Guarding your wallet?

Today over at the DesiringGod blog Marshall Segal writes about money (“Four Questions to Keep Close to Your Wallet”). His opening line is right on: “It’s hard to imagine many things more maligned in Scripture than money.”
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He opens by putting the topic in the big picture for Christians –—

At the end of the day, we must each know our own hearts and be willing to ask what role money is playing in our thoughts and affections. Is it a means of worshiping God or a means of replacing him? Is our budget highlighting the sufficiency and worth of Christ or has it become a reason for boasting in or treasuring something other than him?

He then presents & discusses four questions we should be asking:

1. Is my spending marked by Christian generosity?

2. What does my spending say about what makes me most happy?

3. Does my spending suggest I’m collecting for this life?

4. Is my spending explicitly supporting the spread of the gospel?

I encourage you to click through and read the whole thing at the DesiringGod blog. Thanks Marshall Segal.

Should Christians be watching “Game of Thrones”?

John Piper gives a very candid and inspiring reply here entitled 12 Questions to Ask Before You Watch ‘Game of Thrones’.

In the midst of that post he makes this blunt statement:

“The world does not need more cool, hip, culturally savvy, irrelevant copies of itself. That is a hoax that has duped thousands of young Christians. They think they have to be hip, cool, savvy, culturally aware, watching everything in order not to be freakish. And that is undoing them morally and undoing their witness.’

Amen.
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Duties to a Shepherd

Many good reflections about the nature of pastoral ministry in a local church, have emerged in connection with the retirement of John Piper from Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis, MN) after 30+ years there. He wrote a ‘Final Open Letter to My Flock’ in which he expressed his thankfulness for blessings received as a shepherd of the Lord’s flock there. Excerpts include these:
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As far as I know every biblical blessing that a flock owes its shepherd you have given to me during our life together.

• You received my preaching as the word of God; it became active in you, and transformed our life together (1 Thess. 2:13).

• You responded supportively to my leadership knowing I would have to give an account for your souls, and you helped me do this ‘with joy and not with groaning, for that would have been of no advantage to you’ (Heb. 13:17).

• I have spoken freely to you, and opened my heart to you, and been vulnerable with you; and you have cared for me, and opened your hearts wide to me also (2 Cor. 6:11–13).

• You have never assumed that I was above the need for encouragement, and have turned this church into a place where we have been ‘mutually en- couraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine’ (Rom. 1:12).

• You have not muzzled this ox, but have shared all good things with him who teaches. I have never been in need (1 Tim. 5:18; Gal. 6:6).

• You have multiplied my joy with your biblical faithfulness, for ‘I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth’ (3 Jn 1:4).

• You have treasured Christ and become the mirror of his worth. And for that you are my ‘hope and joy and crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming’ (1 Thess. 2:19).

50,135 — so one free book!

Thanks to my many visitors and readers for pushing my blog past 50,000 visits since 2007. I am really honored by the attention to my little posts. Of course, 5% of the visitors were simply searching for “feather pen” and they somehow landed here (and looked around, I hope). I can say that taking time to write here helps me better reflect on things above.

In celebration of this milestone — and of the fact that YOU are reading this post — I am giving away a FREE book: FOR THE FAME OF GOD’S NAME (about John Piper & his ministry) by Sam Storms & Justin Taylor.

TO ENTER:  subscribe to this blog (either by email or by RSS) and leave a comment to this post saying you’ve done so. If you subscribe this week (or already subscribe) and comment below you will be entered in the drawing. On Monday, September 10th, I will select someone at random from all those who’ve entered. Please make sure I have some way to reach you (an email address; I will not keep those after the give-away). I hope this works.

Thanks for visiting!
~ pdb

The New Birth is Unsettling

“You must be born again,” said Jesus (John 3). If we take Jesus’ words seriously, they will have an unsettling effect upon us. John Piper, in his book Finally Alive, describes three reasons for this…

(1) These words confront us “with our hopeless spiritual and moral and legal condition apart from God’s regenerating grace. Before the new birth happens to us, we are spiritually dead; we are morally selfish and rebellious; and we are legally guilty before God’s law and under His wrath.”

(2) These words “refer to something that is done to us, not something we do. …God causes the new birth; we don’t.” See 1st Peter 1:3.

“We do not cause the new birth. God causes the new birth. Any spiritually good thing that we do is a result of the new birth, not a cause of the new birth. This means that the new birth is taken out of our hands. It is not in our control. And so it confronts us with our helplessness and our absolute dependence on Someone outside ourselves. This is unsettling.” ~ John Piper

(3) These words of Jesus, ‘You must be born again,’ confront us with “the absolute freedom of God. …if we are going to be born again, it will reply decisively and ultimately on God.”

Unsettled now? Seek the Lord while He may be found. Cry out for mercy and grace. He freely gives these to those who ask Him.

~ pdb

Read your Bibles more

“Don’t rest on past reading. Read your Bible more and more every year. Read it whether you feel like reading it or not. And pray without ceasing that the joy return and pleasures increase” said John Piper in a January blog post.

While some might feel this is arm-twisting, or hear this as mere duty, Piper goes on to give three reasons this is not legalism — and then quotes the helpful JC Ryle:

(1) You are confessing your lack of desire as sin, and pleading as a helpless child for the desire you long to have. Legalists don’t cry like that. They strut.

(2) You are reading out of desperation for the effects of this heavenly medicine. Bible-reading is not a cure for a bad conscience; it’s chemo for your cancer. Legalists feel better because the box is checked. Saints feel better when their blindness lifts, and they see Jesus in the word. Let’s get real. We are desperately sick with worldliness, and only the Holy Spirit, by the word of God, can cure this terminal disease.

(3) It is not legalism because only justified people can see the preciousness and power of the Word of God. Legalists trudge with their Bibles on the path toward justification. Saints sit down in the shade of the cross and plead for the blood-bought pleasures.

So lets give heed to Mr. Ryle and never grow weary of the slow, steady, growth that comes from the daily, disciplined, increasing, love affair with reading the Bible.

Do not think you are getting no good from the Bible, merely because you do not see that good day by day. The greatest effects are by no means those which make the most noise, and are most easily observed. The greatest effects are often silent, quiet, and hard to detect at the time they are being produced.

Think of the influence of the moon upon the earth, and of the air upon the human lungs. Remember how silently the dew falls, and how imperceptibly the grass grows. There may be far more doing than you think in your soul by your Bible-reading.
(J. C. Ryle, Practical Religion, 136)

What to do if you wake up feeling fragile?

My former pastor John Piper has answered this question online

There are mornings when I wake up feeling fragile. Vulnerable. It’s often vague. No single threat. No one weakness. Just an amorphous sense that something is going to go wrong and I will be responsible. It’s usually after a lot of criticism. Lots of expectations that have deadlines and that seem too big and too many.

As I look back over about 50 years of such periodic mornings, I am amazed how the Lord Jesus has preserved my life. And my ministry. The temptation to run away from the stress has never won out — not yet anyway. This is amazing. I worship him for it.

How has he done this? By desperate prayer and particular promises. I agree with Spurgeon: I love the “I wills” and the “I shalls” of God.

Instead of letting me sink into a paralysis of fear, or run to a mirage of greener grass, he has awakened a cry for help and then answered with a concrete promise.

Here’s an example. This is recent. I woke up feeling emotionally fragile. Weak. Vulnerable. I prayed: “Lord help me. I’m not even sure how to pray.”

An hour later I was reading in Zechariah, seeking the help I had cried out for. It came. The prophet heard great news from an angel about Jerusalem:

Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it. And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst. (Zechariah 2:4–5)

There will be such prosperity and growth for the people of God that Jerusalem will not be able to be walled in any more. “The multitude of people and livestock” will be so many that Jerusalem will be like many villages spreading out across the land without walls.

But walls are necessary! They are the security against lawless hordes and enemy armies. Villages are fragile, weak, vulnerable. Prosperity is nice, but what about protection?

To which God says in Zechariah 2:5, “I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord.” Yes. That’s it. That is the promise. The “I will” of God. That is what I need. And if it is true for the vulnerable villages of Jerusalem, it is true for me a child of God. God will be a “wall of fire all around me.” Yes. He will. He has been. And he will be.

And it gets better. Inside that fiery wall of protection he says, “And I will be the glory in her midst.” God is never content to give us the protection of his fire; he will give us pleasure of his presence.
This was sweet to me. This carried me for days. I took this with me to the pulpit. I took it with me to family gatherings. I took it to staff meetings. I took it to phone calls and emails.

This has been my deliverance every time since I was first marking my King James Bible at age 15. God has rescued me with cries for help and concrete promises. This time he said: “I will be to her a wall of fire all around, and I will be the glory in her midst.”

Cry out to him. Then ransack the Bible for his appointed promise. We are fragile. But he is not.

What should Christians think Osama bin Laden’s death?

We do well to begin with the question, “What does GOD think of the death of Osama bin Laden?” The answer(s) found in the Bible might surprise you. Let me direct you to the wise, helpful, and biblical words of Pastor John Piper at his blog:

God’s emotions are complex—like yours, only a million times more. Right now, your emotions about bin Laden are not simple, i.e. not single. There are several, and they intermingle. That is a good thing. You are God-like.

In response to Osama bin Laden’s death, quite a few tweets and blogs have cited the biblical truth that “God does not delight in the death of the wicked.” That is true.

It is also true that God does delight in the death of the wicked. There are things about every death that God approves in themselves and things about every death that God disapproves in themselves.

Is God Double-Minded?

This is not double talk. All thoughtful people make such distinctions. For example, if my daughter asks me if I like a movie, I might say yes or no to the same movie. Why? Because a movie can be assessed for its 1) acting, 2) plot, 3) cinematography, 4) nudity, 5) profanity, 6) suspense, 7) complexity, 8) faithfulness to the source, 9) reverence for God, 10) accurate picture of human nature, etc., etc., etc.

So my answer is almost always “yes, in some ways, and no in other ways.” But sometimes I will simply say yes, and sometimes no, because of extenuating circumstances.

Here is why I say God approves and disapproves
(click through for rest of Piper’s thoughts)

Pastor Piper goes on to explain the two sides of his answer under these headings:
In one sense, human death is not God’s pleasure (Ezekiel 18:23, 32)
In another sense, the death and judgment of the unrepentant is God’s pleasure (several verses)

~ pdb

Piper & Sproul, honest and passionate dealers in truth


*(title of this post has been changed by pdb)

John Piper and R C Sproul were recently together at the Ligonier conference in Florida. Two very significant men, representing two very significant ministries in our day (Desiring God & Ligonier). I can easily say that these men (I’ve met both) and their books have greatly shaped my own theology and ministry.

In a simple blog post about them and this event (by Justin Taylor), the following comment was made about why these men appeal so well to the younger generation….

Why, under God, are people attracted to the teaching of Dr. Sproul and Dr. Piper? Why do so many folks see them as “spiritual fathers”?

One reason is that younger believers, in particular, have highly attuned “boloney detectors” (to use the technical term). They are hypersensitive to hypocrisy and phoniness. And when they hear Dr. Sproul and Dr. Piper teach and preach, they hear authority and authenticity, truth and love, passion and power, combined in a compelling and arresting way. It’s not merely the God-centered, biblically saturated content. It’s that this deep theology is creatively presented and passionately believed. These men do not merely teach; they herald, they summon, they exhort, they plead, they yearn. In a way that’s difficult to describe in a non-clichéd way, the timber of their voices contains both sorrow and joy. And in that sense, I think they echo the tone of their sorrowful-yet-always-rejoicing Savior.

You can read the whole post here, and visit the Ligonier site for links to the conference video, etc. In 2009, at Piper’s 30th anniversary in ministry, I wrote about my time serving under him at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis here and again here.

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A Prayer for Japan…

In view of the terrible and destructive events in Japan, Pastor John Piper helps us pray…

Father in heaven, you are the absolute Sovereign over the shaking of the earth, the rising of the sea, and the raging of the waves. We tremble at your power and bow before your unsearchable judgments and inscrutable ways. We cover our faces and kiss your omnipotent hand. We fall helpless to the floor in prayer and feel how fragile the very ground is beneath our knees.

O God, we humble ourselves under your holy majesty and repent. In a moment—in the twinkling of an eye—we too could be swept away. We are not more deserving of firm ground than our fellowmen in Japan. We too are flesh. We have bodies and homes and cars and family and precious places. We know that if we were treated according to our sins, who could stand? All of it would be gone in a moment. So in this dark hour we turn against our sins, not against you.

And we cry for mercy for Japan. Mercy, Father. Not for what they or we deserve. But mercy.

Have you not encouraged us in this? Have we not heard a hundred times in your Word the riches of your kindness, forbearance, and patience? Do you not a thousand times withhold your judgments, leading your rebellious world toward repentance? Yes, Lord. For your ways are not our ways, and your thoughts are not our thoughts.

Grant, O God, that the wicked will forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Grant us, your sinful creatures, to return to you, that you may have compassion. For surely you will abundantly pardon. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus, your beloved Son, will be saved.

May every heart-breaking loss—millions upon millions of losses—be healed by the wounded hands of the risen Christ. You are not unacquainted with your creatures’ pain. You did not spare your own Son, but gave him up for us all.

In Jesus you tasted loss. In Jesus you shared the overwhelming flood of our sorrows and suffering. In Jesus you are a sympathetic Priest in the midst of our pain.

Deal tenderly now, Father, with this fragile people. Woo them. Win them. Save them.

And may the floods they so much dread make blessings break upon their head.

O let them not judge you with feeble sense, but trust you for your grace. And so behind this providence, soon find a smiling face.

In Jesus’ merciful name, Amen.