who we know fundamentally as a giver, not taker.

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Article by Jackie Hill Perry

I know, I know, some of us Christians believe that we are only pointing our gay and lesbian friends to the miraculous. To the power of God to make all things and them new. Well-meaning believers, in an effort to encourage or cast vision to their same-sex attracted (SSA) friends or family, preach this gospel often. This gospel is not the good news of Jesus however, but another gospel. A gospel that I call “the heterosexual gospel.”

The heterosexual gospel is one that encourages SSA men and women to come to Jesus so that they can be straight, or it says that coming to Jesus ensures that they will be sexually attracted to the opposite sex. The ways in which this “gospel” is preached are much subtler than I’ve made it out to be. It usually sounds like, “I know you’re struggling with being gay. I can promise you, if you give your life to Jesus, he will completely deliver you from those desires because he loves you.” Or, “I know a guy that used to be gay and now he’s married. Jesus will do the same for you if you trust him.”

How Not to Use My Story

People have often used my story to point others to what they believe should be the immediate fruit of their repentance. I was a lesbian who came to Jesus and eventually ended up married to a man, giving birth to two daughters. According to them, I am living happily ever after in a state of heterosexual bliss.

Clearly, my life as it is now may have its share of blessings, but it has been far from blissful. And even though God may have called me in particular to marriage, that doesn’t mean he’s called everyone to it in general. My marriage, with all of its difficulties and beauty, is glorious to God because it is a picture of God’s gospel (Ephesians 5:32). But it is not the ultimate glory. Christ is. That is what makes “the heterosexual gospel” so problematic. It tends to put more emphasis on marriage as the goal of the Christian life than on knowing Jesus.

Exchanging One Idol for Another

When the gospel is presented as “Come to Jesus to be straight,” instead of “Come to Jesus to be made right with God,” we shouldn’t be surprised when people won’t come to Jesus at all. If he is not the aim of their repentance, then he will not be believed as the ultimate aim of their faith. They will only exchange one idol for another and believe themselves to be Christian because of it.

What the gay community needs to hear is not that God will make them straight, but that Christ can make them his. In this age, they may never be “straight” (for lack of better words), but they can be holy (1 Corinthians 1:30). We must remind others (and ourselves) that Christ is ultimately calling them to himself — to know Christ, love Christ, serve Christ, honor Christ, and exalt Christ forever.

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Joy in Christ Kept Him in China

Hudson Taylor (1832–1905)

Article by John Piper

“Depend upon it, God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, 121). When Hudson Taylor wrote that sentence, he meant every kind of need that we have — money and health and faith and peace and strength. And that is my prayer for this article: that you will see and experience new possibilities for your life — more faith, more joy, more peace, more love, and all the money you need to do his will (which may be none).

And all of that is because of your union with Christ, as is put so well in one of Taylor’s favorite texts: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). And then, because of all that, I pray you will launch into some venture, some dream of ministry, beyond all your real or perceived inadequacies, for the glory of Christ.

Conversion and Call to China

Hudson Taylor was born May 21, 1832, at Barnsley, England, into a devout Methodist home. At the age of seventeen, he was dramatically converted through the prayers of his mother. Four years later, on September 19, 1853, Taylor sailed for China with the Chinese Evangelisation Society. He had no formal training in theology or missions. He landed in Shanghai five and a half months later.

He learned the language quickly and, in his first two years in China, engaged in ten extended evangelistic journeys to the interior. Then, on January 20, 1858, when he had been in China almost five years, Taylor married another missionary, Maria Dyer. They were married for twelve years. Before Maria died at age thirty-three, she had given birth to eight children. Three died at birth and two in childhood, and the ones who lived to adulthood all became missionaries with the mission their father founded, the China Inland Mission.

Decisive Moment

Five years later, after Taylor had begun his own mission agency — the China Inland Mission — and in the midst of prolonged frustration with his own temptations and failures in holiness, the epoch-making experience happened. Notice what he was experiencing leading up to the great change. He wrote to his mother,

[The need for your prayer] has never been greater than at present. Envied by some, despised by many, hated by others, often blamed for things I never heard of or had nothing to do with, an innovator on what have become established rules of missionary practice, an opponent of mighty systems of heathen error and superstition, working without precedent in many respects and with few experienced helpers, often sick in body as well as perplexed in mind and embarrassed by circumstances — had not the Lord been specially gracious to me, had not my mind been sustained by the conviction that the work is His and that He is with me . . . I must have fainted or broken down. But the battle is the Lord’s, and He will conquer. (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, 140–41)

The stage was set for the crisis that happened on September 4, 1869, in Zhenjiang. What happened that day was not ephemeral. He looked back almost thirty years later, giving thanks for the abiding experience of it:

We shall never forget the blessing we received through the words, in John iv. 14, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him SHALL NEVER THIRST,” nearly thirty years ago. As we realized that Christ literally meant what He said — that “shall” meant shall, and “never” meant never, and “thirst” meant thirst — our heart overflowed with joy as we accepted the gift. Oh, the thirst with which we had sat down, but oh, the joy with which we sprang from our seat, praising the Lord that the thirsting days were all past, and past for ever! (Separation and Service, 46)

We should beware of being cynical here. Taylor was not naïve. He was speaking of a thirty-year-long experience in which he battled with some very low times. “The thirsting days were all past” does not mean he never had desires for Jesus again. We will turn to what it does mean shortly. But for now, we should simply be aware that, as his most thorough biographer wrote, his whole life “came to be revolutionized” by this experience (The Shaping of Modern China, Vol. 2, 109).

Kept by Union with Christ.

And just in time, too. The next year, 1870, was the most difficult of his life. His son Samuel died in January. Then in July, Maria gave birth to a son, Noel, who died two weeks later. And to crown Hudson’s sorrows, on July 23, Maria died of cholera. She was thirty-three years old, and left the thirty-eight-year-old Hudson with four living children.

It was as though God had given Taylor his extraordinary experience of the all-satisfying Christ not as a kind of icing on the cake of conversion, but rather as a way of surviving and thriving in the worst of sorrows, which came to him almost immediately.

A year later, Taylor sailed for England. While he was there, on November 28, 1871, he married the woman with whom he would spend nearly the rest of his life, Jennie Faulding. They were married for thirty-three years before she died in 1904, the year before he did.

In February 1905, Taylor sailed for China for the last time. After a tour of some of the mission stations, he died on June 3 at Changsha, Hunan, at the age of seventy-three. The year 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of the mission that Taylor founded. In 1900, there were one hundred thousand Christians in China, and today there are probably around 150 million. This growth is God’s work: one plants, another waters, but God gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). Nevertheless, it is the fruit of faithful labor. And Taylor labored longer and harder than most. That labor was sustained by union with Christ. So we turn to look at what this union meant for Taylor.

Scales Fall

September 4, 1869, when he was thirty-seven years old, Taylor found a letter waiting for him at Zhenjiang from John McCarthy. God used the letter to revolutionize Taylor’s life. “When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from dear McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, 149).

The prayer of Ephesians 1:18 was answered as never before: “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know . . .” Taylor said, “As I read, I saw it all! . . . I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, ‘I will never leave thee.’”

I saw not only that Jesus will never leave me, but that I am a member of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. The vine is not the root merely, but all — root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit. And Jesus is not that alone — He is soil and sunshine, air and showers, and ten thousand times more than we have ever dreamed, wished for, or needed. Oh, the joy of seeing this truth! (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, 149–50)

Taylor experienced such a powerful revelation of the inexpressible reality of union with Christ, as an absolute and glorious fact of security and sweetness and power, that it carried in it its own effectiveness. “How to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, 149).

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Weeping at the Foot of the Cross

Article by

On Good Friday, we celebrate the saddest day in history.

Blood streamed down his face. Massive thorns stuck to the head of their Maker. Groans of agony came from the mouth of him who spoke the world into being. The soldiers beat him. They flogged him. They tortured him.

As he inched through the streets of Jerusalem, his cross pressing into his lacerated back, many shuddered at him. The face of God, which Moses could not look at and live, could no longer even be recognized as human (Isaiah 52:14). Women hid their children from the bloody mass of flesh before them. Men taunted him. Soldiers clubbed him. Angels shrieked in horror.

Every prophecy about his suffering was being fulfilled. By judgment and oppression, he was taken away. His sheep scattered when their enemies struck him. One of his own sold him and betrayed him with a kiss. He found no rest as they beat him, spit on him, and mocked him through the night. In the morning, he gave his back to those who struck him, his cheeks to those who plucked his beard.

He stepped forward to Calvary as a lamb to the slaughter.

His Love Was Rated-R

I remember the first time I watched The Passion of the Christ fourteen years ago. The sight of Roman ninetails sinking their claws into his back seemed to pierce my soul with Mary’s (Luke 2:35). The blood. The screams. The anguish. I could never again thoughtlessly tell others that Christ died for them. The scene forbade cliché. It was grizzly, ghastly, gruesome — rated-R.

I rarely cry, but as I watched Jesus shed his blood all over the Roman courtyard, I could not help but weep. As they held the nails over his hands and feet — his mother watching him — every swing of the hammer pierced my heart. Only the heartless could watch unfeelingly. Has there ever been a more tragic scene?

I did not consider his wounds enough. I did not weep over his suffering as often as I felt I should have. But how does Jesus respond to me, and people like me, who take Good Friday to grieve over his unbearable sufferings? Two thousand years ago he said to those weeping for him that day, “Weep not for me; weep for yourselves.”

Silence on the Set

Of the many horrors of Calvary, one that was especially acute was the shame of it all (Hebrews 12:2). His was a public execution. The condemned usually were naked. To add to this, the prophecy reads, “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads” (Psalm 22:7). It is one thing to suffer; another to do so before a whole nation as they ridicule you.

But mockery was not the only sound made on his behalf. A host of women trailed behind him, lamenting the expiring prophet. They followed Jesus’s drops of blood — as so many of us do today — with drops of tears.

But upon hearing their sobs, Jesus, battered and broken, turned his face towards them and spoke these gracious, yet shocking words: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28).

This part of the passion didn’t make the movie.

On that first Good Friday, Jesus turned to his loudest sympathizers — those who are not cursing him, mocking him, but wailing on his behalf — and silenced them. He commands their tears escort him no further. He opts to press into the night without their mourning.

Weep Not for Me

Jesus did not need their tears two millennia ago, and as unpopular as it may be, Jesus does not need our tears today. And this fact owes to us seeing his passion through the eyes of faith.

Weep not for me, he said. As if to say,

I am saving my people. I have prayed, tender souls, and know my Father’s will concerning this cup — shall I not drink it (John 18:11)? My hands willingly grasp this wood because my food is to do my Father’s will (John 4:32, 34). And his will is glorious: he sent me to serve and give my life as a ransom for my people. My body is broken, and my blood is spilled for you (Luke 22:19–20). Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Do not weep over the labor pains that give birth to your salvation and unshakable joy (John 16:20–22).

Weep not for me, as if to say,

I am not a helpless victim. I am a warrior-king with thousands of angels at my beck and call (Matthew 26:53). One word from me and this horror would end. One word from me and Rome would be destroyed. One word from me and all would be eternally condemned. But I was sent to save the world, not condemn it (John 3:17). Trust that no man — or army — can steal my life from me. I lay it down of my own accord, and I will take it up again (John 10:11–18).

Weep not for me, as if to say,

I am conquering. You see my heel being bruised and you mourn — but look through the eyes of faith and see the serpent’s skull trampled (Genesis 3:15). Although I walk as the Lamb, I conquer as the Lion — the predator, not the prey, will hang on the cross (Revelation 5:5–6). I am a King who shall rule the universe from a tree. And I shall make this cross my scepter. As they lift me up, I thrust my enemies under my feet as a footstool (Psalm 110:1). My triumphal entry is followed by a triumphal exit. Why should you weep over my hour of glorification (John 12:27–28)?

Weep not for me, as if to say,

Sunday is coming

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