Celebrity Pastors and Holy Heroes

A transcribed excerpt from Friday morning’s DG staff devotional with John Piper:

Philippians 3:17 shows us four generations of imitation: you ➔ those ➔ us ➔ Christ. So that clearly implies God wants us to find good examples, to watch them, and to be encouraged and inspired.

Yes, it can be sinful and dangerous. And it can be wonderful.

Anytime a preacher is a draw, two things are happening.

(1) There is a carnal attraction to Apollos-like eloquence, or logic, or turns of phrase, or personality that people like. And they don’t go through it. They don’t go through it to God. They don’t go through it to Jesus. They don’t through it to the Holy Spirit, to be broken by him and have their lives turned upside down, so if that pastor died they would have Jesus, and he would mean everything to them. No. They just stop with the preacher. That’s carnal.

(2) But there are other people. A word lands, for whatever reason, that person meets Jesus, and God condescends to make that sermon on that day a miracle. The sinner in the pulpit has miraculously been made the instrument of grace (1 Cor. 3:6-7).

And there is no way to weed that out ahead of time. You cannot put a sign on the church door: “All of you who are coming here for carnal reasons, stay away. All of you who are coming here because you meet God here, come.”

Therefore, it behooves elders watch that leader, rebuke, counsel, and correct, hedge in, and protect that leader from himself. And it behooves the pastor to be reminded that the Day will disclose his work (1 Cor. 3:13).

But don’t be afraid to have heroes. I think that’s why Hebrews 11 is in the Bible. …

The Vocation of a Lifetime

John Piper, article, “Teaching, Schooling and Reading” (September 1, 1974):

The person who has learned to read well is never dependent on living teachers to educate him. The growth of his mind and the betterment of his wisdom and his behavior is not connected with his being in or out of school. Because almost all the greatest thinkers of history have shared their wisdom in writing and because these great books are almost all available to be bought in stores or borrowed from libraries, the person who has trained himself in good, active reading and who cares about growing wiser, does not need live teachers or college classes, or daily assignments, or threatening exams. Instead, as a good reader and as one who is not enslaved to the television and radio, he has a lifetime of growth ahead of him.

It is of the utmost importance that college students stop trying to fill their head with facts and start trying to form the habit of fruitful, active reading. Almost all the facts will be forgotten. But the skill and discipline and love of good reading will go on bearing fruit 30, 60, 100 fold. It is a tragedy that on graduation day so many students look back with a pang of longing that they are leaving the place of so much discovery and stimulating growth, instead of feeling themselves at the end of a training period which has now fit them for an adventurous lifetime of stimulating reading and discovery. It is a dreadful deception that learning and mental growing are strictly associated with school. Good reading should be the vocation of a lifetime. Schooling — at least my classes — is a concentrated training process to help prepare you for that vocation.

A Divine Promise For the Stuck

Pastors get stuck in the mud. Churches and denominations get stuck. Every Christian gets stuck in the affairs and demands of life. Or so it seems. As John Piper’s church began to feel mud creep around their ankles, he preached on the topic and concluded the sermon with this word of personal application:

Know this for your own personal life. Right now there’s not a person who is not stuck in something. You are stuck financially, or stuck in your health, or stuck in your marriage, or stuck in your vocation, or stuck in your spiritual growth. There’s not a person in this room who doesn’t feel in some sense: this is a moment when I’m not making any progress and everything seems futile that I try. That is never the case with the Christian! God is always doing more than you know — a thousand times more than you know. One of the great blessings of getting old is that you start to see the patterns and you can recognize them and not get so panicky as you were in your earlier years. [11/20/11 sermon video, 25:40­–26:40]

Where in life are you tempted to feel stuck?

God Is For Me

I treasure the for me/for us phrases in Psalm 56:9/Romans 8:31. It is a majestic thought that the holy God of the universe can be for me/for us. It is a divine reality so startling that we can only explain this favor as a gift of grace. It should drive from us all vain thoughts of spiritual superiority.

In my reading over the years I’ve gathered a small collection of quotes to help me meditate on this amazing truth. Here are three examples:

John Piper, sermon, “God Did Not Spare His Own Son,” August 18, 2002:

O how precious are those two words, “for us” [Rom. 8:31]. There are no more fearful words in the universe than the words, “God is against us.” … We live forever with God against us or with God for us. And all who are in Christ may say with almost unspeakable joy, “God is for us.” He is on our side.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/2 728:

What can and should and must be done by the man to whom the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth has stopped down from his eternal and inaccessible majesty in inconceivable goodness and overflowing majesty to take man to Himself by taking his place and bearing his curse and burden? What can and should and must be done by the man to whom it is given in the quickening power of the Holy Spirit to accept the fact that God is for him in this way? What remains for the Christian to do? What is his part? Or rather, what is he allowed and commissioned and commanded to do? Since this is the case, and he knows it, in what consists his Christian freedom? There can obviously be only one answer to this question. This is the simple and unequivocal answer that he must accept and receive the One who comes to him and that which is given in and by Him; that he must be content in unconditional and childlike confidence to hold to the fact that God is for him; that he must acknowledge and recognize and confess this; that he must place himself on this ground and walk on it without hesitation or vacillation; that he must be satisfied and rejoice and constantly return to the fact that he may be undeservedly but quite indisputably be the child of God.

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, evening of July 13:

It is impossible for any human speech to express the full meaning of this delightful phrase, “God is for me” [Ps 56:9]. He was “for us” before the worlds were made; he was “for us,” or he would not have given his well-beloved son; he was “for us” when he smote the Only-begotten, and laid the full weight of his wrath upon him—he was “for us,” though he was against him; he was “for us,” when we were ruined in the fall—he loved us notwithstanding all; he was “for us,” when we were rebels against him, and with a high hand were bidding him defiance; he was “for us,” or he would not have brought us humbly to seek his face. He has been “for us” in many struggles; we have been summoned to encounter hosts of dangers; we have been assailed by temptations from without and within—how could we have remained unharmed to this hour if he had not been “for us”?

He is “for us,” with all the infinity of his being; with all the omnipotence of his love; with all the infallibility of his wisdom; arrayed in all his divine attributes, he is “for us,”—eternally and immutably “for us”; “for us” when yon blue skies shall be rolled up like a worn out vesture; “for us” throughout eternity. And because he is “for us,” the voice of prayer will always ensure his help. “When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies be turned back.” This is no uncertain hope, but a well grounded assurance—“this I know.” I will direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up for the answer, assured that it will come, and that mine enemies shall be defeated, “for God is for me.” O believer, how happy art thou with the King of kings on thy side! How safe with such a Protector! How sure thy cause pleaded by such an Advocate! If God be for thee, who can be against thee?

Good News, Doubled

Jesus died on the cross to atone for the guilt of our sin before a holy God. This is amazingly good news. But the cross of Christ also liberates us from our enslavement to sin’s power. Peter captures this when he writes, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).

On one hand we rejoice in our legal justification before God. On the other hand we rejoice that we have been liberated from the tyranny of sin, liberated to obey, liberated to pursue godliness, liberated to holiness. This is good news. Or is it?

In a 1994 sermon, John Piper asked:

Does this feel like good news to you? Or does it feel like the good news of the cross is being given with one hand and taken away with the other. Does it feel like good news that the message of the cross on the one hand is a lifting of guilt and on the other hand is a laying on of burden? …

There are many people today who feel the first work of the cross as liberating good news and who feel the second as burdensome bad news. For them, the grace of the cross is one thing: liberation from guilt and shame. And when they hear that the grace of the cross is not just liberation from the guilt of sin, but is also liberation from the power of sin, it doesn’t feel as good. …

Yet, he writes,

the design of the cross to liberate from the enslaving power of sin as well as the guilt of sin does not diminish the good news; it doubles it.

A lesson from 20 years of reading

In an old message delivered on July 12, 1981, John Piper said:

“What I have learned from about twenty-years of serious reading is this. It is sentences that change my life, not books. What changes my life is some new glimpse of truth, some powerful challenge, some resolution to a long-standing dilemma, and these usually come concentrated in a sentence or two. I do not remember 99% of what I read, but if the 1% of each book or article I do remember is a life-changing insight, then I don’t begrudge the 99%.”