Entries tagged with “John Piper”.


It seems almost sacrilege to even mention that Christmas might have a darkside.  What could be bad about a holiday that celebrates the birth of the Savior? Or giving and getting gifts?

Some of the modern day darkness is easy to point out – the fact that it takes until February or March for the average American to pay off their Christmas-related debt or the fact that the commercialization of Christmas has made it the most important time of year for retail stores.  Yes this is some of the darkness, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.

On Friday night Tim discussed with us the dark beginnings of what we have come to know as Christmas.  The key Scripture is pretty blunt, Matthew 2:16-18 says it all – Herod slaughtered all the male children under 2 years old. But the pain and suffering started before that.

The suffering started when God spoke and told both Mary & Elizabeth their “good news” about their forthcoming children. The news strained Mary & Joseph’s relationship – Joseph knew he wasn’t the father, “Mary is there something you are hiding?” The broader family and community were hurt by this scandal of a pre-marital pregnancy.  The trip to Bethlehem (which was necessary to fulfill prophecy) was painful on the very pregnant Mary and not so easy on Joseph either.  Actually the census was painful on everyone in the country.  Then you have Zecharia’s disbelief and his ensuing muteness. All of this is capped off by Herod’s evilness and desire to kill the so called King by slaughtering thousands of innocent babies.

Yes the pain and suffering surrounding the birth of Christ is immense. Tim also pointed out that if you look through the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1, you not only see kings, but you see a rag tag group of hurt people. Victims of slavery, rape, war, and much more.  One good (?) aspect of all the suffering is that ultimately no one was spared. Every socio-economic group, every age group, and every gender was adversity affected by pain and suffering.

So why all the pain and suffering? Because God is a narcissist and like to see us suffer? Not so much and actually quite the opposite. The Gospel is a real story of good news which can help redeem our own pain and suffering. Our cultural focus is all about the hope, joy, peace on earth, and goodwill to men, but this is way outside the reality for most of us. Our holiday season is fraught with painful memories, family tensions, financial struggles, etc. It is reassuring to realize that from the beginning Jesus knew and understood suffering.

God’s plans is to suffer with us throughout our lives. But not the kind of dejected suffering where you see no hope. God understands our pain and wants to be a part of it. He wants us to connect with the heartache and not disconnect from it. He doesn’t want us to cover it over with alcohol or spending sprees. Nor does He want us to jump head first into painful and dangerous situations. Ultimately when we pull away from our suffering we are pulling away from God and the grace and peace He can offer us through Christ.

Finally, God suffered for us, bringing redemption into our lives. Redemption is amazing and unbelievable. God wants to turn our ratty lives into something awesome and indescribable. The Christmas story is one of hope because we know the rest of Christ’s story. We know that He suffered, died, was buried, and ultimately rose again – defeating Satan and providing a way for us to find eternal life.

We know that suffering will end eventually, but it is also part of the experience and we need to learn to try and embrace it and praise God through it.

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Tim ended the evening with John Piper reading his book The Innkeeper which is a great story about the suffering of the innkeeper and his meeting with the adult Jesus.

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One of the benefits of living in the Twin Cities is living in close proximity to John Piper and his Bethlehem Baptist Church. Many of my friends have been very excited for us to go see him. We did some research and found one of the 3 campuses is very close to where we are staying. It was in a high school auditorium, so that was a different atmosphere from what we expected. Because of the three campuses, Piper rotates and speaks live at a different one each week while the others receive a live video feed. We were pleased to actually attend a service he was speaking at in person!

It was a little interesting that we had a conversation on the way to church about Calvinism and Armenianism. We both grew up in Armenian background churches and the message we heard from Piper was quite strongly Calvinistic. I am by no means a theologian so I sometimes miss the subtle nuances, but this was pretty clear about pre-destination and the new birth. You can hear the podcast version or see the full text.

The main text of the message was 1 Peter 1:13-25. I won’t go through the whole sermon but here are some of the highlights:

Imperishable was a big word that Piper spent some time unpacking. It is used three times in the text and refers to our inheritance, value, and seed.
Inheritance – We are “born again to a living hope.” So the emphasis falls on the hope of our new life. It lives—and will not die. It inherits an imperishable inheritance. That’s the emphasis. Our new life in the new birth is forever. We will never die.
Value – The blood of Christ is of infinite value, and therefore its value never runs out. It is an imperishable value. That is how we are ransomed. That’s the price of the new life we receive in new birth. And Jesus paid it for us.
Seed – The seed that comes through the word of God is imperishable, and therefore the life that it generates and sustains is imperishable.

Piper also spent some time unpacking his thoughts about salvation. He says that the Holy Spirit calls us to salvation. We can reject or accept this salvation, but ultimately if God has called us into heaven He will make Himself so irresistible that we can’t reject salvation. This is where Calvin really shines through. It lead to some interesting discussions afterwards!!

I really liked what Piper had to say about the Living Christ is our Living Hope to carry us through each day.

Finally Piper talked about the role God plays and we play in our new birth. He focused only a little time as these are topics for future sermons. Here is the excerpt:

1) He ransomed us from sin and wrath by the blood of Christ and paid the debt for sinners to have eternal life. 2) He raised Jesus from the dead so that union with Jesus gives eternal life that never fades away. 3) And He called us from darkness to light and from death to life through the gospel and gave us eyes to see and hears to hear. He made the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ shine in our hearts through the gospel. And we believed. We embraced Christ for the treasure that he is.

We like much of Piper’s writings so we are going to check out the downtown church to see what the atmosphere is like and see how it compares to other churches we’ve experienced in the Twin Cities. We’ll keep you posted!

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It was a very busy first week of our new adventure in Minneapolis.

I posted earlier on the first part of the week.  The rest of the week was just as busy and fun-filled.

Wednesday was another training day.  The morning was spent learning basics of volunteer management and then the afternoon was spent with the state Americorps people learning about poverty.  We watched a video, People Like Us, which had some interesting information and perspectives.  I’ve learned a lot about the poverty perspective, but this video also included interviews with the “elite rich.” We then did a poverty simulation, during which my “family” ran out of money a couple of times.  In the discussion period we talked about the safety supports we the “middle class” have and how the poor often don’t.

Thursday was the the first day at my new school.  Sanford is a small middle school in the system but has a high percentage of immigrants and free lunch kids. I got to meet the principal who will be my site supervisor and some of the other support staff.  Most of the teachers were teaching! I got to meet a few of the kids during a Lunch with the Principal.

Friday was a regular VISTA meeting day to check-in and debrief about the past few weeks and what is coming up.  This was the first time I got to meet the rest of the VISTA’s serving in the Minneapolis Public Schools. It seems like a pretty good group of 20 something’s.

It wasn’t all work! We did manage to have some fun. Thursday night I went to Lake Calhoun to run, after stopping by our house and picking up mail. We spent those nights at the hotel, just relaxing.  Friday night we went with Kristofer and Amy to IKEA.  We had planned on going to the Mall of America, but spent too much time at IKEA.  But we got a really good deal on a wardrobe segment.  Originally $70 we got it from the As Is section for $15.  The box was a little torn up, but were told that everything should still be inside.  That was very exciting!

Saturday we went to explore Minneapolis and went to Minnehaha Falls Park.  It was very beautiful, and frozen over!  We were able to walk around on the ice covered creek.  I’ll post some pictures later, but here is the album (if you can’t wait).  We saw American Gangster at a very cool looking 1940’s style Riverview Theater.

To top the weekend off we got to hear John Piper speak, live at Bethlehem Baptist Church.  He rotates between the 3 sites, his sermons are played live via video links, so it was quite cool to actually attend the right site to hear him speak.

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Written by John Piper in 1997, A Hunger for God is an excellent book to understand the importance of prayer and fasting in our pursuit of God.  With 181 pages of compelling insights and discussion Piper takes the reader through the Biblical arguments for an often forgotten part of worship and desiring God, FASTING. He includes many historical theologians in his narrative and ends the book with a 29 page appendix of quotes from Ignatus to Bill Bright.

I enjoyed and was challenged by this book to begin adding a fast into my pursuit of God.  Piper makes it clear that while traditional fasting is focused on food, that does not have to be the case.  I can fast from anything that is a part of my life that I would actually miss such as running, food, and computer-time.  He also said that you don’t even need to abstain from your chosen fast for a whole day, it could be as simple as skipping lunch and using that time to spend in communion with God.

Piper is clear and pretty adamant that fasting be done only as a way to purify ourselves and to make us weak in front of God to “express to him our need and our great longing that he would manifest himself more fully in our lives for the joy of our soul and the glory of his name.”

The only part of the book I really didn’t like was the last chapter which was entitled “Fasting for the Little Ones: Abortion and the Sovereignty of God over False Worldviews.”  I appreciate and agree with the overall argument of the chapter that we can use fasting as a way to change the community and “corporate values.” I just personally don’t think that using the issue of abortion was a smart choice.  I think Piper could have found a less controversial issue within Christendom to make his point.

I would recommend this book to everyone who hungers for God and wants to learn a different method of getting fed.

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