Over the month of September, our church has been meditating on 1 Corinthians 13 and what it means to love. In preparation for last week’s sermon, I came across this quote by John Piper. In it he turns the therapeutic counsel of learning how to love yourself on its head. Instead of telling sinners whose greatest penchant is to love themselves, Piper points out how Jesus—who knew what was in a man’s heart (see John 2:23-25)—assumed that we already love ourselves and that we must learn to love others “as yourself.” Speaking of Matthew 22:39, Piper unpacks Jesus’ words, Continue reading
After openly running from the Lord for four years, this is how Abraham Piper describes his conversion and his return home:
One Tuesday morning, before 8 o’clock, I went to the library to check my e-mail. I had a message from a girl I’d met a few weeks before, and her e-mail mentioned a verse in Romans. I went down to the Circle K and bought a 40-ounce can of Miller High Life for $1.29. Then I went back to where I was staying, rolled a few cigarettes, cracked open my drink, and started reading Romans. I wanted to read the verse from the e-mail, but I couldn’t remember what it was, so I started at the beginning of the book. By the time I got to chapter 10, the beer was gone, the ashtray needed emptying and I was a Christian.
Abraham’s story is a glorious testimony to the power of prayer, the process of church discipline, the relentless pursuit of the Lord, and the blood-bought grace of God which underwrites all of these things.
In his Decision Magazine article, you can read the rest of Abraham’s story. He also gives 12 helpful action steps that Christian parents can do (and should do) when their child wants nothing to do with Jesus.
Read the whole thing here: Let Them Come Home
Soli Deo Gloria, dss
For Your Edification is a weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Church, and Culture. Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.
Walking Wisely WHEN and WHERE You Work. Phillip Bethancourt, a friend of mine and the Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management at Southern Seminary, posts some wise words on making job decisions and orienting your vocation around the gospel of Jesus Christ and the way that Jesus has made you.
The Doctrine of Inerrancy Kevin Vanhoozer has provided a helpful defense and explanation of an important theological concept–the doctrine of inerrancy. This is the belief that “Scripture, in the original manuscripts and when interpreted according to the intended sense, speaks truly in all that it affirms.” Vanhoozer’s piece nicely outlines what inerrancy is and is not.
Bonhoeffer Question & Answer. Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and social media lobbyist for religious liberty, converses with Jason Meyer and John Piper on the person, ministry, and influence of German Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
For Your Edification, dss
Are you a writer? Do you want to write? Does your schooling, work place, or ministry call you to express yourself in words for the sake of others?
If so, John Piper’s counsel on how to write with others in mind is worth ten minutes of your time. Pastor John challenges writers to love the ones for whom they are writing–even if they don’t know who they are.
This is a good admonishment. When we write we should not write for the sake our name, but for the sake of Christ’s. And when we write we should always consider it an extension of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Since writing is often accomplished in a secluded office or in the interior of our mind (in a busy coffee shop), the reminder to think beyond the white screen is essential. Listen to the brief interview.
May we learn to not only to love writing, but to love others with our writing.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss
For Your Edification is a weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Ministry, and Family Life. Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.
Read the Gospels. When N. T. Wright is wrong, he is very wrong; but when he right, he is really right. And in this video, he is really right. Asked the question what legacy would you want to pass on to your children, he points them to the inimitable Jesus of the Gospels. Have a look.
Education or Imitation? Bible Interpretation for Dummies Like You and Me. Curtis Allen, assistant pastor at Solid Rock Church and rapper extraordinaire, has just released a book that looks like it will be a helpful read on biblical interpretation for people who never go to seminary. Rightly, he points to Jesus as the model for learning how to interpret the Bible. You can get the book for $10 at Amazon or for 99 cents on Kindle right now: Education or Imitation? Kindle Edition. Here is the book’s witty and wise promotional video.
What is General Revelation? Baptist Pastor, Fred Zaspel, lists a number of helpful biblical truths about General Revelation–the doctrine that describes how God has revealed himself to all humanity in nature (externally) and in human nature (internally). His outline synthesizes the truth content of passages like Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-23; Acts 14:16-17 and Acts 17:22-31. He concludes with a number of practical implications, including this last point:
Since general revelation does not provide a knowledge of God as Redeemer, it cannot be made the basis of anything more than a preparation for the gospel. General revelation cannot be viewed as a means of salvation, even to such as have never had opportunity to hear the message of salvation from sin through Christ’s incarnation, atonement, and resurrection. Only a radical new birth, in which spiritual life is imparted to those who are spiritually dead, will suffice; and such a sweeping transformation cannot be brought about by general revelation, but only by the gospel of Christ!
You can read the whole thing at the CredoMag Blog.
Meditations on the Fear of God. In the Bible fear is a complex thing. For instance, Psalm 25:14 says that “the friendship of the Lord is reserved for those who fear him.” Psalm 130:3 states, “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” And in Exodus 20:20, “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.'” But, the positive outlook on fear changes in the book of 1 John, when the beloved disciple writes that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 5:18).
From these four verses alone, it is evident that knowing if and how and why we should fear God takes some serious biblical reflection. This week John Piper helps us think about a couple aspects of Goldy fear. It is not long so I have included the whole thing.
I think that when we are sinless we will still fear God in the sense of reverential, trembling awe — as when we stand on a peak before vast stretches of unscalable cliffs. And we will also fear, I suppose, in the sense of shuddering with thankfulness that we are not among the number who still dishonor God.
But the painful fear, the guilty fear, the craven fear, the humiliating fear — all such fear will one day be taken way. But only in the way God intends. And in his time. We should not be done with it in the wrong way, or too soon.”
Here is the way C. S. Lewis puts it:
Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear [1 John 4:18]. But so do several other things — ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity.
It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear. (“The World’s Last Night” in C. S. Lewis: Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, 51)
FAMILY, LIFE, & MINISTRY
Pure Hope: Christian Solutions in a Sexualized Culture. Today, I am on my way to the “Pursuing Purity Conference” at Southern Seminary. About six months back a friend told me about this ministry, and after meeting their leaders, hearing about their vision, and commitment to the gospel, I am happy to commend it as a go to resource for finding helpful resources for growing in purity and holiness. They are continuing to put resources on line in three areas: pureJUSTICE, purePARENTING, and pureRECOVERY. Check them out!
Today, Pray for the conference as it equips leaders to take the message of purity back to their churches.
Desiring God INTERNATIONAL. Have you ever met someone whose heart language is not English. With a desire to share the gospel, you feel like your are at an impasse because of the language barrier. What do you do? Well, here is a resource to know about. Desiring God has a growing list of resources translated into other languages. It takes the teaching of John Piper and puts them in the heart language of your friend. Check it out.
A number of years ago I was introduced to John Paton through the biographical sermon of John Piper on Paton, “You Will Be Eaten By Cannibals: Life Lessons from John Paton.” In that sermon, Piper records a conversation that Paton has with an elderly man in his church that is at the same time humorous and inspiring. In response to the concern expressed by Mr. Dickson that Paton, if he leaves his post in Edinburgh, Scotland to go to the South Seas, will be eaten by cannibals, Paton plainly states.
Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer (From Paton’s biography John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebredes,An Autobiography Edited by His Brother [Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965, orig. 1889, 1891], 56)
Might God grant the same kind of bravado to a younger generations of missionaries, myself included.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss
Sunday by Sunday, faithful pastors labor to uphold the glory of God in the face of Christ, but such labors can often be overwhelming. I have garnished much encouragement that this wearying task is not something that only a few experienced. Rather, any who desire to walk faithfully with Lord will wrestle with sorrow, fatigue, feelings (and realities) of inadequacy, and the like.
David experienced this. In Psalm 139, he is undergoing some sort of adversarial assault. Those who surround him are accusing him, attacking him, and/or perhaps questioning his leadership, integrity, or faithfulness. Maybe some pastors can relate. What does he do? He spends eighteen verses recounting the glorious truths of God’s knowledge, presence, and power. Only then does he ask God for protection and deliverance from these enemies. In the end, he lets the trial he is facing to be a source of purification. He once again submits himself to God’s opinion and judgment. He is a man whose center holds, because he has made God the center of his life.
As I prepared Psalm 139 last week I remembered John Piper’s words to pastors taken from his biography of Charles Spurgeon. Ten years ago, I was given a cassette tape (remember those) of that Spurgeon message. I listened to it numerous times, long before I ever was in ministry. However, the words heard many years ago still resound in my mind and have more relevance and weight to them today then they did then. Pastor, let his words remind you that as you uphold the gospel, God himself upholds you!
Preaching great and glorious truth in an atmosphere that is not great and glorious is an immense difficulty. To be reminded week in and week out that many people regard your preaching of the glory of the grace of God as hypocrisy pushes a preacher not just into the hills of introspection, but sometimes to the precipice of self-extinction.
I don’t mean suicide. I mean something more complex. I mean the deranging inability to know any longer who you are. What begins as a searching introspection for the sake of holiness, and humility gradually becomes, for various reasons, a carnival of mirrors in your soul: you look in one and you’re short and fat; you look in another and you’re tall and skinny; you look in another and you’re upside down. And the horrible feeling begins to break over you that you don’t know who you are any more. The center is not holding. And if the center doesn’t hold—if there is no fixed and solid “I” able to relate to the fixed and solid “Thou,” namely, God, then who will preach next Sunday?
When the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “By the grace of God, I am what I am,” he was saying something utterly essential for the survival of preachers in adversity. If, by grace, the identity of the “I”—the “I” created by Christ and united to Christ, but still a human “I”—if that center doesn’t hold, there will be no more authentic preaching, for there will be no more authentic preacher, but a collection of echoes.
O how fortunate we are, brothers of the pulpit, that we are not the first to face these things! I thank God for the healing history of the power of God in the lives of saints. I urge you for the sake of your own survival: live in other centuries and other saints.
Father, let those who uphold the word tomorrow do so upheld by the power of your Spirit and the promise that your word NEVER EVER returns void (Isa 55:10-11).
Soli Deo Gloria, dss
In his recent FREE online ebook, Exposing the Dark Work of Abortion, John Piper lists 15 critical ‘truths’ about abortion. As many churches celebrate life this Sunday and call an end to the genocide that is abortion, may these truths spur you on to fight the good fight of faith to protect life and proclaim eternal life whose guilt over a previous abortion leaves them scarred for life.
1. Existing fetal homicide laws make a man guilty of manslaughter if he kills the baby in a mother’s womb (except in the case of abortion).
2. Fetal surgery is performed on babies in the womb to save them while another child the same age is being legally destroyed.
3. Babies can sometimes survive on their own at 23 or 24 weeks, but abortion is legal beyond this limit.
4. Living on its own is not the criterion of human per- sonhood, as we know from the use of respirators and dialysis.
5. Size is irrelevant to human personhood, as we know from the difference between a one-week-old and a six-year-old.
6. Developed reasoning powers are not the criterion of personhood, as we know from the capacities of three- month-old babies.
7. Infants in the womb are human beings scientifically by virtue of their genetic makeup.
8. Ultrasound has given a stunning window on the womb that shows the unborn at eight weeks sucking his thumb, recoiling from pricking, responding to sound. All the organs are present, the brain is functioning, the heart is pumping, the liver is making blood cells, the kidneys are cleaning fluids, and there is a fingerprint. Virtually all abortions happen later than this date.
9. Justice dictates that when two legitimate rights conflict, the limitation of rights that does the least harm is the most just. Bearing a child for adoption does less harm than killing him.
10. Justice dictates that when either of two people must be inconvenienced or hurt to alleviate their united predicament, the one who bore the greater responsibility for the predicament should bear more of the inconvenience or hurt to alleviate it.
11. Justice dictates that a person may not coerce harm on another person by threatening voluntary harm on themselves.
12. The outcast and the disadvantaged and exploited are to be cared for in a special way, especially those with no voice of their own.
13. What is happening in the womb is the unique person-nurturing work of God, who alone has the right to give and take life.
14. There are countless clinics that offer life and hope to both mother and child (and father and parents), with care of every kind, lovingly provided by people who will meet every need they can.
15. Jesus Christ can forgive all sins, and will give all who trusts him the help they need to do everything that life requires.
God in heaven, maker of life and limb, may you be pleased to end this murderous “right” in our generation. More than that, would you make abortion so ugly, so hated, so despicable to Christian and non-Christian alike, that to endorse, support it, or seek it would be as awful as the thought of lynching a man because of his skin color. Oh Father, you have given our country equal rights according to race; might you do the same for age. Use these truths and the sermons preached this month advocating life to spur us on towards loving life, and protecting the innocent.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss
Each December, many scrupulous Christians gear up for the new year by thinking about how they will spend time in God’s word in the coming year. For many, myself included, this is a time of self-doubt and disappointment. Thinking back on the previous year, it becomes apparent that our goal for reading the Bible all the way through crashed on the rocks of 1 Chronicles 1-9 or petered out in Acts 11.
Yet, with a new year comes a renewed sense of hope and the prospect that this year we will finish the course. Thus, there are many extensive plans out there. And truly, there are many good and biblical reasons to adopt one of them–just ask John Piper. Yet, with such an admonition comes a perilous danger–the promotion of self-sustained discipline that puffs up the strong and deflates the weak.
Thus, in what follows, I want to give seven ‘balanced’ principles for reading your Bible this year. They are meant to give clear principles for reading your Bible well, and they are meant to give you sure promises that should be remembered if reading does not go as planned. With tongue in cheek, you might call them “Seven Habits of a Highly Effective Bible Reader.”
Seven Bible Reading Habits
1. Find a good translation. Choose a translation of the Bible that is faithful to the text and accessible to you. The New International Version is a good place to start if you have never read the Bible before. Although, beware, if you have the new updated version of the NIV, you have an edition with some gender neutral translations–see Denny Burk’s CBMW article for more information. Likewise, beware of paraphrases like the Message. They are more like a commentary on the Bible than Scripture itself. Still, the revised New Living Translation is paraphrase that does correspond with the original Greek and Hebrew. For me, I have been sold on the English Standard Version since Wayne Grudem handed out a free copy in class (circa 2003). Seriously, it is a readable translation that translates the original languages word for word. See Kevin DeYoung‘s little book for why your church should adopt this translation.
2. Use a Bible reading plan. There is no right way to read the Bible–provided you read it to behold the beauty of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Some people do better reading Morning and Evening. Others once a day. For some younger believers a single chapter a day would be growth in grace; for seasoned saints one chapter is not enough; and for seminarians it may be that a few verses slowly digested offset the lengthy reading required in class. Whatever the case, find a plan and stick to it. We never drift into spiritual disciplines. Discipline yourself to read your Bible by finding a good plan sticking with it.
(This year, I am going to follow the “Bible Eater” by Trent Hunter. The name makes me think of a mythopoetic monster and may seem a little silly, but the language flows straight from Scripture (Ezek 2:8ff; Matt 4:4). This plan includes 2 OT chapters and 1 NT chapter a day, plus 6 “extended reading days,” with plenty of catch up days each month. Justin Taylor has also provided a number of helpful Bible reading plans).
3. Write in your Bible. When I first read the Bible, I NEVER wrote in it. I venerated my manufactured copy as much as the stones Moses inscribed and put in the tabernacle. Somewhere in that first year though, I acquired a gold-colored pen. It was the perfect gilded ink to underline in my Bible. Since then, I have marked up innumerable Bible’s. Cross-references, sermon notes, key verses and words, all get marked in the margins. What I failed to understand at the beginning of my Bible reading was that the purpose of my Bible is not for me to look spiritual carrying down the church hall, or to feel good that I have multiple versions; the purpose of Bible reading is to get God’s printed word into my heart (cf Ps 119:9, 11). Thus, pick up your Bible and your pen. You will be a much more attentive reader and the notes will help you later understand God’s word better.
4. Know where to go when you don’t know. Inevitably, you will find passages, chapters, and even books of the Bible that make little sense. In those instances, what will you do? You can take on the belief that a time of devotion should only touch the heart and not inform the mind; or you can have a plan for finding an answer. Picking up a one-volume Bible commentary would be a good place to begin. Using a Study Bible, like the ESV Study Bible or the HCSB Study Bible, is another option. With the advent of technology, you might be able to download a couple Bible references works to your phone, iPad, or computer. Or, you could simply shoot email, text, or call a friend or pastor about it. Few things delight a pastor’s heart more than an earnest question about Gog and Magog or the other people raised to life at Jesus’ crucifixion–plus, it will make them do some research, too.
5. Preach the gospel to yourself on days you fail to read. The goal of reading your Bible daily is not reading your Bible daily; it is meeting with the living God as you hear his voice in the pages of Scripture. Thus, if you miss a day, do not feel that you have missed God. In my life, God’s grace has been most evident on days I have “failed” to have a “quiet time,” because it has forced me to trust in God’s unmerited grace, and not my religious consistency. God has called us to experience him in all of life, not just in Bible study. Thus you should not feel guilty for missing; instead you should feel desirous for the next time you spend with him.
6. Congregate. Don’t be a “Bible and me” Christian. You and your Bible are not enough. Your Bible reading should be part of a lifestyle that orbits around the life of a local body of believers. If you are weak at reading the Bible regularly, you need to be around the teaching of God’s word and the accountability and fellowship of other believers. If you are strong at Bible reading, you need to share what you have learned with others, and then invite others to read with you.
7. Pray for God’s mercy. Becoming a faithful reader of Scripture does not come by following these or any other seven steps. You must have an appetite for the Word of God and eyes that behold Jesus as beautiful and not boring. And the truth is, you cannot give yourself either. If you have a hunger and thirst for God’s word, if you have understanding into its riches, if you love hearing, singing, and conversing about it; it is attributed to the grace of God alone. To paraphrase 1 John 4:10, “If you love God’s word, God’s Word first loved you and died on the cross to give you such love!”
Thus, in the exact same way, if you struggle to read the Bible because you don’t see its relevance and place in your life, if you would rather workout, watch TV, or twitter away on Facebook, then pray to God to have mercy on you! It may be that such a distaste for God’s word is evidence of your spiritual separation from God; but it also could be the corrosive effects of the world on your heart. Go to God in prayer, asking him to give you an unquenchable desire for God’s word. He does not turn away such requests!
Feast on the Bread, No Matter How Long It Takes
Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. These words of Moses (Deut 8:3) quoted by Jesus (Matt 4:4) are a good reminder that the abundance of our living in 2012 is not measured by our physical well-being, our financial gains, or even our ability to read the Bible. The abundance of our living depends solely on Christ. Reading the Bible is an essential part of abiding in him, and one that is both the fuel (we live on God’s word) and the goal (we live to know God’s Word) of our Christian living.
Therefore, as you read God’s word in 2012, may our gracious God confirm the work of your hands. As you clutch his life-giving word and strive to read from cover to cover, may you be reminded that the goal is not just to master the book, but to be mastered by the Author of the book. To that end we labor together, with the strength that He supplies.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss
In his enriching and practical book, When I Don’t Desire God, John Piper points out an important lesson about the need to preach the gospel to yourself. In a section entitled, “Become a Preacher and Preach the Gospel to Yourself” (pages 80-81), Piper speaks to all Christians, but especially to those who do not get a regular diet of biblical preaching (read: expositional, Christ-exalting, gospel-driven preaching) at their local church. He says, “We must not rely only on being preached to, but must become good preachers to our own soul. The gospel is the power of God to lead us joyfully to final salvation, if we preach it to ourselves” (When I Don’t Desire God, 80)
Piper’s insight is not new. It is an idea that runs through the Scriptures. Redeemed saints have always taken God at his word. Their deliberations which lead to faith have resulted in justification (Gen 15:6) and the ability to endure incredible tests (Gen 22:1ff). Wrestling with God in order to receive a blessing is not reserved for the patriarchs(Gen 32:29), it is for all those who claim the name of Christ.
Accordingly, it is imperative that we learn how to think according to the lines of the gospel revealed in Scripture. You might call this Gospel Logic, the active mental process of taking God’s word, believing it, and letting it beat our sinful and sorrowful feelings into submission. Too often we listen to the gossip of our heart, instead of the gospel of God. And the results are disasterous.
In Piper’s chapter on preaching to yourself, he quotes extensively from a book by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Psalm 42. Lloyd-Jones, who was a British preacher and spokesman for evangelicalism during the twentieth century, made these now-famous comments in his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures.
Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you” (Spiritual Depression, 11-12).
This word, if heard and applied has the power to free many souls who are in bondage to their own interpretations of life. However, it is not only good advice for those who struggle with occasional malaise or cyclical bouts of depression, it is a word that all Christians need to hear. Indwelling sin suffocates the spiritual life of a believer; but taking God’s word and preaching it to oneself, is like an oxygen mask that restores needed vitality.
Lloyd-Jones adds further force to the power of his argument,
The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. . . . You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: “Hope thou in God”—instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way, and then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and . . . what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: “I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God.” (Spiritual Depression, 21).
Lloyd-Jones words are not optional for the Christian. They are essential. Failure to preach the gospel to yourself, will result in spiritual apathy and distance from God. But regular gospel preaching to your soul will breathe fresh air into your lungs and protect you from captivating effects of your sin and self-centeredness.
Over the next few days, we will consider how Abraham, Moses, David, and the Sons of the Korah took hold of the promises of God to wrestle their hearts from the pit of despair. Moreover, we will see how their reasoning depended on God’s word and pushed them to greater heights in their relationship with the Lord.
May God give us grace to defy ourselves and to hear the life-giving words of the gospel.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss
[If these quotations resonate with your experience, or if their suggestions challenge your thinking, I would encourage you to read them in full. You can find Piper’s entire book When I Don’t Desire God online. Moreover, you can pick up Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression cheaply at WTS Bookstore or used for even less: Spiritual Depression]