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May 20, 2009

It’s a question I’m asked fairly often. “Have you ever blogged a conference and heard a speaker you really disagreed with?” I’ve always been able to say “no.” Until today. Now I want to be careful here. Flip Flippen, a life coach and psychotherapist, did not ever claim to be preaching. He did not bring his Bible to the front of the room and did not seek to preach from Scripture. Yet speak he did, and this in front of a room full of pastors seeking encouragement in their calling. He spoke of something called “constraint theory.” A constraint, as he defines it, is anything that hinders a person’s performance. Flippen often works with athletes or businessmen, helping them seek and find the constraints that are hindering them in their vocations. His underlying theory seems to be this: Those with the least personal constraints win. Hence people who want to be winners in whatever job, those who want to do the best work, will have to seek out and remove personal constraints.

In some ways this is obvious and harmless since we all have character flaws and these often hold us back. But what of the Holy Spirit’s role in seeking and mortifying indwelling sin? When Flippen claimed that King David committed adultery with Bathsheba because he had a personal constraint by which he was unable to see his self-control problems, well, that’s awfully close to replacing sin with personal constraints. I might not go so far as to say that what Flippen shared today was unbiblical because I don’t think his ideas were sufficiently developed. But I’d say at the very least it was sub-biblical. It was a talk more suited for a corporate board room, I think, than a pastors’ conference; and even then, I would want to hear from him how personal constraint and sin are the same and/or different. And if personal constraints point to sin, what is our role and what is God’s role in putting such sin to death? This talk seemed strangely out of place compared to Voddie Baucham who preceded him and John Piper, who followed.

Speaking of John Piper, he delivered a great message on the new birth. I just happened to have heard roughly this same message the week before at The Basics Conference in Ohio. I’ll share my notes for it again, but first with this observation. I think preaching this message here at Moody was a little bit different than preaching it at Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. I would not say the group listening last night was in any way hostile, but, well, preaching a distinctly Calvinistic doctrine of the new birth in Alistair Begg’s church is quite a bit easier than preaching it at Moody. Having said that, the audience seemed very engaged and Piper preached over many shouts of “Amen!” He delivered it with his trademark passion and I enjoyed it as much the second time as I had the first.

He answered four questions related to the doctrine of the new birth:

What happens? Why is it so necessary? How does it happen? How do we participate in the happening as preachers?

What Happens in the New Birth?
Life happens! God does not give new religion, but new life. Jesus knows that there are religious dead people and that Nicodemus is one of them; he knows that Nicodemus needs to be born, to be given life. When you are born of the flesh, all you are is flesh; you are humanity minus God. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit—which means you do not have a living spirit now (because you are dead). The Holy Spirit needs to come upon you and breathe this new life into you. We are now spiritually alive.

Why Is the New Birth So Necessary?
Piper offered ten biblical descriptions of man apart from the new birth, ten reasons we need to be born again. As bad as the news is, it’s glorious to get it right because there is a glorious remedy. When we properly understand our own badness, we see Christ more gloriously.

Apart from the new birth we are dead
Apart from the new birth we are by nature children of wrath
Apart from the new birth we love darkness and hate light
Apart from the new birth we have hearts that are hard like stone
Apart from the new birth we are unable to submit to God
Apart from the new birth we are unable to except the gospel
Apart from the new birth we are unable to come to Christ or embrace him as Lord
Apart from the new birth we are slaves to sin
Apart from the new birth we are slaves of Satan
Apart from the new birth no good thing dwells in me

How Does it Happen?
He offered four steps (though steps was really not quite the right word):

First, the Holy Spirit freely gives life. There is no how-to here at all; he must sovereignly do this.

Second, this happens through the living and abiding Word of God. We see here the human agency of the divine sovereign awakening of dead souls.

Third, the gospel brings about faith. Believing is the result, not the cause of the new birth.

Fourth, Christ is received and believed upon.

These four steps cannot be carved apart—they must happen simultaneously.

How Do Pastors Participate?
Jesus said to Paul in Acts 26 “I send you to open their eyes.” How can this be (after all that has just been said)? Is this an act of God or an act of the pastor? Piper answered this with an analogy. You can’t make God do anything, but neither can you make electricity but this doesn’t stop you from flipping a light switch. Don’t let the fact that you can’t cause the new birth keep you from preaching the gospel! The pastors’ task is an impossible one and thus one that must be empowered by God.

A couple of brief notes. First, I think Piper coined a word tonight: Crushedness. I don’t think I could successfully use it in a sentence. Second, he spoke of growing older and his increasing knowledge of his own sin. “The longer I live the less optimistic I am that I will end without sin and the more grateful I become for the blood of Christ imputed to me. As I grow older I do not feel myself becoming gloriously holy but I find myself feeling great love for the gospel.” I thought that was rather thought-provoking.

And that wrapped up the day here at reFocus. Today we hear from a selection of speakers, most of which are unknown to me. I am also going to be leading a breakout session this morning. I’ll check in again sometime later in the day!

May 28, 2007

When I take the time to do some edits to these live-blogged articles I often notice how often it is that speakers change from “me” to “you” to “us.” When I run through these articles I see this all the time and am tempted to change it, but generally choose to leave things just as they are. So if you see me go from first person to second person to third person, chances are that is just the way the speaker spoke. And now you’ll start looking for it!

One other quick note: when I go to conferences I often challenge whoever accompanies me to guess how long it will take before we sing “In Christ Alone.” We usually guess by sessions (i.e. “I guess it will be in the third worship session” or “I guess it will be in the fifth worship session.”). It took us until the fifth worship session at this conference, but that has now given this song the distinction of being the only one that has been sung at each of the six conferences I’ve attended this year. It is possible that “Amazing Grace” has also been featured at all of them, but I don’t think it has been.

This afternoon we had the privilege of hearing John Piper preach. And best of all, he preached the message that has been at the very foundation of everything he has said and written since his ministry began: that the deepest pleasures for God are pleasures in God. It went something like this:

He began with a seven question discernment test. The first five answers were universal and the final two personal.

Who is the most God-centered person in the universe? God.

Who is uppermost in God’s affections? God.

Is God an idolator? No.

What is God’s chief jealousy? To be known and admired and trusted and obeyed above all others.

What is the chief end of God? To glorify God and enjoy Himself forever.

Do you feel most loved by God because He makes much of you or because He frees you to make much of Him forever?

Are you God-centered because God is supremely valuable to you or are you God-centered because you believe you are supremely valuable to Him?

People bristle at what Piper is about to say—about this message he has been preaching for so many years. He has found that there is a way of looking at the truth that stirs up people’s sediment of pride. The root of pride is not severed without seeing that God keeps the first commandment to love God above all else. The root of pride is not seen until we know that God does everything to the glory of God. It is not until we know that God sees Christ as supremely valuable and until we really like it that God has no other gods before Him and that He alone is God in His own eyes.

He will argue from the Bible that God is supremely valuable to God and that there is no more God-centered person in the world. Jonathan Edwards, as you probably know, was the one who opened his eyes to this. If God does an illumining work so you see this, you’ll never read the Bible in the same way and you’ll see this everywhere in the Bible.

First Piper walked us through the Bible, taking the high points of redemptive history to see what God says about what He does. The answer is always the same: that He does it for His glory. He did this under six headings:

Predestination - Ephesians 1:5-6 – “God predestined us…unto the praise of the glory of His grace.” As clear as day it says that God’s design in your predestination is His glory.

Creation – Isaiah 43:6-7 – “Everyone whom I created for my glory.” Everything is made to make God look good and for the display of His glory. We are to magnify Him like a telescope (which makes huge things look more like they really are), not a microscope (which makes small things look big).

Incarnation – Romans 15:8-9 – “Christ became a servant…to glorify God for His mercy.” You get the mercy and He gets the glory. The reason for His mercy is to bring glory to Himself. The ultimate integrating motif of the Bible is the glory of God (and not, as so many believe, the love of God).

Propitiation – Romans 3:25-26 – Paul says that if God is to pass over sins the Son of God has to die in order to demonstrate His righteousness. The problem is in verse 23: “all have sin and fallen short of the glory of God.” And now we’re back to glory again. Sin is an attitude or action that belittles the glory of God, making a choice that can only be explained that we value something else more than the glory of God. Sin is something you do when you don’t treasure God’s glory as you should. You trample His glory in your simple preference for something else. God could not just pass this over or He would be unrighteous. There are only two ways that God can vindicate the worth of His glory: by sending you to hell or by accepting Christ’s death on your behalf. So there, right in the center of the gospel message, is God’s God-centeredness.

Sanctification – Philippians 1:9-11 – This is a prayer in which Paul asks God to do something in accord with His own designs. He prays that people’s love may abound so that they may be filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ to the praise and the glory of God. Paul asks that God would pursue His own glory. He asks that we may be sanctified unto the praise and glory of His name.

Consummation – 2 Thessalonians 1:9 – Jesus is returning to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at among all who have believed. He is coming to be glorified and to be magnified. That is why He is coming, ultimately. There are other things He will do, but this is the ultimate.

We could spend another hour doing this but these suffice to show that God does everything for the ultimate reason of bringing glory to Himself. In everything He does He is exalting Himself.

There are some biblical reasons that a person might squirm at this. The most obvious is that this doesn’t sound loving, since, after all, “love does not seek its own.” But we can’t just write off all of these texts. There are other understandings of “love does not seek its own.” It is not wrong for God to seek His own glory in saving sinners. Many people believe God would be morally defective to demand worship. So what is the answer to God’s God-centeredness being morally defective? The answer is that we define love in the wrong way. We define love, morality, to mean being made much of. “You make much of me and I will like the way you love me.” But this is not the Bible’s definition.

Here is what love means in the Bible: love labors, plans, suffers to enthrall the beloved with what is totally and eternally satisfying. It is a heart commitment to plan and labor and suffer and if necessary to die to enthrall the beloved with that which will totally and eternally satisfy their soul. That’s love! Here’s the catch: God is the one being in the universe who, to do that, must be self-exalting. If God plays a mock humility He would be hateful and cruel. He would withdraw from us and bury the one thing that will satisfy our souls totally and forever, namely, Himself! This is not a morally defective God. This is not an unloving God. God is the one being for whom the highest virtue is self-exaltation is the most loving act because in exalting Himself he offers to me the one thing that will satisfy my soul forever and ever and ever.

Piper shared the mission statement for his church (which also happens to be his personal mission statement): “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” Some people have asked, “Where is love for people in there?” This mission statement is the definition of love for people. The church exists to spread a passion for the supremacy of God means that it exists to love. What else would people want to do other than to enthrall people with God’s supremacy in everything forever in Christ? What more can be added except practical outworkings of how one might display that passion. The essence of God’s love is to do whatever He has to do to make Himself our joy and satisfaction.

So here was his closing exhortation: Do not, in your quest to be a discerning generation, begrudge God’s God-centeredness. If life has taught Piper anything it’s that this truth is like true north in his life’s compass. He does not have answers to many, many questions but it is amazing how to have one good, clear, solid, true north in your compass sheds light on anything. Does this behavior conform to this reality of God’s pervasive and eternal God-centeredness? Does it conform to the meaning of the love of God of spending Himself at the cost of His Son’s life to save me for His glory?

I’ll be back in a few hours when Piper takes to the pulpit again.

October 20, 2006

Friday October 20, 2006

Conference: Jacob Hantla will be liveblogging the God is the Gospel Desiring God Regional Conference this weekend. John Piper will be speaking. Check in for updates.

Reformation: The Synod of Dordt poster from Reformation Art is now ready and looking good. “It is an impressive 24” x 36”, printed on 100 pound cover stock paper and treated with an aqueous protective coating.”

Church: You know the church is in a sad state when it relies on this kind of gimmicks to draw people in and keep them there!

Evangelism: The Reformed Evangelist has a link to a Way of the Master video which answers Rob Bell’s “Bullhorn Guy” film.

Discernment: The Point (Breakpoint’s blog) has an interesting article about The Lost Tools of Discerning.

October 05, 2006

Thursday October 5, 2006

Weird: Canada will be broadcasting a new show called “Little Mosque on the Prairie.” “Instead of raising pitchforks, tumbling down hills and selling eggs at the general store, this fictional Muslim family struggles to find its place in Canada’s vast western prairies in a post-September 11, 2001 world.”

Humor: Mumbled Musings has some funny reflections on the Calvinists at the Desiring God conference.

Driscoll: I think everyone else in the blogosphere has already posted this, a friendly discussion between Piper and Driscoll.

Weird: Some Japanese guy recently recited pi to the 100,000th digit. And I have trouble forcing myself to memorize a single verse of Scripture.

September 01, 2006


Desiring God has launched their new web site. While the site design has not changed drastically, it is a little bit cleaner and a tad more contemporary. The changes are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and this is often a good thing. But behind the design lurk some great new features. Rather than describe them myself, I will provide the brief summary supplied by the webmaster.

We are pleased to announce the new desiringGod.org, which we have redesigned from the ground up. We invite you to enjoy our new site and offer you this quick summary of what is new to help get you started.

Our New Site is Easier to Use

First, you will find our new website even easier to use. We want you thinking hard about what we have to say in our sermons and messages—not about how to use our site. You will find improved organization and navigation that allows you to:

  • Always know where you are on the site, and quickly get from one spot to another

  • Discover related content more easily

  • Browse our resources and products in multiple ways, such as our sermons by date, Scripture text, series, topic, occasion, or title

  • See what resources we recommend as most fully articulating our essential ideas, many featured with short audio excerpts to help give you the big picture.

  • Explore an improved topic index

  • View your search results in tabs for each site section

  • Find helpful additional information on our more detailed product pages

  • Purchase, donate, and register for conferences more easily

  • Set up an account and manage your account information more easily

  • Learn about our ministry more easily in About Us

Our New Site Has More Content

Second, you will find an even more complete library of John Piper’s resources. We have added much additional content and several new types of content in our Resource Library. You can:

  • Listen to 25 years of John Piper’s sermon audio
  • Watch videos of the sermon each week (and over the next several months we will post our entire 4-year video archive)
  • Move quickly among the audio, video, and manuscript of a message in a single interface
  • Listen to and watch the messages in a new media player
  • Begin to find more than 200 previously unposted articles and “lost” sermons, as we post them over the next several months
  • Listen to audio questions and answers
  • Listen to and watch audio and video message excerpts
  • Subscribe to our weekly sermon podcast (coming soon) and daily radio podcast

Our goal has always been to serve you by providing God-centered resources from the ministry of John Piper. Now we hope that you will find that content even more accessible and easier to use.

As a web designer I understand the difficulties inherent in upgrading such a massive site. I know also of the inevitable complaints and criticism they will receive, for people tend to react negatively (and often blindly) to change. Still, I think they did a good job on this upgrade and am confident that the site will continue to serve the Christian community. Well done, Desiring God!

Desiring God National Conference News

Here is some related news. The Desiring God National Conference has sold out. I remember noting last year that, while the main part of the auditorium was filled, there were many seats available in the overflow seating. This year they will be full!

The conference organizers write:

We rejoice that so many of you will be with us, yet we also regret that more cannot attend. If you are interested in being added to a waiting list, please contact us at 1.888.346.4700.

Please keep praying for this event, that God would be glorified and his people blessed. Audio of the conference sessions will be made available for free online just a few days after the conference.

NOTE: There will be no on-site or walk-in registration.

March 08, 2004

The Passion of the Christ took in over $50 million this weekend to move past the $200 million mark in just 12 days. What was once thought to be a $30 million risk has turned into a bona fide blockbuster. But the box office is not the only place where money is rolling in.

The State features an article about Passion-related merchandising. Bob Siemon Designs, which created the nail pendant and Passion crucifix, has employees working extra shifts to try to keep up with demand. The Passion companion book with a foreward by Gibson is selling well. Anne Catherine Emmerich’s book The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ has also been selling well, rising to number 68 on Amazon’s best-sellers list on the day the movie opened.

There is no word on whether Bible sales have also risen accordingly.

The article mentions that John Piper’s book The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty Reasons Why He Came to Die has sold out the entire first run of 175,000 copies. I quite like Piper and am glad to hear the book is selling well. However, what the article does not mention is the book was being sold for $1 per copy through Piper’s ministry, so I am sure many of the copies have been sold at that price rather than at the $7.99 recommended price.