Monthly Archives: December 2010

Brothers We Are not Professionals, Days 26 and 27: Abortion and Racism

(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.]

As I sat in an emergency room with my daughter last night – who is fine and home – I watched an episode of Private Practice in which “old fashioned” values where put on trial for causing personal pain to modern sensabilities. The three items questioned were (1) relationships—could you date the best friend, ex-, or remain best friends with a member of the opposite gender once married, (2) gender distinctions, as portrayed in the life of the man mixed up on his gender identification, and (3) the medical use of marijuana. The episode did not chuck the old values without counter-challenge. Neither did they give a pass to the wrongful ways of bringing about changes on values in society. However, all three landed far short of anything that was intellectually sound or fearful of the Creator.

There are many who would do away with “values” as it relates to the life of the unborn. For many in this group, this is an unfortunate matter of “choice” between the will of the mother and the life of the child; it might be cloaked in “happiness” and “rights,” but it always boils down to the will.

It is much harder to do away with values when it comes to race, for no one wants to wear the “bigot” label. However, the depraved heart will find away to scoff at the need for more striving for racial equality in America. Yet I will not lay the blame at the feet of non-African Americans. We all have much work to do.

Race and abortion are a particular problem for the African American community. African American children are aborted at a rate far greater than that of any other ethnic group in this country. This is not something at which anyone can throw the race card. The problem is drenched in all manner of sin, lawlessness, transgression, debt, disintegration of the family, ignorance of the Creator, and lack of love for one’s neighbor. But in the same way that voting African Americans arose en masse to place an African American in the Oval Office, I would suggest that African American believers must arise en masse to fight for the end of abortion-on-demand in America.

By all polls, African Americans are the most “religious,” church-going, and Bible-believing ethnic group in the country. That should make us the most pro-life ethnic group in the country. However, we do not allow our beliefs to inform our decisions when it comes to the things that affect the overturning of Roe v. Wade, or the rescuing of children from the butchers of the abortion industry—people who are dismembering African Americans with a barbaric villainy at an alarming rate with evil greater than anything ever planned by slave owners, lynch mobs, or the KKK. In saying this, I do not minimize the wickedness of the aforementioned people. In fact, I emphasize it in order to remind African Americans of how our ancestors fought the injustice of such people. However, when it comes to abortion in America, we are not fighting. Instead we are going to the death camps willingly and are watching as apathetic bystanders in the process. We add to the apathy as we largely support an NACCP and Congressional Black Caucus who do not do anything to stop abortion on demand. If only African American believers would speak up loudly, boldly, consistently, and sacrificially, we could help the entire country change the law on abortion.

I applaud John Piper for standing against both racism and abortion. Below are links to two of his works on race and abortion. It seems wiser to reproduce these links than to attempt to edit the richness of these very long chapters in the book.

Class, Culture, and Ethnic Identity in Christ

When is Abortion Racism?

A note of Thanks for friends of Where Are All The Brothers

As 2010 draws to a close, I wish to say “Thank you” to the great many of you who purchased, gave away, or pointed others to copies of Where Are All the Brothers? in 2011. I am very encouraged by all of the notes about how the book has been used in various ministries, especially by those who used the book in incarceration facilities.

Thank you to those who made links to the book or downloaded Kindle, or Nook, versions. Many thanks to those of you who have prayed for the Lord to use the book widely in order to reach non-Christian men for Christ. Thank you also for those who used the book individually or in men’s groups to train other men how to reach men with the Gospel, and thanks for those who participated in trainings to reach African American skeptics in particular.

Would you pray with me in 2011 that the book would have further reach in helping African American men overcome cultural skepticism toward the Gospel and the church? It is my hope that many men in uniform, many on high school and college campuses, and many sitting in church Sunday to Sunday – yet in unbelief – would be reached with the Gospel through the book (or better, through someone who gives them the book). Again, if you know of a man without Christ, and especially an African American man without Christ, who has basic skepticism toward the church and the Gospel, please pray about a way to get a copy of the book in his hands. As many of you have heard me say on other occasions, the African American man represents an entire unreached people(s)-group. He is MIA from his family, the church, the higher education complex, and meaningful contribution to his community.  Let us talk to such men boldly about the Lordship of Christ.

Happy New Year!

 

Day 26, Brothers We Are Not Professionals: We Call Out Missionaries

(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.]

The aim of preaching this “gospel of the kingdom” is that the nations might know King Jesus and admire Him and honor Him and love Him and trust Him and follow Him and make Him shine in their affections. We have come to see that God is passionately committed to upholding and displaying his name, His reputation, in the world.

Over and over we read this in the Bible—that God does what He does so “that [His] name might be proclaimed in the all the earth” (Rom. 9:17). The central command of missions is Isaiah 12:4, “Make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted” (189).

[God’s] triumph is never in question, only our participation in it—or our incalculable loss. We can be drunk with private concerns and indifferent to the great enterprise of world evangelization, but God will simply pass over us and do His great work while we shrivel up in our little land of comfort (190).

In order to do missions, you must be satisfied in God alone and not in safety or stuff. For in order to reach the ends of the earth with the Gospel, especially in regions hostile to the Gospel—regions where billions of non-Christians live, many believers armed with the message of the Gospel are going to have to die. That is, regions hostile to Jesus Christ and his ambassadors will not simply lay down in order to welcome Gospel workers in to proclaim the Gospel. Instead, missionaries will have to meet in underground house churches in order to hide from Marxist rulers bent on executing them; others will be beheaded by extremists posing as potential Christ-seekers, and still others will be bludgeoned by guerilla fighters and sex-traffickers who feel the morality of Christians hinders their evil plans and regime hopes. As these workers are mowed down, others must obediently go and replace them in order for the Gospel to be proclaimed to the very people who threatened and persecuted their predecessors. Some of these workers reside in our very congregations waiting for the challenge to give their lives to the most meaningful thing.

I pray regularly for the Lord, if he is pleased, to use my family, especially my children, for the cause of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. I have been praying such things for my children since the time each one of them was in vitro.  I am very aware of the painful reality that if the Lord is pleased to make the fame of his Name known through my children in foreign lands, I may never lay eyes on any one of them again the day they leave the US shores.

As painful as that thought may be, I would be more pained to stand before the Lord and know that unwillingness to let my children go for a season meant that many went without hearing of the great and glorious love of God in Christ to the ends that they perished rather than experiencing the joys of eternity. I should feel the same way about not challenging my members to give their lives in order for God’s mercy to be glorified among the nations.

At any church, the pastor is the one joyously privileged to exhort the members to live to see the Gospel proclaimed in all the world. This should not be a hard task, since we are preaching the death and resurrection of Christ, and its implications, every Sunday, and we are praying in accordance with the Gospel of Christ before our people. The more often we do this in earnest, if the Lord grants grace, the more we should see the Lord raise up people to go.

The challenge we face as pastors is to help our people see that missions does not stand at odds with the work of “local” and seemingly “pressing” needs. If anything, a constant focus on the pressing and urgent makes missions seem like a waste of time. But if you were on the other end of the wrath of God, knew that someone in a foreign country had the message you needed to escape wrath, but many of those people would not look past the homeless and drug-addicted in their neighborhoods who have access to the wrath-satisfying message all around them, I think you would not think of missions as a waste of time. You would think of it as the most worthy investment. You would wonder why a few people with the message would not willingly share it with you.

I pray for the day that I will see the first career missionary raised up from a congregation I am serving. I am thankful for short-term missionaries. I am grateful for college and youth mission trips. However I hope to see many say, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.” This means I have work to do. But my hope is that the Lord would be pleased to use me, my family, and my church to offer his joy to people who have yet to hear his Name. May each of us be satisfied in him alone.

 

Brothers We Are Not Professionals, Day 25: Help for Calamity

(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.]

I cannot imagine being a pastor in Haiti in the aftermath of the great hurricane, or in NYC after the Towers fell. When I read of Calvin’s work to the ill and displaced in Geneva, of chaplains’ work to Union or Confederate soldiers, of pastors who served feed slaves during the Jim Crow era, or of those currently planting churches in countries where believers are being killed for their belief in Christ, it is hard for me to think of how I could credibly, faithfully,  and meaningfully comfort believers in the midst of tragedy and loss of these magnitudes. However, I am aware that such a day might come, albeit probably something local rather than national, such as a family losing a loved one in an accident.

In responding to the Columbine and 9/11 tragedies, Piper compiled a 21-point response to help sustain and strengthen his people in calamity. I am reproducing all 21 points here, but without the vast amount of Scriptures Piper referenced. (I apologize for the formatting, but I cannot get the auto-format to cooperate.) I hope they will encourage you and grant you wisdom, as they have done so repeatedly for me.

  1. Pray. Ask God for his help for you and for those you want to minister to. Ask Him for wisdom and compassion and strength and a word fitly chosen. Ask that those who are suffering would look to God as their help and hope and healing and strength. Ask that He would make your mouth a fountain of life (174).
  2. Feel and express empathy with those most hurt by this great evil and loss; weep with those who weep (175).
  3. Feel and express compassion because of the tragic circumstances of so many loved ones and friends who have lost more than they could ever estimate (175).
  4. Take time to touch, if you can, and give tender care to the wounded in body and soul (176).
  5. Hold out the promise that God will sustain and help those who cast themselves on Him for mercy and trust in his grace. He will strengthen you for the impossible days ahead in spite of all darkness (176-177).
  6. Affirm that Jesus Christ tasted hostility for men and knew what it was to be unjustly tortured and abandoned, and to endure overwhelming loss, and then be killed, so that He is now a sympathetic mediator for God with us (177).
  7. Declare that this murder was a great evil, and that God’s wrath is greatly kindled by the wanton destruction of human life created in His image (178).
  8. Acknowledge that God has permitted a great outbreak of sin against His revealed will, and that we do not know all the reasons why He would permit such a thing now, when it was in his power to stop it (178).
  9. Express the truth that Satan is a massive reality in the universe that conspires with our own sin and flesh and the world to hurt people and to move people to hurt others, but stress that Satan is within and under the control of God (179).

10.  Express that these terrorists rebelled against the revealed will of God and did not love God or trust Him or find in God their refuge and strength and treasure, but scorned His ways and His person (180).

11.  Since rebellion against God was at the root of this act of murder, let us all fear such rebellion in our own hearts, and turn from it, and embrace the grace of God in Christ, and renounce the very impulses that caused this tragedy (181).

12.  Point the living to the momentous issue of sin and repentance in our own hearts and the urgent need to get right with God through his merciful provision of forgiveness in Christ, so that a worse fate than death will not overtake us (181).

13.  Remember that even those who trust in Christ may be cut down like these thousands who were in New York and Washington, but that does not mean they have been abandoned by God or not loved by God even in those agonizing hours of suffering. God’s love conquers even through calamity (182).

14.  Mingle heart-wrenching weeping with unbreakable confidence in the goodness and sovereignty of God who rules over and through the sin and the plans of rebellious people (182).

15.  Trust God for his ability to do the humanly impossible, and bring you through this nightmare and, in some inscrutable way, bring good out of it (183).

16.  Explain, when it the time is right and they have the wherewithal to think clearly, that one of the mysteries of God’s greatness is that He ordains that some things come to pass which he forbids and disapproves. The clearest example is his ordaining that his Son be killed (183).

17.  Express your personal cherishing of the sovereignty of God as the ground of all your hope as you face the human impossibilities of life. The very fulfillment of the New Covenant promises of our salvation and preservation hang on God’s sovereignty over rebellious human wills (184).

18.  Count God your only lasting treasure, because He is the only treasure and stable thing in the universe (184).

19.  Remind everyone that to live is Christ and to die is gain (185).

20.  Pray that God would incline their hearts to his word, open their eyes to his wonders, unite their hearts to fear him, and satisfy them with his love (185).

21.  At the right time sound the trumpet that all this good news is meant by God to free us for radical, sacrificial service for the salvation of men and the glory of Christ. Help them see that one message of all this misery is to show us that life is short and fragile and followed by eternity, and small, man-centered ambitions are tragic (185).

 

Desiring God 25th Anniversary Edition

Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 25th Anniversary Reference Edition.

What are you waiting for? Go pre-order the book! Tell your small group, Sunday School class, and discipleship group. Get one for “your ‘deacon,'” (? – whatever that means for you), and your child’s elementary school teacher. Make it a resolution to get through the book by midyear. The read is worth it.

Day 24, Brothers We Are Not Professionals and 25th Anniversary Edition of Desiring God: Copper is Sufficient 25 Years Later

(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.]

We will never persuade our people that the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) applies to them unless we apply it to ourselves. God called the man a fool because, when his fields produced a surplus, he built bigger barns and took his ease (167).

But does not the Old Testament promise that God will prosper the faithful? Indeed! God increases our yield so that by giving we can prove that our yield is not our God. God does not prosper a man’s business so that he can move from a Buick to a BMW. God prospers a business so that hundreds of unreached peoples can be reached with the gospel. He prospers a business so that 20 percent of the world’s population can move a step back from the precipice of starvation (168-169).

God is not glorified when we keep for ourselves (no matter how thankfully) what we ought to be using to alleviate the misery of unevangelized and uneducated and unhoused and unfed millions.

The evidence that many of our people are not rich toward God is how little they give and how much they own. Over the years God has prospered them. And by an almost irresistible law of consumer culture, they have bought bigger (and more) houses, newer (and more) cars, fancier (and more) clothes, and all manner of trinkets and gadgets and containers and devices and equipment to make life more fun.

Very few of our people have said to themselves: we will live at a level of joyful, wartime simplicity and use the rest of what we earn to alleviate misery. But surely that is what Jesus wants. I do not see how we can read the New Testament, then look at two billion unevangelized people, and still build another barn for ourselves. We can only justify the exorbitance of our lifestyle by ignoring the lostness of the unreached and the misery of the poor (169-170).

The problem is not with earning a lot (sic). The problem is the constant accumulation of luxuries that are soon felt to be needs. If you want to be a conduit for God’s grace, you don’t have to be lined with gold. Copper will do (172).

(From Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 2nd rev. ed. [Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003; orig. 1986, with 25th Anniversary Reference Edition available in January 2011]: 198-199:  God is not glorified when we keep for ourselves (no matter how thankfully) what we ought to be using to alleviate the misery of unevangelized, uneducated, unmedicated, and unfed millions. The evidence that many professional Christians have been deceived by this doctrine is how little they give and how much they own. Over the years God has prospered them. And by an almost irresistible law of consumer culture (baptized by a doctrine of health, wealth, and prosperity), they have bought bigger (and more) houses, newer (and more) cars, fancier (and more) clothes, better (and more) meat, and all manner of trinkets and gadgets and containers and devices and equipment to make life more fun…. God does not prosper a man’s business so that he can move from a Ford to a Cadillac. God prospers a business so that thousands of unreached peoples can be reached with the gospel. He prospers a business so that 20 percent of the world’s population can move a step back from the precipice of starvation.)

O how I wish a pastor’s salary could be a simple matter! It would be nice if the calling to a church had a standard package that allowed for the pastor to have all of his basic needs met, including those needs typically covered by a “benefits package,” with cost of living and local adjustments included yearly, along with a means for kindly and obediently providing “double honor.” It would be even nicer if there existed a righteous way to cap the salary before it reached a level of indulgence or greed or stealing or hoarding (for these things do not please Christ). It would be nicest if the entire package came cheerfully, eagerly, willingly, sacrificially, lovingly, loyally, annually, and unanimously without debate from the entire membership of a local assembly. Alas, I am dreaming a world in which Scripture rules our lives more than money.

Prosperity Theology, Word of Faith Theology, and a host of deceptive, greedy, miserly pastors have clouded the waters of Christian care for pastoral needs. In an overreaction to those who take members’ hard earned money and build castles and empires to themselves, many have raised a skeptical eye at giving a pastor a decent living wage and any sort of gracious bonus that many indicate spontaneous love and thankfulness for a man faithful to the Gospel—a faithfulness that often means forgoing the material things of this world (cf. Mk. 10:28-31). But pastors are called to live by the gospel (I Cor. 9:14).

One must admit, however, that many pastors – like many other believers – could make greater sacrifices in order to live on less than they are living, for the sake of the gospel. I understand that my use of discretionary income must be centered on the Gospel and set and example of following Christ with self-denial. In order for me to challenge my people to sell all for the sake of the gospel, I must be above reproach in sacrificial living. Such choices include living simply and contently, maintaining a modest-but-need-meeting-income, and giving away wealth on earth for the advance of the Gospel in order to make my treasure in heaven.

Saying to our people, “Copper will do,” is not easy for me, or possibly for any (American) pastor. We live with the same American Dream temptations and earthly needs as our members. I, like many pastors, wish for my children to avoid being the children who have less than their peers; I hate to see them teased or left-out of extra-curricula functions because of perceived monetary or material limitations. Yet I also know that if I help my children play keep-up I am working against their understanding of the significance of the death and resurrection of Christ. Pastors are called to point our people toward Christ, who had nowhere to lay his head (Lk. 9:58).

The fate of billions of unfed, unclothed, uneducated, unmedicated, and unevangelized does rest in the Lord’s grace through people who give of their wealth in order to mobilize missionaries to go to the ends of the earth with the truth of Christ. It depends upon people who see more value in the saving of souls that in adding a fourth and fifth flat screen TV to their homes. That value system is gained in part by following the model of pastors whose pulpits are not lined with gold—pastors whose treasure is Christ. Lord, please give us grace to treasure Christ above all.

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Congratulations to Dr. John Piper on the 25th Anniversary Reference Edition of Desiring God! The book remains my favorite among modern Christian works, and it has had a tremendous impact upon my understanding of the goal of the Christian life and my walk under the Lordship of Christ. I am glad to see the new edition available. I encourage you, the reader, to read this book if you have not had the joy of reading this great work.

 

5 x 5 = 25: Brothers We Are not Professionals, Day 23

(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.]

G. K. Chesterton said one hundred years ago (1908), “What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason. . . . We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table” (Chesterton, Orthodoxy [Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1957], pp. 31-32).

In these days of truth-minimizing pluralism and relativism the accusation of arrogance is inevitable…. The strategy of labeling someone as proud or haughty is much bigger than [a] little conflict. “Arrogance” is the condemnation of choice in the political and religious arena for anyone who breaks the rules of relativism. If you say of anybody’s view of God that it is wrong and harmful, you will be accused of arrogance. If you say that Christians should share Christ with their Jewish friends in the hope that they would believe on Jesus and be saved, you will be accused of arrogance. If you say to a straying church member enmeshed in sin, “Repent and come back,” you may be accused of judgmentalism and arrogance (160-161).

It seems to me, therefore, that what we pastors need to do is carefully ponder what pride and humility really are, not so much to defend ourselves from calumny—which almost always backfires—but rather to test ourselves and make sure that we are fighting against every whiff of pride in our own souls (161).

Much of our anger and resentment in relationships comes from the expectation that we have a right to be treated well. But, as Geoge Otis once said to a gathering in Manila, “Jesus never promised His disciples a fair fight.” We must assume mistreatment, and not be indignant when we get it. This is what humility would look like (163).

We must remind each other that to tell this gospel is not arrogant but loving (164).

[Humility] submits moment by moment to the sovereign rule of God over our daily lives and rests quietly in the tough and tender decrees of God’s loving wisdom (165).

True humility senses that humility is a gift beyond our reach…. Brothers, for the sake of the truth, and for the good of your people, and for the glory of God in the world, don’t confuse timid uncertainty with truthful humility (166).

As a pastor, you have to stand for the truth. You must say that there is an objective, unchanging and unchangeable reality which holds all things together. You must say that there is a signpost pointing in the one right direction, and that one turns, removes, or ignores that signpost to one’s own detriment. A pastor must say that there is a standard for living in the Scriptures that is binding on all and sufficient for walking uprightly in the world before the Lord. Once you establish such objectivity, however, you open yourself to the charge of arrogance.

The charge will not come immediately; there must be a confrontation – even if only in the mind of someone who disagrees – before one throws the arrogance label. Most people will allow their pastors to hold to objectivity as long as it is his personal view and it is not imposed on others. But for a faithful pastor, those congregants’ practical cognitive dissonance will be short-lived, for the first time the pastor confronts sin, objective truth is on the line.

As Chesterton so infers in the quote above, a pastor must be as certain about Objective Truth as he is that 5 x 5 always has, does, and will equal 25 (even in the realms of mathematical infinitude, in a spacecraft approaching the speed of light, in a parallel universe, or in the Matrix). If “human” life is found on a moon circling a planet in a galaxy 1010 trillion light years away from Earth, I know that the Creator is Lord there too, so Objective Truth will not change in that galaxy. As the catechism says, “God is a spirit, whose being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth are infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.” Therefore, because the Creator of things countable, enumeration, and all mathematical truth is unchanging, and because he has made addition and multiplication constant, 5 x 5 = 25 wherever he is Lord, which is everywhere. In the same way, Scripture – his word, his voice – is true wherever he is Lord.

There is no reason for me to be humble about this. To be humble here would be to deny God’s word. It would be akin to Ahaz’s pious rejection of requesting a sign from God when the Lord was the one offering him an opportunity to request a sign (Isaiah 7). That was not humility; it was disobedience and pride. It was an attempt to think better than God himself thinks. If on any matter I say, “well maybe God’s word might not be true here,” I am not acting with humility no matter how humble it sounds or how pleased another sinner is that I have backed away from objective truth. Instead, I am acting with uncertainty and with great arrogance toward the Lord who has spoken his Word.

This is a difficult truth for someone like me who does not like to ruffle feathers. However, years of walking before the Lord and pastoral work have taught me that sinful feathers need to be ruffled and plucked with regularity for the good of the church. We must confront our depravity with the truth of Scripture Sunday after Sunday, week in and week out, and daily. (Expository preaching is good for doing this.)

Piper draws out five things about humility from the Scriptures so that we are clear on the differences between humility and uncertainty:

1. Humility begins with a sense of subordination to God in Christ. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master” (Matthew 10:24). “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6).

2. Humility does not feel a right to better treatment than Jesus got. “If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!” (Matthew 10:25). Therefore humility does not return evil for evil. It is not life based on its perceived rights. “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps. . . . While suffering, He uttered no threats, but handed [his cause] over to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21-23).

3. Humility asserts truth not to bolster ego with control or with triumphs in debate, but as service to Christ and love to the adversary. “Love rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). “What I [Jesus] tell you in the darkness, speak in the light. . . . Do not fear” (Matthew 10:27-28). “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

4. Humility knows it is dependent on grace for all knowing and believing. “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). “In humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

5. Humility knows it is fallible, and so considers criticism and learns from it; but also knows that God has made provision for human conviction and that he calls us to persuade others. “We see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). “A wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Proverbs 12:15). “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11).

People perish when we do not say, “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6), “there is no other Name under heaven by which men might be saved” (Acts 4:12), or “be holy for the Lord is holy” (I Pet. 1:16). Lives are destroyed when we blink instead of saying, “you will stay in your marriage” (I Cor. 7:11, 12, 26-27, 39), “go back and submit to the elders” (Heb. 13:17), “your lifestyle shows that you are filled with greed and you are lacking in sacrificial giving” (Mt. 6:19-25), “keep putting your hope in the Lord, for he will deliver you” (Pss. 130-131), or “stop sowing seeds of discord and division” (Tit. 3:9-11). On such truths we cannot be humble. Rather, we must be prepared to fight for the cause of truth; we must be certain.

Pea-shooting Legalism: Day 22, Brothers We Are Not Professionals

(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.] An article from which the chapter is drawn can be read here. Note: In this post, Piper speaks so forthrightly that I have chosen not to add my own musings. Please simply hear Piper and grasp the significance of what he is saying.

The reason some Pharisees tithed and fasted is the same reason some German university students take off their clothes and lie around naked in the park in downtown Munich…. So the first meaning of legalism is the terrible mistake of treating biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to show our moral prowess and earn God’s favor. It is a danger we must guard against in our own hearts every day. (153).

The second meaning of legalism is this: the erecting of specific requirements of conduct beyond the teaching of Scripture and making adherence to them the means by which a person is qualified for full participation in the local family of God, the church. This is where unbiblical exclusivism arises… (154).

These two uses of the term legalism have a common root. On the one hand, legalism means treating Biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to earn God’s favor. On the other hand, it means erecting specific requirements of conduct beyond the teaching of Scripture and making adherence to them the means by which a person is qualified for local church membership.

In the first case, we use our own power to make ourselves moral. In the second case, we use our own power to make the church moral. In the first case, we fail to rely on the power of God for our own sanctification. In the second case, we fail to rely on the power of God for the sanctification of others (154).

It seems beyond doubt that God hates legalism as much as he hates alcoholism. And I believe is a literal understatement that legalism has brought more people to eternal ruin than alcohol has, through the devastations of alcohol are huge…. Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn’t look like one. Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world. Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one. Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength. Alcoholics don’t feel welcome in church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church.

Therefore, what we need in this church is not front-end regulations to try to keep ourselves pure. We need to preach and pray and believe that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, neither teetotalism nor social drinking, neither legalism nor alcoholism is of any avail with God, but only a new heart.

The enemy is sending against us every day the Sherman tank of the flesh with its cannons of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. If we try to defend ourselves or our church with peashooter regulations, we will be defeated even in our apparent success (155-156).

If you erect enough regulations and build a big enough endowment, an institution can endure for decades after the spiritual dynamic that brought it into existence is gone…. On the contrary, by imposing a restriction which the New Testament never imposes, this entrance requirement, in principle, involves us in a legalism that has its roots in unbelief. It is a sign of the faded power and joy and heart righteousness that once was created by the power of Christ but cannot be preserved by laws (158).

 

Day 21, Brothers We Are Not Professionals: Passion

(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.]

After reading Lamentations, we can no longer believe that unpondered prayers are more powerful or real or passionate or heartfelt or genuine or alive than prayers that are thoughtfully and earnestly (and painfully?) poured out through a carefully crafted form. The danger of formalism is real. Prayers and sermons that are read from a manuscript are usually stiff and unnatural and artificial. But the danger of spontaneity is also great. If the heart is without passion, it will produce lifeless, jargon-laden spontaneity. And if the heart is aflame, no form will quench it.

But not only is spontaneity no necessary hindrance to deep, personal expression of feeling, but even more, formed affection often strikes deeper. Deeper into reality and deeper into the hearer. Formed grief, while not heaving to and fro with uncontrollable sobs, has a peculiar profundity (147).

Many pastors are not known for expressing deep emotions. This seems to me especially true in relation to the profoundest theological realities. This is not good, because we ought to experience the deepest emotions about the deepest things. And we ought to speak often, and publicly, about what means most to us, in a way that shows its value (149).

I have served in churches in which I have seen the extreme use of emotions, complete with people being fanned. I have served in places where it seemed that the show of emotions was either against the law or quarantined, complete with thermometers to check the temperatures of the assembled corpses.  I can be comfortable in either environment, although I think it takes as much effort to err in showing no emotions than it does to err in over-displaying one’s emotions. Of course, you could say to me that I am not in a position to judge anyone’s use of emotions and I would simply have to agree. Emotions are between the worshipper and the Lord. But if you ask my opinion, I will let tell you our Creator created us will a great cache of emotions, not simply emotions that lead to laughter, crying, or silence.

When I meet laypeople who are concerned about “too much emotion” in worship, I suggest the following: Do not label true expressions of worship from the heart as “emotionalism” or “sensationalism” or “manipulation” because they are more expressive than that to which you are comfortable. For “emotionalism” is rightly defined as “the tendency to place too much value on emotions,” or an “undue display of emotion.”  Similarly, “sensationalism” is “empiricism that limits experience (rather than using experiment or observation) as a source of knowledge to sensation or sense perceptions,” or “the use or effect of sensational subject matter or treatment.” Moreover, “manipulate” means “to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage;” “to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose.”  The “right” (?) display of emotion should not suffer because we fear what is extreme and harmful.

I know pastors who believe that our congregants should not see our clay feet. Thus, we should be careful in the types of emotions we display as shepherds. But I am not sure how we who have been entrusted with the Gospel can lack in passion for our Savior or the accompanying display of such feelings. Again, just thinking of what it means to escape wrath and to be promised eternal joy is enough to make us passionate for Christ for all eternity.

For pastors, as leaders, whatever provokes a passionate display of emotions in us is what our people will esteem as important. If I am passionate about the conversion of souls, my people will know sharing the faith important; if I am passionate about the cultivation of a Christian intellect, my people will know that thoughtful reading and thinking is important. If I am passionate about faithfulness in marriage and saving marriages from heading toward divorce, they will know that marriage is weighty; if I am passionate about prayer, they will know that prayer is not optional or a minimal element of a vibrant walk with the Lord.

I think my people know that I am passionate about the mercy and propitiation of Christ. I am convinced that sinners – at least this one – love mercy more than anything else from God: he is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy (Ex. 34:6-7; Num. 14:18; 2 Chr. 30:9; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 116:5; 145:8; Joel 2:13). I speak of mercy frequently in my prayers, preaching and teaching. I hope to see the reciprocation of mercy cultivated in my members (and students).  For me, people who love the Cross should be full of mercy.

A good way to see if our people are hearing what we think is most important is to ask, “What is important to your pastor?” Whatever you hear repeated is that about which they perceive you to be most passionate.

 

Day 20, Brothers We Are Not Professionals, For Our Affliction is for Their Comfort

(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.] An article from which the chapter is drawn can be read here.

Satan does not have free rein in the world and even less so in the family of God. Therefore, in our struggle with suffering, it will never be a sufficient comfort to say, “It is of Satan and not of God.” The only genuine comfort will come from acknowledging that the all-powerful God has done it and that he is infinitely wise and infinitely loving to those who trust Him…. The afflictions of a Christian minister are designed by God to achieve the comfort and salvation of his flock… (139).

[God] ordains the suffering of Christian ministers for the application of [Christ’s redemption of the church]…. The fabric of a pastor’s life will be laced with dark threads of pain. But on the other hand, it means that every affliction he must endure is designed not only for his own good but for the good of the flock. Our suffering is not in vain; God never wastes the gift of pain (Phil. 1:29). It is given to His ministers as he knows best, and its design is the consolation and salvation of our people (140).

[Therefore] our afflictions prepare us to do the one thing most needful for our people—to point them away from ourselves to the All-sufficient God (141).

The Christian pastor will not expect to comfort or save his people except by following the Calvary Road (142).

Once, as I was preparing to attend a special service at my church, a fellow preacher visiting my home at the time was observing the outfit I had picked to wear. He suggested that my choice of suit, shirt, and tie combination was quite ordinary, and most inappropriate for the occasion. In his comments, he said the following: “Your outfit must exude power. You always must exude power before your people.”

What a contrast such thinking is to the New Testament’s view of church leadership: We are to exude weakness. Portraying to my people that I handle every trial with a smile of sure victory, that any challenge coming toward me is like an unstoppable object heading toward an immovable object, or that any personal pain cannot touch me is not helpful for the formation of Christ in them or me. They must know that I enter suffering in weakness, wholly dependent on the power of Christ, and that trials are given to me, their pastor, in part for this very purpose. Through Christ’s dealings with me in troubles, they need to know that Christ understands and serves their pains, sorrows, failings, sufferings, discouragements, and disappointments.

Weakness is not something that is honored in the world. Weakness on behalf of others completely cuts against the grain of achievement, control, self-sufficiency, and victory. What corporate CEO would say his suffering of a million dollars net loss in his company’s fourth quarter earnings is for the benefit of his mangers and board members? Instead, he might be inclined to put spin on his role in the company’s loss so that he might not seem like a poor, incompetent, or weak leader before his people.

Shepherding is different. Weakness that gives way to dependence on Christ is part of what must be experienced and revealed so that our people follow our example of embracing Christ’s suffering for them. Instead of portraying that we chew nails for breakfast, we should portray that there are times when we feel nailed with our Lord in our sufferings. In this way our assembly’s hope is in Christ crucified and not in man deified.