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Desiring God Conference 2005

October 10, 2005

I returned safely from Minneapolis last night. The journey home was quick and uneventful. While I had a wonderful time at the conference, I am always glad to return to the comforts of home and family. Today is Thanksgiving Day (yes, we celebrate it on a Monday unlike our American neighbors who prefer Thursday) so I intend to spend the day with my family. But first I thought I’d provide a few topical reflections on my weekend at the Desiring God National Conference.

Doug McHone

Doug is a nice guy - at least as nice as you’d expect if you’ve communicated with him via email or read his web site. His love for God and his desire to know Him more fully is evident within minutes of meeting the guy. He is far more out-going than I am and likes to talk just as much. One thing you probably did not know about Doug is that he shaves with Baby Magic, some sort of baby cream. He insists that he has sensitive skin, but I’m guessing he probably just wants to have baby-soft cheeks. If you ever have opportunity to spend some time with Doug (and that is unlikely because he lives precisely in the middle of nowhere) I’d recommend you take him up on that opportunity.

Justin Taylor

I did not get to spend as much time with Justin as I would have liked as Justin was kept busy taking care of John Piper. I have often wondered what the job description is for a “theological director” and after seeing one in action I believe it is composed of several aspects. First, compiling indexes for books. Second, chasing after the most eminent theologian within a certain proximity and making sure he stays hydrated and comfortable, whether that involves fanning him or giving him a back rub. Third, I think Justin is also responsible for security, a task he seems well-built to handle - he is a big guy and could make short work of me if I got too enthusiastic about insisting that Piper sign my copy of Desiring God. As for something you didn’t know about Justin, it would probably have to be that the wallpaper on his computer is a picture of the cast of “Dr Quinn Medicine Woman.” Oh, and the home page in his browser is Girl Talk blog. This is a guy who must be quite secure in his masculinity.

In all seriousness, Justin seemed like a deep and genuine guy who is very clearly well-suited to be a theological director. I’m sure we’ll be hearing his name a lot in the future.

John Piper

I only met John Piper very briefly so have no real thoughts on him from a personal level, but I was blessed to see and experience him as a pastor and speaker. I was almost surprised to see what an experience it is to sit under one of those “only a few every generation” type of preachers. When Piper preaches he seems to do little more than bridge one Bible verse to the next, building to a deeply biblical conclusion. With some preachers you begin to feel that they could get along just fine without the Bible, but with Piper you feel that if he didn’t have the Bible he’d have nothing to say. It is easy to see the Spirit moving in John as he preaches. He begins slowly, but builds in forcefulness and excitement with every passing minute. His passion for God and his passion for preaching must be obvious to all who sit under him.

Desiring God

I was deeply impressed with Desiring God as an organization. The conference was well-planned and seemed to go like clockwork. There was a great emphasis on prayer and worship through the proceedings. A prayer room was open throughout each day and there were people constantly interceding before the throne on behalf of the attendees. The worship in song was biblical and with primary emphasis not on when a song was written, but whether it focused on God or man. Every member of the Desiring God team with whom I came into contact was pleasant and eager to serve me however possible.

Midwest Airlines

I flew Midwest Airlines and had four flights when them in three days. I very much enjoyed travelling with them and it was easily the best flying experience I have had thus far. The fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies are every bit as good as you’d expect. They had me at, “would you like a warm cookie?”

My Family

I returned home to cries of “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy’s home!” as my daughter raced not towards me, but away, to find her brother. I then got bowled over with hugs. And when the kids had finished with me, I embraced my wife, whom I am not accustomed to being away from. She took great care of the kids while I was gone and seemed to have a good time with them. I love her dearly.

Tim Challies

I had a great time at the conference and came away with a lot of things I need to think about. I did a lot of writing during my journey home and I would assume you’ll see some of that writing over the next few days. I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to participate in this conference. Will I go back next year? I don’t know if I will be asked, but if I am, I’ll go in a heartbeat. I was blessed with the comments I received both at the conference and by readers of this site. It seems that this live-blogging was a useful addition to the convention and I hope that in the future there will not be a major ministry that does not include live-blogging at its conferences.

October 09, 2005

Today’s message is “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, Part 2” by John Piper.

The purpose of this message to to magnify Christ in His suffering and in that process to venture what is the ultimate biblical explanation for suffering. Further, we will do it in a way that would free us from the paralyzing effects of discouragement, self-pity, fear and greed, but rather to be free to spend ourselves whether able or disabled, to spread a passion for the supremacy of Christ in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

Big Statements

The entire universe exists to display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. The greatest display of God’s glory is the display of the glory of His grace. All that is, then, exists to display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. The ultimate aim and explanation for the existence of sin and suffering is for this display. Jesus’ suffering is the supreme manifestation and is the highest, clearest, surest display of the glory of the grace of God that is possible or conceivable. If so, a stunning truth emerges from Scripture, namely, that suffering is an essential part of the tapestry of the universe so that the weaving of the grace of God will be seen in all of the fulness of its glory.

Most simply: the ultimate reason that suffering exists is so that God might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God by the suffering of Christ to deliver us from suffering. In conceiving such a universe, God did not choose “Plan B.” Christ’s death is the moment for which the entire universe was explained, for it was the greatest display of the glory of the grace of God.

We will now walk on a biblical pathway to how Piper learned this. What may sound like high theology will now be proven to be the teaching of the Bible.

Biblical Support

Revelation 13:8 - “And all who dwell on earth will worship him [the beast], everyone whose name is not written before the founation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.” This verse means that before the creation of the universe was a book that already had in view Jesus Christ as slain and people as purchased by this sacrifice. The suffering of Jesus was not an afterthought but was a planned event from before the foundation of the world. This book was written at the beginning of God who had no beginning.

2 Timothy 1:9 - God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not becuase of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” What is grace? Grace is undeserved favor toward sinners. In Christ Jesus God gave us this grace before the ages began. We had not yet been created so we could sin and become undeserving, but God had already decreed that grace, “in-Christ grace,” would come to us in Jesus Christ. Don’t miss the magnitude of the word “slain.” It is only used in the Bible in Revelation and it means “slaughter.” It is not a nice or sweet word, but a gross, vile one. Here we have suffering in the slaughter of the Lamb of God.

Ephesians 1:4-6 - God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him in love. He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will to praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.” Twice we see that the praise to bring glory to the grace of God is related to Christ before the foundation of the world. We know that our adoption was rooted in Christ’s death as a Redeemer. So what Paul means is that God chose us in Christ and chose us through Christ because the plan was the suffering of Christ that warranted our election and adoption. The goal of all of this was unto “the praise of His glorious grace.”

Revelation 5 - The hosts of heaven are worshipping the Lamb. What makes Him worthy? His slaughter. “And they sang a new song singing ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth’…Then I looked, and I heard around the throne…myriads and myriads and thousands of thousands saying in a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered!’” The people sing praise to Christ because He was slaughtered. Therefore we can conclude that the centerpiece of the worship of all eternity is the Lamb who was slain. The suffering and death of Jesus will never be forgotten. It is the highest, clearest, surest display of the grace of God.

What does this tell us about the existence of suffering and death? God permits sin to enter the world. He ordains what He hates to come to pass. (See Mark Talbot’s session). It is not sinful for God to will what will be, even when what will be is sin. What people meant for evil (the Fall), God meant for good, as it came to show the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. Adam and Eve set the stage for a display of the greatness of the glory of the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Suffering entered the world and Romans 8 tells us how to deal with this. Sin has now pervaded the world so that none are immune to the effects of suffering.

Ezekiel 33:11 tells us that God does not delight in human suffering. God does not, from the bottom of His heart, delight in what He ordains, but the plans stay in place. The stage is now set and the drama of redemptive history begins to unfold. Sin and suffering are in force and are present and ready to consume the Son of God. Everything is now in place for the greatest possible display of the glory of the grace of God. And so, in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son. Everything Christ accomplished for us, was accomplished through suffering. Everything good that comes to us does so through the suffering of Christ. Suffering exists so that Christ might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God by entering into suffering so that He might deliver us from everlasting suffering.

What Did Christ Accomplish for us by Suffering?

We must remember that everything good has come only, only, only through the slaughtering of the perfect, sinless Son of God. With that in view, here are seven things Christ accomplished for us:

1. Christ absorbed the wrath of God on our behalf and did so by suffering. He became a curse for us. The eternal wrath of God was absorbed by Christ on the cross and this is the glory of grace.

2. Christ bore our sins and purchased our forgiveness and He did so by suffering. The sins that should have crushed us with the weight of our guilt were transferred onto the only innocent being who ever lived.

3. Christ provided a perfect righteousness for us that becomes ours in Him and did so by suffering.

4. Christ defeated death and did it by suffering death.

5. Christ disarmed Satan and did it by suffering. He put the rulers and authorities to an open shame by triumphing over them. Satan has one damning weapon and that is all: unforgiven sin with which he can accuse us. That is the only thing that can send us to hell. That unforgiven sin was nailed to the cross, thus defeating Satan.

6. Christ purchased perfect, final healing for all of God’s people and did it by suffering. While we do not get the whole inheritance in this life, we do get it eventually.

7. Christ will bring us, finally, to God and will do it by His suffering (1 Peter 3:18). Christ brings us to God and this is the apex of the glory of God.

The ultimate purpose of the universe is to display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. And that is found in the death and suffering of His Son. The ultimate reason that suffering exists is that Christ might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God as He suffers to overcome our suffering that we might bring praise to God for the greatness of the glory of His grace.

Piper closed with an exhortation that we, whether able or disabled, enduring loss or delighting in friend, suffering pain or enjoying favor, might embrace the truth that in Christ Jesus immeasurable riches are ours. We have so much to live for. “Don’t waste your life!” he cried. Instead, savor the riches that we have in Christ. Spend ourselves at any cost and spread these riches to a desperately needy world.

Quote of the Session: “Suffering is no respector of persons. You cannot look to Christ on the cross and believe that you will be spared.”

October 08, 2005

At lunch time today Doug and I had lunch with Adam (aka Ochuk) who lives nearby. It was great to eat with him (and witness Adam eating his first-ever Big Mac). Ochuk is every bit as well-read and intelligent as one would assume from reading his web site. At dinner we ate with Jack, a new friend, who is a reader of this site. Jack shared with us about his wife, whom he recently lost after an incredible fifty-seven years of marriage. It was wonderful getting to know him.

The fifth and final session of the day is “Suffering for the Sake of…” by Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni is something of an icon in the evangelical community and in earlier discussion Adam Omelianchuk, Doug and I agreed that it is likely that more people have heard of Joni than John Piper! The conference planners opened up extra seating in order to hold what they feel will be a large crowd of people eager to hear her testimony.

After another beautiful time of worship, which began with an upbeat, but worshipful South African song and ended with the “Deep, Deep Love of Jesus,” John Piper introduced Joni. Prior to this, during the African song, Joni was off to the side of the stage, worshipping God by singing and dancing in her wheelchair. It was a beautiful picture of worship. The room was filled with thousands of worshippers singing and clapping their hands, ten or so signing their worship with their hands and indeed their whole bodies, and three or four dancing with joy in their wheelchairs. There was joy in that room - the joy that only Christians can fully understand.

We watched a short video which introduced Joni and her charity which supports the disabled. “Why is the woman in the video so happy?” Joni asked after she took the stage. Because God is happy! But this begs the question, why is God so happy? God is so happy because He is satisfied in His Son. He never tires of boasting about His Son. Jesus shares His joy with us so that His joy might be in us. The catch is that God only shares His joy on His terms, and He may just call us to share in suffering. She quoted often from Shawshank Redemption. “Hope is a very good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” Am I going to get living or am I going to get dying?

Joni shared some of her testimony about her accident, hospitalization and hopelessness. And, of course, she shared about her growing realization of God’s sovereignty even in this. Joni pointed out that when God tells us to pick up and bear our cross, it is not a wheelchair or any physical infirmity. “My cross is not my wheelchair. It is my attitude.” Anything that produces bitterness against God is what we are called to die to daily. Through the power of the resurrection we can become like Christ not only in death, but in life! Suffering allows us to be better bonded to the Savior. Joni continually breaks into song as she speaks, even leading the assembled group in songs of praise. Narrative, theology, poetry and prose combine in a seamless whole.

It is little wonder that Joni has served to inspire so many. She is filled with joy despite, and perhaps even because of, her affliction. She sees her disability not as a hindrance but as an opportunity to minister and to bring glory to the one who ordained it from before time. And she looks forward, with great anticipation, to the day that suffering will be no more, and she will spring from that chair.

Joni closed by singing “On Christ the Solid Rock” while the assembled congregation hummed the melody, altos, tenors and basses rising and falling together in a song to the healer of broken bodies and broken hearts.

Quote of the Session: “I did not want to let go of the strange and sick comfort of my own misery.”
Runner-up: “When we finally are able to stop laughing and crying, God will wipe away our tears. And it is ironic that when I finally will be able to use my hands to wipe my tears, I won’t have to.”

October 08, 2005

Today’s fourth session, featuring Steve Saint, is entitled “Sovereignty, Suffering and the Work of Missions.” Steve is the son of a missionary who was killed by natives in Ecuador some forty years ago. His father was part of the missionary group of which the better-known Jim Elliot was also a member. Steve has since become a missionary and worked among the very people who killed his father, even embracing as a close friend one of the men who ran a spear through his father.

He provided the following definition of suffering: suffering is our expectation divided by our experience. Interestingly, he feels that “blessing” has the very same definition and that both are relative to what we expect. He also wished for us to understand that our own suffering is the greatest suffering that we can truly understand.

Saint then asked, “What is the purpose of suffering?” and answered the question by providing three of the many reasons we find in Scripture. Suffering may be God’s punishment; it may also be a revelation of God’s power, for God reveals His power to us through suffering; finally, it may be promote humility. He said also that while in North America it is considered noble to seek to avoid suffering and to shelter others from it, because we have not suffered we lose much of our effectiveness in ministering to those who have suffered since the suffering want to be ministered to from those who have likewise experienced suffering.

The bulk of the session was testimony from Saint’s life. He shared how he came to believe that God planned his father’s death. It was not something that happened or surprised God, but it was something He ordained. He realized that if God planned the death of His own righteous Son, it would not be inconsistent for Him to also plan the death of another of His people.

It was just a beautiful speech about the suffering Steve has experienced. What stood out is not the depth of the suffering, but the height of his faith and his growing acceptance of the total sovereignty of God. Steve’s story will be available in a book and in a motion picture, both of which are set to release next year.

Quote of the Session: “Why do we want every chapter to be good when God only promises that the final chapter will be good?”

October 08, 2005

The third session of the day features David Powlison who will be speaking on “Christ’s Grace and Your Sufferings.” David is editor of the “Journal of Biblical Counselling.”

He wants to put us to work by asking the following question: in your life, what is the single most significant experience of suffering that you have gone through? It could be the most painful or intense. It could be only short in duration, but which never went away. It could be the most pervasive, touching more areas of you life than any other. It marked and changed you, perhaps both for good and for bad.

The structure for the session will be the hymn “How Firm a Foundation.” This hymn is somewhat unusual in that it focuses not on what we say to or about God. The first verse is an exhortation where we talk to each other. The rest of the hymn is God talking to the believer.

First Stanza - The basis of our faith is what the Scripture has said. God’s Word is excellent and sufficient. When it comes right down to it, what more could God say than what He has said in the Bible? And what’s more, this Word become flesh and dwelt among us. The stanza also says that we are refugees to have fled to Jesus. This shows our dependency on the Lord, for we need someone outside of ourselves to protect us and take care of us.

Second Stanza - Take in hand the greatest suffering in your life and allow this stanza and that suffering to talk to each other. “Do not be afraid; I am with you. Do not be dismayed - overwhelmed, panicked, distressed or upset. I am your God.” What would it mean if God’s voice of comfort were allowed to penetrate every crevice of that hurt or suffering? We are so absorbed with ourselves and our sin that we often close out to the voice of God as He brings us His comfort.

Third Stanza - Once again, take in hand the greatest suffering and hold it against the words “when through the deep waters I call you to go.” This is a statement of God’s sovereignty. At the same time there are words of comfort for we know God controls the extent of suffering and He will not allow the rivers of sorrow to overflow. God will be with us to bless us through our greatest trouble and will santify that suffering in the life of the believer.

Fourth Stanza - The fiery trials cause the gold to seperate from the dross. So as we examine our sufferings, that is it that rises to the surface? As we pass through the furnace we can have confidence that God’s grace will be sufficient for us. The suffering is not meaningless but stands to refine us.

Fifth Stanza - This stanza deals with aging and all of us, should we reach old age, will deal with suffering as our bodies age. Should you live so long you will lose just about everything: friends, family, health, money, relevance, the ability to work, and so on. But even in aging good seeks to comfort us.

Sixth Stanza - The hymn ends with God giving us confidence that He will not let go of the soul that has turned to Jesus. Despite any amount of suffering, God is still present. The hymn writer captures God’s fierceness for us in the repetition of “never, no never, no never.” Powlison calls this “pastoral genius.”

The session concluded with the corporate singing of this great hymn.

Quote of the Session: “God’s the sun and we’re the three-watt nightlight. But in a dark house a three-watt light makes a big difference.”

October 08, 2005

The second session of the day will be led by Mark Talbot who will be speaking on “ ‘All the Good That is Ours in Christ:’ Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do Us.” A fact you may not know is that Mark broke his back when he was seventeen years old and walks even today only with great difficulty and while leaning heavily upon a cane.

How God’s will relates to our will when we hurt each other (and ourselves). Open Theism was developed to deal with these questions. It wants to take God off the hook at least for the kinds of evils we want to do. It claims that God cannot prevent the types of suffering we face because He could not do so without destroying our freedom. But God takes our freedom as being so valuable that He will not interfere. Talbot quoted extensively from Boyd’s God of the Possible and his now infamous story of Suzanne. This system of theology is completely unbiblical and cannot provide a satisfactory answer to the question of suffering.

What Are The Issues Surrounding These Kinds of Suffering?

What Scripture says about God’s relationship to evil - We all know that God will always do what is right. God never does evil, but that is not to say that God never creates evil (Isaiah 45:7). It is also not to say that He does not, at least at some times, send evil. For example, in the Old Testament He sent evil spirits to torment men like Saul. We also see in Scripture that God allows others to perform evil acts, such as we see in the book of Job. God does not want to be left off the hook for evil. Nor does He need to be. Everything God purposes happens and nothing happens but what God purposes.

What Scripture says about how what God wills relates to how we will. - We need to understand libertarian free will. It says that a person acts freely only if right before he acts he could still have chosen to act otherwise. I only freely choose to eat chocolate ice cream if at the moment I chose it, I was able to choose between chocolate and strawberry. If there was something to stop me from eating strawberry, even if I were to choose chocolate, I am really not free. We cannot be held responsible for what we do if we do not have this type of free choice. We cannot be held responsible for what we ought to do but cannot do. Libertarians believe it would be unfair for God to command people to do what they cannot do and He can only hold us responsible for what we do when we have this type of free will. But here’s the rub for Open Theists. If God knows what I am going to choose to do, than what I am going to choose to do must somehow be determined. For God knowing now what I will do next week knows that it will come out that way. God cannot know the future if humans are free and responsible.

Scripture holds human beings to be acting freely and responsibly even when it says or implies that God has predestined what will take place (see, for example, Acts 4:27-28). People choose to plot and choose to set themselves against a person, and it is clear that these people are being held responsible for what they do, yet they are doing only what God has predestined to take place. So what God has predestined to take place is not incompatible with human free will. What God wills, will come about through the agency of free will creatures like ourselves. Foreknowledge does not preclude responsibility.

The biblical position is that God has ordained (eternally willed or predestined) everything that happens in our world of space and time and yet human beings still act freely and responsibly. What this means for God’s people as that God even ordains that is really evil for His children’s good. The story of Joseph provides a powerful example, as all that happened to him was revealed to be part of God’s plan to save His people. Joseph understood that “God sent me.” It was God, not his brothers, who had ultimately sent him to Egypt. “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” God is responsible for all that happened to Joseph, both the good and the suffering. Yet Joseph’s brothers played their part and bear the responsibility and blame for this.

“As for you, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” The act the brothers meant for evil, was meant by God to do good. God meant that very evil for good. This event is being explained in two very different ways and this sort of dual explanation is in evidence throughout Scripture. We learn that what we will is what God wills for us to will, for He is sovereign over our hearts. We see this most clearly in the cross of Jesus Christ, that God willed for people to put His Son to death.

We cannot understand how divine sovereignty and human agency are fully compatible, yet this is what the Scripture teaches us. We can understand, however, why we cannot understand. Any attempts on our part to understand this involve our trying to understand the unique relationship between the Creator and His creatures. To attempt to do so would be to make a category mistake. How Creator relates to creature is a whole different category than how creature relates to creature. And so we affirm both while not attempting to understand how. We need to affirm God’s complete and providential sovereignty over all.

What should we be sure of beyond all doubt?

We should be sure that for those who love God all things work together for God for those who are called according to His purpose. Sometimes it seems that things are just too bad for us to believe that they work for our good. Many of the biblical writers experienced such pain. But is it okay to complain?

Is it okay to complain?

We hear many biblical writers moaning and groaning with their pain. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We can complain - this is not unbiblical but is rather affirmed by the Scriptures. But in the end all we can do is affirm God’s promises and wait and He will bring back to us gladness if we give ourselves to Him.

Doctor Talbot received a long standing ovation for a moving and inspired speech.

From the Homefront: My wife wrote me to say that my children were watching a show this morning in which a baby lamb was born. My daughter turned to Aileen and said, “Mommy I wish you had a baby lamb in your tummy instead of a baby.” Laughing, Aileen said “Well that wouldn’t be much fun!” My daughter said, “Yes it is. I’d like a lamb in the house!”

October 08, 2005

After a sleep which was far too short (Doug likes to talk), we wandered downtown Minneapolis for a while before finally finding a place to eat breakfast. Having done that, we returned to the convention center and I was privileged to meet readers Jack,Boyd, Dave, Andrew and Marc as well as John Piper who let us know that he appreciates our efforts in blogging the conference.

Day two began with another powerful time of worship. The music ranged from contemporary worship to hymns, and from Spanish music to gospel. Never have I seen so many Reformed hands raised - not even at the church of my youth when the pastor would ask, “How many people here have memorized the Heidelberg Catechism?”

Today’s first will be Carl Ellis speaking on “The Sovereignty of God and Ethnic-Based Suffering.” His speech will be built around the following six points:

The origin of suffering
The mystery of suffering
The basis of suffering
God’s awareness of suffering
How should we respond to suffering?
The people of God and suffering

The Origin of Suffering - In the fall, man was guilty of “creaturism,” which is judging the Creator by the standard of the creature. One result of the Fall is “human power differentials” which led to power struggles. This is the basis of the ethnic strife we see today. Power is not inherently evil, of course, for God is all-powerful and there is no power struggle with the Godhead. They are One. Adam and Eve also experienced no power struggle power to the Fall because they were one. But as a result of the Fall, their oneness was broken. This led people to think as individuals and this has led to continual strife within marriage relationships and extending to all human relationships. Human inequality became universal not only between individuals but between people groups.

The Mystery of Suffering - The account of Job clearly demonstrates that not every bad thing that happens to us is related to our sin, and not every good thing is related to our righteousness. So there is a real sense in which suffering is a mystery. We can have confidence that in eternity we will understand in a greater way then we do now. We have to learn to be satisfied with God’s satisfaction.

The Basis of Suffering - The apparent random causes of sin: floods, storm, fire, tsunami, hurricane. And then there are the direct results of sin: ungodliness and oppression. Ungodliness refers to sinning and suffering our own consequences. Oppression refers to sinning and forcing others to suffer the consequences, or imposing our sin upon others. Oppression is sin plus power and thus is driven by power struggles. A person who is in a dominant position and sins has just oppressed another person. Oppression should not be defined only according to race.

One result of oppression is marginalization. Marginalization happens when someone is pushed to a position of lesser importance or power based on oppression. Every society has a dominant and subdominant culture. Everyone in the subdominant culture is exposed to the dominant culture’s agenda, but the converse is not true, and in fact few in the dominant culture are even aware that the subdominant culture has an agenda.

Because we do not have a good understanding of the theory and the roots of ethnic suffering, African-American and Caucasian Christians tend to misunderstand each other.

God’s Awareness of Suffering - Jesus identified with the suffering of Mary and Martha, even though He knew He would raise Lazarus. We should likewise be attuned to the suffering of others.

How Should We Respond to Suffering? - He agrees with VanTil that we are called to restrain suffering in this world. It is our duty to seek to destroy evil not only in ourselves but also in other men. We must also seek to destroy and relieve the consequences of sin. This is our task and privilege. So we must seek to minimize the dominance of dominance of relationships within the world in general and within the body of Christ in particular.

The People of God and Suffering - We, as the body of Christ, are a subdominant group. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. We are called to be strangers and aliens in this world. If we can understand the subdominant position of Christians in this world, this should help us understand the position or plight faced by subdominant cultural groups within our society. To identify with ethnic suffering should be as easy as breathing.

Quote of the Session: “Is bling bling the thing?”
Runner Up: “It’s not just an issue of whether you clap on 1 and 3 or 2 and 4.”

October 07, 2005

Just an update for anyone who is attending the conference and looking for Doug or myself. We’re the guys with the laptops (but you already knew that). We’re sitting by the sound table in the back of the auditorium. Whenever there is a break we’ll be out in the lobby uploading our stories. Drop by and make your presence known!

The final session of the opening day features John Piper and Justin Taylor sitting in armchairs on the stage before us. Justin will be asking John questions about his theology, about suffering, and I suppose anything else that springs to mind.

The session began with a couple of personal questions. Piper described how he came to understand the absolute sovereignty of God through his studies at Fuller Seminary. He then went on to speak about the greatest occasion of suffering in his life, the death of his mother exactly thirty one years ago from this day.

The topics then changed from being personal to being more specific to the topic of the conference.

Justin asked about whether we should cease praying for the persecuted church in other area of the world and pray that we might experience that type of suffering, since it is through persecution that the church is strengthened and purified. Piper, based on Hebrews 13, said that it seems presumptuous to dictate to God the strategy He would use to purify the church. We should pray that God would cause the Word to grow and triumph through whatever means He can use. Let God be God and work as He wills.

After a brief but compelling discussion of “the absence of God” and the importance of pointing people to the cross, even when they feel that God is not present to help them, Justin asked John simply, “Where is God?” Intentionally ignoring the question of where God is in the hurricane and the acts of terrorism, Justin asked where is God in the suffering faced by children when they are abused? Can we maintain that God is sovereign over all things, even in the face of terrible suffering such as they type faced by children? John taught that the nub of the issue was whether anything good could come from a world where such evil is ordained. He turned the issue to infant salvation and told that he believes that all children who die in infancy are elect. The reason such horrors exist is to show the outrage of sin - the horror of sin against a holy God. As outrageous as a sin like this is, it pales in comparison to the outrage of man choosing himself over God.

Why is the process of sanctification so slow? We are, of course, so overwhelmingly evil. But if God is sovereign and is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him, why does He not increase or satisfaction much faster? God can sanctify instantaneously, for that is what He does when we die. Yet He does not do this in our lives. The answer must be that the struggle with my sin will somehow, in some way, make me more satisfied in Him. Perhaps when we are in heaven we will look back and bask in the grace of God that He persevered with us.

The final question dealt with preparing for suffering, a topic I presume we will cover in more detail before the weekend is through.

One observation I made during this session, and I mean it as an observation and certainly not a critique, is that Piper’s answers strengthened the more he spoke. Often, his first comments after Justin asked a question would be a little bit weak. But as he formed his thoughts in his mind and began to unpack the topic, he would grow more passionate and his words would carry more conviction. I suppose that is probably typical for this type of question and answer format.

And now, I have to get to bed. I was up at around 5:30 this morning and that is Eastern time. I lost an hour in my travels to Central time and am beginning to feel it. I’ll see you again in the morning.

October 07, 2005

As you know, I was asked to live-blog the Desiring God National Conference. This evening, Saturday and Sunday morning I will bring to you updates from this conference. You can also check coffeeswirls.com as Doug is blogging right beside me. I apologize in advance for spelling errors, grammatical errors, and the like. Because of the pace of the sessions I will have little opportunity, at least initially, to proof-read my entries.

So here we are. Doug and I are sitting near the back of a massive auditorium listening to an orchestra play a stirring prelude. John Piper just made his way to the front so I would assume we are nearly ready to begin. There must be at least a thousand people here already with plenty more filing in. Justin Taylor just dropped by to make his introduction and, despite his claims to the contrary, I don’t see that he looks anything like “Jared” of Subway fame. So I think it’s safe to say that we have all we need. Oh, except for a wireless internet connection. We hear that wireless is available in the hallway but that it cannot reach this auditorium. That is unfortunate as it means we will have to post a little more sporadically than we might like, waiting until the breaks in the program.

The schedule indicates that there will be a brief introduction by Scott Anderson, the coordinator of this event and then an initial time of worship. This will be followed by the first plenary session which features John Piper. He will speak on “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God” (Part 1).

Worship

The worship is, of course, exceptional. The choir is beautiful and the accompaniment superb. There is such tremendous power in the joining of thousands of voices and thousands of hearts in glorifying the Lord. It is just a little foretaste of heaven and one that does not escape a person like myself who attends a small church. Interestingly, there is a person “signing” the worship for the benefit of the deaf and I find it adds a very interesting dimension to the worship to see a person worshipping God with his whole body rather than only his mouth. When he “speaks” of the Holy Spirit, he reaches his hands to heaven and pulls them in towards his heart as if to pull God from His throne and bring Him into our midst. Signing worship is clearly art and, well, worship as much as it is simple interpretation of words. I find it both fascinating and powerful. Almost haunting. It must be an exceedingly difficult task attempting to capture even just a little bit of the power and majesty of music, but without sound.

First Session

Following a prayer in which he asked God to help us see him be exceedingly valuable in everything. He made the initial point that God is supremely valuable and anything else that has value has it because of its connection to him. Quoting David Wells in his new book Piper expressed that the tragedy and suffering of 9/11 and Katrina has shown the church to be shallow and unable to deal with such serious evil. Evangelicalism is simply not very serious anymore. Against the weight and seriousness of the Bible, the church is choosing to become more shallow and light therefore more unable to respond properly to pain and suffering. His desire for this conference is that God would show Christ’s supremacy even in suffering. All of the speakers at this conference has suffered. None of them are dealing with a theoretical issue, but are all living with the memory of pain and loss.

We are going to celebrate the sovereignty of God, not fear or flee from it. Satan will be put in his proper place, and God in His - vastly more sovereign over Satan. This should beget worship as our minds are made to see and be stunned by the majesty of God.

Here is Piper’s definition of God’s sovereignty: “It is not merely that God has the power and right to govern all things but that He does so always and without exception.” That definition will prove important throughout this conference.

The heart of this session is ten celebrations of God’s sovereignty which I will outline now. I will cover Piper’s speech in more detail than later sessions simply because I believe it will be foundational to what follows over the next two days.

1. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s delegated world rule. We know that Satan has been given dominion over the world because he was able to offer it to Christ. Satan plays a huge role in the rise and rule of evil in this world, but he does this only by degree permission and within God’s appointed limits. The Bible makes this abundantly clear.

2. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s angels (demons, evil spirits). Satan has thousands of cohorts that are known by various names and titles. There are wars and skirmishes on a spiritual level that we read about in Scripture, but we know that God is sovereign over even them.

3. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over persecution. While Christians do suffer in the jaws of Satan’s persecution, they do so within the government of God. Jesus knew this, for in the night He was taken from the garden he expressed that the Father had ordained that they had an hour, just one brief period of time, in which they could take and kill Him. But then He would break free.

4. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s life-taking power. Satan is a murdered who wants nothing more than to destroy. He does so successfully in this life. But none live or die but by God’s decree.

5. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s hand in natural disasters. The story of Job shows that Satan has the ability to control natural forces such as wind and fire from heaven (which is probably lightning). God his given Satan sufficient authority to do this. But we can learn from Job in this, for he did not focus on Satan’s agency, but on God’s sovereignty. There is small comfort in concentrating on the agency of Satan. Our focus needs to be on God for this is where we will find hope and security.

6. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s sickness-causing power. Satan causes much of the sickness we suffer. But as witnessed through the life of Christ, He has authority over Satan. Even today it is God’s delight to heal us.

7. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s use of animals and plants. Satan is able to use animals and plants to wreak havoc and bring death. Animals and plants are used to cause great suffering as part of Satan’s plan. But they cannot do what God does not will for them to do.

8. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s temptations to sin. Much of the suffering in the world is caused by man’s sin against man. Satan is called “the temptor,” as he tempts others to do his evil work for him. But God is sovereign over even this and He will not allow more than we can bear.

9. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s mind-blinding power. The greatest suffering, beside Christ’s will be the suffering of hell. Satan’s aim is to take as many of us with him into this suffering. He does this by blinding our minds to the glorious light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

10. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s spiritual bondage. Satan enslaves people in two ways. One is through pleasure, by making us think we don’t need God because we already have all we need. The other is through pain, by making us think God is not sovereign over pain. Both these sins demand repentance. Satan is not fully sovereign over his captives, for God can always grant repentance if He so desires.

The evil and suffering in this world are greater than we can ever imagine. But evil and suffering are not ultimate or sovereign. No, only and always it is God who is sovereign over joy and pain, evil and suffering.

Later tonight there will be a question and answer period with Justin Taylor asking questions of John Piper. Stay tuned for a synopsis of that session.

October 07, 2005

By the time you read this I should be well on my way to Minneapolis. It is amazing how three hours worth of flying can consume an entire day. It will take about an hour to get to the airport and of course I have to be at the airport at least two hours in advance so I can clear security and customs. I then have a three-hour layover in Milwaukee before I finally board the plane for Minnesota. It seems that the total travel time, from my house to the hotel in downtown Minneapolis will be something like nine hours, only three of which will be in the air. Of course I fully intend to use this time to catch up on some reading and writing.

If you happen to live between Toronto and Minneapolis and see a MidWest Airlines jet fly over, feel free to wave. If I see you I’ll wave back.

In theory, Doug should be waiting for me at the airport. We have exchanged pictures and assume we will recognize each other amidst the throng of people that will have shared my flight from Milwaukee.

Some of the other bloggers I hope to meet at the conference (or while I am in Minneapolis) include:

Adam, Tim (I believe he said he would be there) and Justin. And I suppose I’ll have to say hello to John Piper and some of the other speakers.

My wife remarked to me the other day that I seem either excited or nervous about this conference. I told her that it is a little bit of both. I am definitely excited to attend the conference, hear the speakers and meet some people I much admire. I’ll even admit that I’m looking forward to the spiritual excitement that always seems to accompany events like this. Now obviously the conference has absolutely nothing to do with me, and I am playing only a very small and insignificant role, but this is about the first time that I will bravely venture from behind my keyboard and actually meet a good number of the people who read this site. It is going to be odd, though I trust interesting and edifying, to meet people who know a lot about me even though we have never met.

In other news, I will be modifying the site just a little bit during the conference. I will be putting entire posts on the main page rather than mere excerpts. And with apologies to those of you who read the site via RSS, I will be updating posts several times during the day, so expect a higher volume of notifications than the usual.

Anyways, I trust this will be an edifying weekend for me and I hope I will be able to convey some of what is happening at the conference as well. Stay tuned! The conference begins tonight at 7:15 EST.