Man Crush Confession #2: John Piper

{This is a blog series coined “Man Crush Confession.” To access my first “man crush” post go here. Please don’t be offended by my tongue in cheek use of “crush.” It is strictly an homage to a godly influence in my life}

I sat in an open cattle field in central Texas with 40,000 other young adults, fasting for the day and pledging Isaiah 26:8 as our life vision and passion. The year was 2003.

An older man, on the back-end of his fifties and sporting glasses, took the stage. He opened his bible and commenced to lay out the greatness of the person of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture. Every word dripped with blood-earnest weight, every truth was exposited in humble boldness. I had never heard preaching quite like that before. He cast a biblical vision of the holiness of God in Jesus Christ that shook me for days after. As a freshmen college student, with nothing more than unguided fervor for my young faith, I was immediately hooked.

There were plenty of other great messages and messengers at that event. But for that particular sermon my thirsty soul felt like it was drinking from a fire hydrant. He offered free copies of his new book “Don’t Waste Your Life” to all in attendance. After I received my copy in the mail I devoured it 3-4 times and was convicted and encouraged by its radical call to know Christ and make Him known more.

More Than Just Tulips

To my surprise, shortly after this, I found out the speaker, John Piper, was a Calvinist (dum da dum dum!). This perturbed me a little because the only Calvinists I knew personally were a bit contentious and parochial about what mattered in the gospel. Every seemingly harmless conversation with them circled back to the topic of predestination. But Piper was different for me. And through reading his books and using his excellent websource, DesiringGod.org, a world much bigger than five points was opened up to me. The writings of dead guys like Johnathan Edwards, George Mueller, John Owen, and Augustine became a vast plateau of gems spread about a rich church

Not West-side fool. "Westminster!"

history I had never cared to discover. And of course all these dead guys pointed back to the inspired text that revealed the Living Word, Jesus, in a fresh and glorious light.

I was passionate about the gospel before, but my understanding lacked theological and historical depth. There was a host of saints, reformers, ministers, and revivalists who had trod the hard gospel road long before me. They had found their satisfaction and delight in the glory of God as revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that was more than enough for them (2 Cor 4:4, 6). I came to a greater appreciation of the denominational stream I was born into (Baptist); and I also discovered a newfound respect for other streams that converged at the same wonderous cross.

God used a little professor from Minneapolis to help open the wide door of Christian heritage to me.

These revelations began a massive paradigm shift within me: The gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t make much of me. The gospel of Jesus Christ makes much of God. The center of the world is not man and his worth. The center of the world is God and His glory. Piper’s missions manifesto “Let the Nations Be Glad” should be a required read for the missions and evangelistically minded. If you doubt a Calvinist can exalt in God’s sovereignty while simultaneously being sold out to the Great Commission then I highly recommend it. Piper has a solid range of works, from the devotional “Fifty Reasons Jesus Came To Die,” to the scholarly “Justification of God.” The 23% I understood of the latter book helped tie down some loose ends in my thinking about Romans 9 and Predestination (which became a four part blog series).

Your Fav Podcast Pastor Doesn’t Know You

Piper has his faults. He has annoyed many in his own camp with his close associations with Rick Warren or Mark Driscoll. He has annoyed many outside of his camp with his interpretation of biblical masculinity and femininity. But for my readership who don’t know me personally, I am coming clean to you right now about my bromance with John Piper. I’ve never met him but His ministry of the Word has reached me many times when I needed biblical encouragement, conviction, or sometimes just a swift kick in my spiritual butt.

I know there is an unhealthy pedestal e-pastors may be put on in this fast paced information age. So I better stop now before I begin to gush (that would be awkward for everyone). I do want my readers to know how much I appreciate the countless unknown shepherds who tend their small flocks well in relative obscurity. I encourage everyone reading to pray continually for and be complimentary of the man God has entrusted to them to be their pastor. We’re subject to real local elders (Heb 13:17), not rock star international conference speakers.

With that said, I’d like to hear who your longtime Man Crush Confession or secret Bromance may be (I won’t judge, promise : ))

What post-biblical era leader, living or dead, has impacted your life in Christ in a positive permanent way?

Bryan Daniels

And just for kicks:

The One Question Everyone Needs To Answer Everyday

Like that terribly cheesy Toby Keith country song, sometimes I feel, “I’m not as good as I once was.”…spiritually speaking of course.

On a personal level, I feel less passionate, less bold, less “holy” than what I used to be as a freshmen in college. I hope that’s a sign of God’s grace. I’m encouraged by the testimony of older saints who confess a greater brokenness over sin as age advances. I’m encouraged by the testimony of the Apostle Paul who was the self-professed “least of all the apostles” early in ministry (1 Cor 15:9), then was the “least of all God’s people” in mid ministry (Eph 3:8), and finally claimed the “Chief of sinners” title as a broken old man writing to his spiritual son, Timothy (1 Tim 1:16).

It seems in the upside down paradoxical Kingdom of Heaven: The more one progresses in maturity, the more acutely aware of sin they become. Victory looks like a broken sinner, wholeness like a maimed saint (Matt 5:29-30). The greatest ones in the Kingdom will think the least of themselves.

This spurns two questions. The first is a simple one for most of my dear astute readers:

In one word what is the most important message UNbelievers need to hear?

I think we can agree what the apparent answer is: Gospel. (Gospel of JESUS to be specific, but that is three words)

The follow up question seems to lie under a veil of ambiguity for us.

In one word what is the most important message believers need to hear?

A diversity of answers may ensue here. Common ones may be discipleship, prayer, holiness, fellowship, evangelism, and missions. I say these are important, but cursory issues that flow out of one fundamental source.

Rather, the most important message believers need to hear is this: Gospel.

Believers desperately need to continue to saturate their hearts and minds in the shocking truth that God has crushed His own Son on behalf of sinners. The gospel of Jesus Christ is A. the message that sinful undeserving men and women had to be saved by the perfect work and person of Jesus Christ AND B. the message that those saved imperfect men and women are also kept by the perfect work and person of Jesus Christ. Where we began our Christian walk (the cross and resurrection), is where we are to continue it, and that’s where we will remain awestruck for all eternity (Rev 5).

If the cross of Christ and our unworthiness to deserve one ounce of God’s grace are not continually on the forefront of our minds we will fall into a perilous trap; the performance trap. This dangerous place is where all of our serving, discipling, worshipping, evangelizing and holy living merely become ways we perform our duty to God. And when we fail (which we inevitably will) to do those things rightly we believe we have failed to please God. But gospel freedom is found in this: We can’t please God. The Son has already pleased Father decisively and perfectly for us (Mark 1:11).

God’s  generous standing towards you has not changed one iota because of failure on your part to witness better, live holier, and love people more deeply (Hebrews 13:8). We are “in Christ” so God no longer sees an enemy but His own beloved Son when looking at us.

And to the confident one who believes they are innocent on most all accounts, the gospel reminds us even on our best days we deserve hell (Romans 3:11-18). The blood of Jesus has a unique way of lifting up the humbled and humbling those who are lifted up.

That’s why we should preach the gospel to ourselves everyday. Because that continues to be exceedingly good, er, great news for the rest of our lives.

The believer must keep believing the gospel for every day life until their dying day.  Simply put, the religious performance mentality says “I do the work, now I am accepted by God.” The gospel of Grace says, “I am accepted by God in Christ, now I will do work.” All pure expressions of sacrifice and service are driven by and centered around an understanding of the grace given to us in the gospel. As Paul put succinctly, “If you began in the Spirit, why do you continue in the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)

This is probably just a character flaw of my own but I feel it most when singing certain types of worship songs. Are the song lyrics about “my love” “my devotion” “my sacrifice” and how much “I want” God? I’ll be honest: Many (most) times I don’t experience any of those glorified emotions. My love unto God is pitiful most days.

But thank God, there is another type of hymn/praise/worship song out there. Are the song lyrics about “God’s love” “God’s devotion” “God’s sacrifice” and how much “God wants” us as His bride? God’s love is manifestly excellent in all of its perfect beauty. My love for Him isn’t worth singing about, His love for me is and will be for all eternity (1 John 3:1).

Is our worship God centered or man centered? The answer to that may be more subtle than what we first think.

Let’s not pretend we can graduate from the gospel of Jesus and on to deeper things. The gospel is the deep thing. There is an ocean of grace here we will never plumb the depths of. And it is a ocean we need to be diligent to dive our hearts and minds into on a daily basis. As Jerry Bridges says,

“Your best days are never so good you are beyond the need of the gospel. Your worst days are never so bad you are beyond the reach of the gospel.”

Believer, let’s keep believing the gospel of grace and shun the performance mentality of our former lives. And please, for the sake of all things good, don’t make me quote another Toby Keith song.

Amen.

Bryan Daniels