From Initial Joy to Joy Everlasting:How Elect Exiles Suffer, Believe, Love, and Endure (1 Peter 1:6–9)

image001Are we going to make it? How are we going to make it? What will it take to make it? And what is ‘it,’ anyways?

If you were an elect exile living in Asia Minor during the first few decades of the church, you might ask these questions? Or, if you were a Protestant living in England during the reign of Bloody Mary, you might ask them too? Today, if you are a Christian living in China, or if you are Christian living anywhere that the cultural elites are pressing against biblical truth, or if you are confronted with an unknown, but serious, medical diagnosis, you might be asking this kind of question: How are we going to keep the faith and abide in joy, when the trials come?

Fortunately, Scripture is not silent on this issue. And in 1 Peter 1:6–9 we find a number of truths related to salvation, joy, faith, trials, and perseverance. Writing to a people whose faith was being tested and lives being threatened, Peter teaches us how we can have abiding joy in our salvation and hope of eternal glory. In Sunday’s sermon, we considered these truths, and you can listen to the sermon here. You can also watch the sermon or read a few related resources. 

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Purging Pornography with the Power of a Greater Pleasure


Twice in the last year I’ve had the chance to speak to men’s groups on the subject of pornography. Because the time always restricts how much can be said, I’ve included my notes below to fill in what I left out at the last study.

While I find that many helpful books and articles have been written on the subject of pornography, nothing has been more powerful in pursuing purity than finding a greater pleasure than God himself. Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Indeed, it is this “seeing of God” that both teaches us to say no to ungodliness (Titus 2:11–13) and motivates us to look beyond the flesh to find a greater pleasure in Christ.

Bruce Marshall (not G.K. Chesteron, HT: Justin Taylor) once said: “The man who rings the bell at the brothel, unconsciously does so seeking God.” Only by exposing the hidden longing for God which underlies a man’s foolish dalliance with or morbid addiction to  pornography, can such a man find lasting purity. Only by feasting on God as a greater pleasure can the ongoing return to porneia be broken.

Therefore, I share these notes on “Purging Pornography with the Power of a Greater (Gospel) Pleasure ” They are quite incomplete but the general argument can be followed.

On John’s Piper’s seventieth birthday, I am happy to say this pleasure-seeking approach to purging pornography can be directly connected to the arguments made in Desiring God, The Pleasures of God, The Dangerous Duty of Delightand When I Don’t Desire God

Where would I be without the God-exalting, grace-saturated ministry of John Piper? Very readily, ensnared in a cauldron of my own sin. I bless my Father in heaven for sending Piper’s message of Christian Hedonism, for it is Jesus message to us: ” These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

Today, after working out these truths for more than fifteen years, I would argue that if one struggles with pornography or any other type of intractable sin one of the most liberating things you can do is to glut yourself on God—the very thing Piper shows us how to do from the Word of God. When I was introduced to his books, they helped me immensely. I pray these notes and the Scriptural truths they point to may do the same for you.

Purging Pornography with the Power of a Greater (Gospel) Pleasure

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

With Assurance and Affection: A Primer on How to Read Scripture

bibleWith the final seconds of 2015 ticking down, some bookish people are considering what they will read next year. Those who prize the Bible above all books are considering what reading plan they should adopt in 2016. At our church, we recommend three different reading plans for three different kinds of people (see Ben Purves’s blogpost). I will have more tomorrow on reading plans for those who don’t like to read.

For today, I want to tackle a different question: How will you read the Bible in 2016?  Continue reading

Joy in the Lord, in the Church, and in the Ministry

joy[Yesterday, I preached my first sermon as pastor of preaching at Occoquan Bible Church. Leading up to that day, here’s what I wrote to our church].

 Not that we lord it over your faith,
but we work with you for your joy,
for you stand firm in your faith.
 – 2 Corinthians 1:24 –

Joy in the Lord

Joy is what pulsated in the Godhead when the world was still an idea (cf. John 17:24–26). And joy is what moved God to create the world. While under no compulsion to create, it was God’s good pleasure to create a world whereby his glory could be displayed and enjoyed.

For the sheer pleasure of it, God created the Manatee and the Milky Way, earthworms and electricity. And in the middle of it all, he made man and woman—the pinnacle of creation (Psalm 8), the acme of his affection. Continue reading

‘My Inheritance’: A Necessary Approach to the Scriptures

goldThere is a dangerous tendency in the life of any Christian, and especially among those who labor to teach the Word, to read the Bible for the sake of someone else. I experienced this recently as I was teaching on the glories of the cross of Christ. Admittedly, my spirit was not exulting in the doctrines I was teaching as much as I was encouraging others to exult in them. Like a dutiful usher, I was leading others to find room at the table, but I was too busy to sit down myself.

It is a scary thing when we lead others to see the glories of God, all the while failing to enjoy them ourselves. Continue reading

The Power of Prayer

powerChristians have always been a praying people. In truth, since the Spirit awakens us to God our Father and moves us to cry out to him (Rom 8:15-17), it is inconceivable that God’s children wouldn’t pray. Yet, as we pray, it is worth asking: From where does the power of prayer come?

To that question we could answer in a number of ways. James 5:19 says, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (KJV). In comparison with a passage like Psalm 66:18, we might conclude that powerful prayer depends on the person: God hears and answers his choice servants, but ignores the pleas of men who regard sin in their heart.

Surely, there is some truth in that. But there is also error, if we think that our personal righteousness is the means by which God answers our prayer. Just a few verses before James speaks of “powerful” prayer, he says, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick.” In context, the righteous pray-er is the one who prays in faith. In other words, personal righteousness is the not the source of powerful prayer. Rather, powerful prayer comes from those who by faith confess their sins and plead for God’s mercy. Continue reading

Gospel Logic: Learning to Take God at His Word

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 God80)

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]

A Bag of Treats or a River of Delights: A Halloween Parable

In a few weeks children, teenagers, and some adults will adorn super-hero suits, clown wigs, and other silly costumes all for the purpose of having some seasonal fun and gathering a bag full of candy.  Good Christians differ on what to do with this holiday, and without stepping into that firing line, I simply want to take note of the way that Halloween is a dramatic parable of the fleeting pleasures of sin handed out by the houses of this world.

In Hebrews 11, Moses is described as a man of faith because “he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt” (v. 26).  Because he was looking to the reward, he chose to be “mistreated with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (v. 25).  With heaven in view, he sought God’s reward, instead of the treats of this age.

The same was true of Abraham.  Earlier in Hebrews 11, the father of faith is depicted as a man whose hope is set on the city whose architect and builder is God (v. 10).  Scripture says of him and his offspring, “If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (v. 15-16).

In these statements, we see that hope in God’s rewards defines the life of the Christian (Heb 11:6). While we do not yet see our treasure, we believe in the promises of God that Christ has gone away to prepare a place for us (John 14:2; Heb 11:16).  We live in this reality. We say no to the world’s offerings because our hearts are in love with the world to come.

Here is where Halloween provides such a fitting parable.  As trick-or-treaters dress up in search of candy, they hope to collect a sack full of Hershey miniatures and Starburst packets.  On that night, the collection is sweet.  Serious trick-or-treaters know where the best candy is, and they get there early to pull in the full-sized Snickers or Silver Dollar.  Yet, all that is gained on that single night is soon eaten and the costume outdated or outgrown.

The joy of Halloween is as light as cotton candy and as long-lasting as cheap gum.  Contrast this with the joy that comes from the Lord.  Psalm 16:11 says, “In God’s presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures evermore.” So too, Psalm 46 describes his dwelling place as possessing “a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.  God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns” (v. 4-5).

In terms of our parable, God’s house is the one who doesn’t stop you at the door.  He doesn’t demand a trick.  He doesn’t leave you hungry by giving you an itty-bitty bag of candy-coated chocolate.  Rather, his guests are invited to come and dine with him.  His food is satisfying and cost of admission is free.

But here is the rub.  In order to arrive at his home, the Christian must pass by all the other doors.  He must say “no” to constant offers of SweetTarts, Smarties, and Milk Duds.  Even when hunger sets in, he must keep plodding towards the mansion on the hill, whose invitation to dine with the king is sweeter than the houses in the valley of death.

So how will the Christian make it?  Like Moses and Abraham, he must keep before him the promises of God and the reward at the end.  Christian faith is not meant to be a stoic battle of the will, that says “I will do right, even when I don’t feel like it.”  No.  The Christian faith is much more like a long journey that says I will say “no” to the hospitality of this world, because I have the promise of an outstanding feast with the king ahead (See Isaiah 25:5-9).

To the world, this kind of reasoning sounds unappetizing.  They will say, “Just Trick or Treat!”  But to the Christian who takes God at his word, he becomes like the child who forsakes the city block to travel into the country to find the home he has never seen, but who has promised a Christmas dinner that is more than he could ask or imagine.

This fall, as you see children dressed in costume and pursuing an abundance of sugary treats, whether you partake or not, remember that such is the feasting of the world.  It comes through personal effort; it lasts for only a night; and its fruits fade away within days.  Contrast this with the city of God and the house of our Lord, whose gifts are never so small, never so fleeting, and never so empty… they only take time for them to come to us!

May we like Moses reject the fleeting treats of this world, because we remember that filling our bags with them is the devil’s trick.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

If You Want to Reap Joy, Plan for Peace

[This article was originally featured in our hometown newspaper, The Seymour Tribune]

Anxiety, misery, and bitterness are feelings that no one wants, but that many have.   If we pause to assess our lives and our world, we quickly discover scads of broken promises, shattered dreams, and hurtful relationships. These things rob our joy and eviscerate our peace.

The Bible addresses such things. Proverbs 12:20 says, “Deceit is in the heart of the those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy.”  Those pithy words are short but full of practical wisdom.  First, God warns us to live a life of truth, because falsehood is the onramp to the highway of evil.

Next, God gives seasonal instruction.  Those who desire a harvest of joy, must plant peace.  And as any good gardener knows, planting requires planning.  Here is the lesson: Lasting joy is not spontaneous.  Sometimes it feels that way, but such joy is like a puff of smoke on a cold morning.  It lasts for a moment and disappears.

The joy described in the Bible is different.  It is joy abundant and everlasting.  As Psalm 16:11 says about God, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

How can the Bible make such an unqualified statement about joy?  Because God has been planning peace from eternity past (1 Peter 1:19-20).  Indeed, Scripture describes Jesus as God’s peacemaker.  By his sacrifice on the cross, he paid the penalty for sin reconciling believers to God.

Thus, when the Bible instructs us to plan for peace, it shows us that God has already offered peace, and biblically-speaking, your joy depends on your peace with God.  Today, you can find that peace whenever you look in faith to Christ’s cross, and by planning your peace with Christ, you are guaranteed joy that overcomes any anxiety, misery, or bitterness.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Piper at ETS: Stealing God’s Glory, Steals the Joy of Others

For nearly three decades, John Piper has preached a message of God-centered exultation (and exaltation).  He has traveled the country proclaiming that God’s greatest interest is…God.  And if you have read him, you know of his passion for expository exaltation of this singular truth–white-hot worship of the all-glorious God.

Most recently, Piper took his message to a much more challenging audience–the ETS meeting at Providence, Rhode Island.  He presented a brief 7-point presentation, which synthesized his fundamental argument that “God is not a meglomaniac when he demands worship.”  Expansions of this argument can be found in his books Desiring God, The Pleasures of God, and Let the Nations Be Glad.  I am immensely grateful for these books and their vision of God.  One quote stuck out today as I read this theocentric mandates was this:

This [God’s Godwardness] is not megalomania because, unlike our self-exaltation, God’s self-exaltation draws attention to what gives greatest and longest joy, namely, himself. When we exalt ourselves, we lure people away from the one thing that can satisfy their souls—the infinite beauty of God. When God exalts himself, he manifests the one thing that can satisfy our souls, namely, God.

What stood out was this sentence: “When we exalt ourselves, we lure people away from the one thing that can satisfy their souls—the infinite beauty of God.”  What a convicting thought in our idol-making, idol-aspiring age: to draw people to ourselves is to steal their joy and lead them to a fallen image, namely ourselves, instead of the true Image of God, Jesus Christ.   Too often our hearts long to make much of ourselves, too often we see Christian leaders promoting themselves in ways that draw followers after themselves; yet this kind of idol-making steals glory from God and joy!  I was convicted by this brief article today and am thankful for its Godwardness.

May we search our hearts for idol-aspiring tendencies and cry out with John the Baptist (and Piper), “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

(HT: DG)