Our deepest gratitude is to be expressed to Christ Jesus our Savior, who loved us, and gave himself for us, and purchased with His own blood our eternal redemption. That God gives himself not only for but also to sinners is astounding! But this is what He has done through Christ and His Spirit who quickens and seals us. There is no more profound gift and no gift more deserving of gratitude--deep, humble, joyous gratitude.
Perhaps the thing we, then, should be most grateful for after Christ are those men and teachers whom the Lord uses to draw us to Christ, to push us up into Christ, the exalt Jesus before us, to placard Christ crucified before our very eyes, and to cause us to bow in reverence before the Lord of glory. When the foolishness of preaching and the scandal of the cross becomes wisdom to us, when the Spirit opens our eyes to behold the Lamb through faithful preaching, it is proper for us to be grateful to God for such preaching and preachers.
More holy affection and joy for Jesus my Savior has been stirred in my soul through the preaching of John Piper than anyone I can think of in the past three years or so. God blesses my soul through his preaching. He pulls me heavenward while simultaneously leaving me in the dust in contrition... that odd mix of abasement and exultation in Christ. I'm so grateful.
1. I've learned from Piper to exult in Jesus
I know many of you have the same experience listening to John. My chest and heart open, Christ pours in, and my affections are set in heaven! You know, I really loathe that cliche that says, "Don't be so heavenly minded that you're no earthly good." Uuugh!! What an unbiblical, backward thought. It's only when we are heavenly minded, when our affections and thoughts are set on Christ the King who reigns and returns, that we're ever any good on earth. And more importantly, it's only when we're longing for heaven and our God in heaven that we make any progress in being fit for heaven!
I remember the first time I heard him ask that now famous question:
"Would you be happy to go to heaven... to have all your family there, to be free from all diseases, to have every kind of pleasure you desire, etc.... would you be happy to go to heaven... if God were not there?" It's an arresting question that cuts right through the heart of our materialistic, self-seeking, but ultimately unfulfilling, earth-bound, and trivial lives. And it reminds us that Psalm 73:25-26 is absolutely true!
When it comes to loving Jesus beyond all things, the Lord has used Piper in a prophetic way in my life. John Piper teaches me to exult in Christ, and for that, I am grateful... deeply grateful.
2. I've learned to "let go" a bit in the pulpit and preach with passion
When the Lord first allowed me the grace of preaching the gospel, I would preach with some measure of freedom and intensity. Over time, becoming perhaps a better student of preaching, I think I lost a fair amount of that. That loss wasn't all bad. For example, I think I grew in the ability to distinguish between truth set on fire and mere emotionalism. I hope it's the case that my sermons have taken on more meat, and rely less on personality or human cleverness.
But in the process, I think I grew a bit colder as a preacher. The Lord has been pleased to put John Piper in my life at a time when I need and desire more Truth-driven passion in my life and ministry. I can't think of many people who better exemplify what it means to "preach as a dying man to dying men." The Lord has made John Piper to be an encouragement to me in this respect, and I am deeply grateful.
3. I've learned that I can be serious and intense, and simultaneously tender
Yep, I've learned that, in part, from John Piper. I know that some perhaps have come to see Piper as "hard" and intense only, perhaps not always qualifying things to make his hearers comfortable.
But here is a man that weeps and wants to weep over the lost. Here's a man that dishes out pastoral counsel with deep concern and empathy. He cares greatly about people not like himself and that shows in the initiatives and priorities of his ministry. Seriousness and tenderness are not antithetical. And I think a biblically-informed, anchored-in-Christ seriousness will inevitably lead to great tenderness. We've seen this not just in his preaching and pastoral roles, but even in his family. Consider the comments he shared with us when his father passed... blood-earnest seriousness and great tenderness and gratitude for his father. It's a tension that not many hold together well, and I am chief among those who fail at it. But I am grateful to God for what I'm learning about this in the life and ministry of John Piper.
I could say more. I should say more. I'm working on learning how to express gratitude in a more meaningful and consistent way. But for now, let me just say I am grateful to God for John Piper and I am grateful to John for all that he models for me and so many.
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