Justified Forevermore

JUSTIFIED FOREVERMORE

As far as any eye could see

There was no green. But every tree

Was cinder black, and all the ground

Was gray with ash. The only sound

War arid wind, like spirits’ ghosts,

Gasping for some living hosts

In which to dwell, as in the days

Of evil men, before the blaze

Of unimaginable fire

Had made the earth a flaming pyre

For God’s omnipotent display

Of holy rage.

The dreadful Day

Of God had come. The moon had turned

To blood. The sun no longer burned

Above, but, blazing with desire,

Had flowed into a lake of fire.

The seas and oceans were no more,

And in their place a desert floor

Fell deep to meet the brazen skies,

And silence conquered distant cries.

The Lord stood still above the air.

His mighty arms were moist and bare.

They hung, as weary, by his side,

Until the human blood had dried

Upon the sword in his right hand.

He stared across the blackened land

That he had made, and where he died.

His lips were tight, and deep inside,

The mystery of sovereign will

Gave leave, and it began to spill

In tears upon his bloody sword

For one last time.

And then the Lord

Wiped every tear away, and turned

To see his bride. Her heart had yearned

Four thousand years for this: His face

Shone like the sun, and every trace

Of wrath was gone. And in her bliss

She heard the Master say, “Watch this:

Come forth, all goodness from the ground

Come forth, and let the earth redound

With joy.”

And as he spoke, the throne

Of God came down to earth and shone

Like golden crystal full of light,

And banished, once for all, the night.

And from the throne a stream began

To flow and laugh, and as it ran

It made a river and a lake,

And everywhere it flowed, a wake

Of grass broke on the banks and spread

Like resurrection from the dead.

And in the twinkling of an eye

The saints descended from the sky.

And as I knelt beside the brook

To drink eternal life, I took

A glance across the golden grass,

And saw my dog, old Blackie, fast

As she could come. She leaped the stream–

Almost– and what a happy gleam

Was in her eye. I knelt to drink,

And knew that I was on the brink

Of endless joy. And everywhere

I turned I saw a wonder there.

A big man running on the lawn:

That’s old John Younge with both legs on.

The blind can see a bird on wing,

The dumb can lift their voice and sing.

The diabetic eats at will,

The coronary runs uphill.

The lame can walk, the deaf can hear,

The cancer-ridden bone is clear.

Arthritic joints are lithe and free,

And every pain has ceased to be.

And every sorrow deep within,

And every trace of lingering sin

Is gone. And all that’s left is joy,

And endless ages to employ

The mind and heart, and understand,

And love the sovereign Lord who planned

That it should take eternity

To lavish all his grace on me.

O, God of wonder, God of might,

Grant us some elevated sight,

Of endless days. And let us see

The joy of what is yet to be.

And may your future make us free,

And guard us by the hope that we,

Through grace on lands that you restore,

Are justified forevermore.

—- John Piper, from Future Grace

First and Foremost: News

I’ve been helping with an on campus ministry called IMPACT on Fallbrook High School campus that is essentially a place where kids are drawn in by free pizza and a fun time with friends, and then are exposed to the gospel for about 5 minutes at the end.  While the students run the games and provide the entertainment, I am the speaker.

It’s been challenging to come up with messages that communicate the truth of the gospel in different ways and from different perspectives while maintaining their attention.  They need to go to class. They really only came for the pizza.  They’re simply not interested.  I see it as a challenge.

I like looking for illustrations that tell the story accurately, clearly, succinctly, and engagingly. It’s also been difficult in such a short message. So sometimes I like to get some help from people who can do it well.  One of the best short illustrations I found online, by John Piper, went like this:

Christianity is not first and foremost a religion. It is first and foremost news. It’s news.

It’s like we’re in a war, in a concentration camp, and suddenly you’re hearing on the smuggled-in radio that the troops of deliverance have landed in helicopters five miles away. They’re conquering everything in their path and they’re just about to get to the gate and open the doors. And having lived all your life in this concentration camp, you’re now going to be set free.

That’s Christianity. It’s news that God sent rescue troops into the world, namely Jesus Christ, and that at great cost to himself he has conquered our enemy the Devil, opened the gates of the concentration camp, and welcomed us home. And then you add the beautiful image of bride and bridegroom and realize that this is not just a soldier who simply frees you go and do what want to do. He’s you’re husband, as it were, who has been separated from you for years and years, and you’re the wife who has been in the camp. And when the gates are opened there he stands on the other side, and the kinds of affections are huge.

I remember watching at the end of the Vietnam war some of those magnificent videos of men who had been away from their wives, some of them I think up to five years. I remember watching them run toward each other and seeing them sweep their wives off their feet. My heart leapt and my tears flowed when I watched that kind of reunion.

So when I think about what is missing from the average person’s picture of Christianity, I want to show them that there is such a freedom that is offered us because of what Jesus Christ did to die for our sins, and such a sweet reunion with the one for whom we were made.

It’s news. Not rules. Not religion.  It’s good news.  Thanks again, John.

newspaper

A Spiritual Tour

I made a discovery last year when I was studying Hebrews 11:6

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because everyone that comes to him must believe that he exists and that rewards those who earnestly seek him”

I concluded that there were two elements that made Christian faith real: 1) believing in God and 2) believing that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

When I discoverered that faith involves believing and relentlessly pursuing a reward, it mezmorized me.  The idea that our seeking a reward for ourselves from God was actually not only glorifying to God but unconditionally central to Christian faith (without which it is impossible to please God) is one of the most freeing truths I have found in scripture.  It led me to go deeper, and seek the connections of faith and reward, and how they are intertwined.

I did a series on it over the summer.  We talked about Christian self-denial, which I explained as giving up something good now for something infinitely better in the future.  We talked about sacrifice.  And we ended there.

My spiritual nose sensed there was something more, something deeper– but I couldn’t figure it out.  Eventually, as ministry goes, we moved on to different subjects.  I thought my teaching on faith and its relation to reward was complete.

And then I started reading John Piper’s The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace. And it baffled me.

It’s like I was walking along in a forest, and found an old, gnarled off-shoot path in the forest, dark and unpromising but a path nonetheless.  I explored it, but potholes and low hanging branches prevented me from going in too deep.

So I went back to the main path, only to find expert forest explorer and tour guide John Piper with his long, cutting machette and his hemp hat, saying, “Wait! Come back! I’ve found gold!”

And he takes down the path I had previously abandoned and points out beauties and I had imagined but had never seen with my own eyes.  He talks about how the plants and trees and birds and butterflies all live together in harmony.  He recites the names of the trees as if they were old friends.  He winks at the blue jay as it whistles by.  And at the end of the path there is a river, with gold sparkling in the current.  And then he stops and says, “Enjoy. I must find another.”

That is what Future Grace has been to me so far.  So I commend it to you.

Future Grace

Two Mentors: One Dead, One Alive

I have found that one of the most inspiring devices God uses to spur on his people to live like they should is a mentor.  And though there is nothing as good as a physically present mentor, there is great benefit in learning about the great men of God who have set examples for us.  In my life right now, I am purposefully letting myself be mentored by two people who don’t know me, one dead, one alive.

I’ll start with the living mentor.  He’s 63 and he lives in Minneapolis.  He’s a father, a grandfather, and an incredibly passionate man–with special gift to preach and teach.  He has a passion for God’s glory, and is widely known for his rhyming couplet:

God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.

By now you might know I’m talking about John Piper.  For a more official biography, go here.

I was first became intrigued in his life and ministry after reading his most famous work, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. There a few books in my life that have changed the my perspective on life– but this is one of them.  It was the beginning a quest to understand the relationship between my joy and God’s glory.  He affirmed my hunger for happiness and joy, and pointed me in the direction of God to find it.

One thing I’ve noticed about Piper is that he’s quick to jump on to any kind of technology to use it to magnify God.  Piper (maybe not Piper himself, but definitely his ministry) was a pioneer in using the internet as a new way to get his resources out there.  In the early days of the internet, as Piper’s ministry was becoming more widely known, DesiringGod.org was launched– a website dedicated to “God-centered resources from from the ministry of John Piper“.  Most websites dedicated to a certain pastor’s ministry had a small fee to download sermons, videos, books, etc; but Desiring God was free.  Even when you choose to buy a book online, there is a as much as you can afford policy for those who cannot pay full price.

When I discovered Desiring God, with full free access to 30 years of articles, books, sermons, conferences, and videos, I became a mentee of John Piper.  I thank God for men like him, who can boldly say to a younger generation, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

My other mentor is dead.  He has been dead for 111 years.  He was a Prussian who spent most of his life in Bristol, England.  He primarily worked with orphans. His name is George Muller.

If you haven’t read George Muller’s autobiography yet, put it on the list.  Reading an autobiography is like living in the same house as the man.  You see strengths and weaknesses; struggles and victories.  You have a first-hand account of how he feels about things; how he consoles himself in despair; how he motivates himself in ministry.  It is window into his habits and his discipline.  It’s a testimony to how God works in a man’s life that is dedicated to the Lord.  In the Muller’s case, it is specifically a testimony to the power of prayer.

For the next few weeks, I am going to let him mentor me.  I’ll be reading through his book, Releasing the Power of Prayer, and his biography by A.T. Pierson.

The best mentor is one you can talk to– but men like Piper and Muller are examples of the incredible grace of God, and we can learn much from them.  I always think it’s a good for us to “think the thoughts of great men after them.”