Jesus Works in the Dark

Missions is one of the great privileges of the Christian church. We get to go out, either ourselves or our representatives, and tell others the good news that Jesus Christ has conquered sin, Satan, and death. The elders have been evaluating our mission efforts in order to provide a solid vision to our congregation for the coming years. As part of this effort I have been reading various books on missions and church planting. One of the first books I picked up was John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad. So far it has been excellent. His chapter on prayer was convicting in many ways as Piper reminds us that when we understand we are in war and that God is sufficient we will pray.  In this chapter he writes four wonderful paragraphs on how Jesus often works in the dark. Here are those four paragraphs. All punctuation, emphases, and Scripture are his.

It will often look as though Christ is defeated. That’s the way it looked on Good Friday. He let himself be libeled and harassed and scorned and shoved around and killed. But in it all he was in control, “No one takes [my life] from me” (John 10:18). So it will always be. If China was closed for forty years to Western missionaries, it was not as though Jesus accidentally slipped and fell into the tomb. He stepped in. And when it was sealed over, he saved fifty million Chinese from the inside-without Western missionaries. And when it was time, he pushed the stone away so we could see what he had done. 

When it looks as those he is buried for good, Jesus is doing something awesome in dark. “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how” (Mark 4:26-27). The world thinks Jesus is done-out of the way. They think his Word is buried and his plans have failed.

But Jesus is at work in the dark places: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). He lets himself be buried, and he comes out in power when and where he pleases. And his hands are full of fruit made in the dark. “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). Jesus goes about his invincible missionary plan “by the power of an indestructible life” (Hebrews 7:16). 

For twenty centuries, the world has given it their best shot to hold him in. They can’t bury him. They can’t hold him. They can’t silence or limit him. Jesus is alive and utterly free to go and come wherever he pleases. All authority in heaven is his. All things were made through him and for him, and he is absolutely supreme over all other powers (Col. 1:16-17). “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). And the preaching of his Word is the work of missions that cannot fail. 

I love these paragraphs. They made my blood pump faster and my heart rejoice. My favorite line is the first line of the second paragraph. “When it looks as those he is buried for good, Jesus is doing something awesome in dark.”  We need this reminder. Our soft, comfortable, middle class American hearts are so easily discouraged. Times get dark. Our lives get dark. And we lose faith. But our Lord reigns supreme. He has promised that his Word will not return void. Missions is built on the power of the risen Christ to subdue the nations through his preached Word. The nations will be His (Psalm 2:8-9, Psalm 22:27-29, Matthew 28:18-20).  This is why despite all his historic pre-millennial language John Piper at heart might just be post-millennial.

Book Review: Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to DieFifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was looking for a short book about the atonement to put on a book rack. Piper’s book will fit that need. However, it is not perfect. As one reviewer said, there is a lot of overlap between the chapters. He is repetitive. Second and more glaring, though typical for Piper, he does not really bring the Old Testament into it. There is no big picture of Jesus as fulfilling the covenant or Jesus as Israel. This might be because he was trying to get at what the atonement achieved instead of what caused it. But at the least one of the reasons Christ came to die was to fulfill Scripture. This is not mentioned explicitly. His failure to incorporate OT themes and the covenant makes this book weaker. He could have taken ten of his reasons out added more OT themes and made the book a lot more robust. Still as a basic lay introduction to Christ’s work it is good.

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The Long War

As the videos continue to post, I wonder if how Christians feel is how Jews felt when Allied soldiers entered concentration camps at the end of WWII. Finally, the world is able to see what has been going on. Finally, they will see the ovens and the bodies stacked like cord wood. Finally, they will see the little arms and legs cut up into pieces. Finally, they will see the death of all these little ones.

But it is important to remember that while this sting operation by the Center for Medical Progress might be a kind of D-Day, it is not the whole war. Even before these videos abortion clinics were closing on a regular basis. For decades men have been fighting against abortion through sermons, prayers, picketing, and books. I think of hundreds of pastors, including John Piper, who have faithfully preached against abortion year after year. I think of my friends Charles and Al who regularly picket in front of abortion clinics. I think of  R.C. Sproul Jr. who whenever tragedy strikes reminds us of the greater tragedy of the thousands of babies legally killed every day. I think of Francis Schaeffer and his work in the early eighties. I think of pastors who have converted women walking into death clinics and helped them raise their children. I think of all the older ladies who pleaded with God to end this atrocity.  I think of parents who have many children or who have adopted unwanted children. On and on the list goes.  We have always hated abortion. We wanted it to end. Christians are not waking up for the first time. But there is physical proof of what we have always known. Babies are being chopped up for profit. Like pictures coming out of Germany in May 1945, these videos vindicate the war. There is a reason we fight.

Thanks to all the brothers and sisters, pastors and priests, mothers and fathers, who fought in the shadows since Roe v. Wade. We are grateful for your faithfulness. May our generation be worthy of walking in your footsteps. May we look to you, our Savior, and the Word to give us strength to endure in this battle against abortion and the other battles we will face in the coming years.

I also think of all those hipster Christians who thought abortion was old news. Who got tired of the war. Who protested those who said abortion was wicked. Who were silent in the face of the holocaust. Who loved their reputation more than Jesus. We need to move on they said, after all it is legal. We should ignore the barbed wire and the smoke and the smell. We will preach Jesus, but we do not need to make a political statement. Ours is a spiritual kingdom. May their tribe decrease. May they see their folly and publicly repent of disgracing the name of Christ. They lost their moral authority when they abandoned the Scriptures. Now they have been exposed as those who ate and drank while members of their congregation and city sacrificed their children to Molech. They are hirelings (John 10:13).

Then I think of us, the under forty generation. The battle against abortion has not been won, by any stretch. As Doug Wilson reminds us we must pursue. We must push through to Berlin. We must strike at the root, which is feminism. We must keep doing the things which matter most such as worshiping and loving God. The work we have been doing in our churches, homes, and communities we must keep doing.  We are seeing victories in the fight against abortion, which is wonderful. But these victories did not happen overnight. The war did not start with these videos. It started a long time ago. The war will not end with these videos. There are years of battle ahead of us, which is the great danger for my generation. We like quick fixes and easy answers. We lose steam fast. A few tweets and Facebook posts and we move on. But three weeks is not very long. Three years is not very long. Even three decades is not very long. Besides the abortion battle, there is sodomy, a wicked and corrupt government, a compromised church, evolution, the denial of Scripture as God’s inspired Word, the rampant sexual immorality in the church, and many other battles to fight. Abortion is but one front, albeit an important one, in our work for Christ’s Kingdom. Are we prepared for the long haul?  Will we fight for decades like our fathers did? Can we keep the pressure on year after year? Or will our attention wane and vigor wilt? Will we bend the knee to the world in the end? Will we grow weary?  I am grateful for the impact these videos are having. It is nice to win a battle now and then. But we must prepare our churches, our families, and ourselves to fight the long war. Without endurance, all that is gained will be lost.

Book Review: Finally Alive

Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again?Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again? by John Piper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good book on understanding the new birth. He spends a lot of time in I John, which makes sense. He does a good job showing why regeneration in necessary, how it occurs, and what are the results of it. He also nicely balances God’s work and the necessity of means. God does not believe for us nor does God magically change people’s hearts apart from the Word of God. I especially enjoyed his last chapter on how to be more proactive in evangelism. A really good book on this topic and worthwhile read for anyone working through I John.

What did I not like? Piper is still too revivalistic for my tastes. Too many altar calls in the book. Second, he has a low view of the institutional church and the sacraments. Both of those are almost non-existent in this book. Finally, I do not think he adequately addresses the continued presence of sin in the believer. That was not the point of this book. However, with all the time he spends in I John he should have explained more clearly how a regenerate person can keep on sinning. His view of regeneration is so dramatic that a natural reading leads to perfectionism. But he does not believe Christians are perfect. I did not think this tension was adequately explained.

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Signs of the New Birth

John Piper in his book, Finally Alive, lists eleven signs of the new birth from I John.

1. Those who are born of God keep his commandments (I John 2:3-4, 3:24).

2. Those who are born of God walk as Christ walked (I John 2:5-6).

3. Those who are born of God don’t hate others, but love them (I John 2:9, 3:14, 4:7-8, 4:20).

4. Those who are born of God don’t love the world (I John 2:15).

5. Those who are born of God confess the son and receive (have) him (I John 2:23, 4:15, 5:12).

6. Those who are born of God practice righteousness (I John 2:29).

7. Those who are born of God don’t make a practice of sinning (I John 3:6, 3:9-10, 5:18).

8. Those who are born of God possess the Spirit of God (I John 3:24, 4:13).

9. Those who are born of God listen submissively to the apostolic Word (I John 4:6).

10. Those who are born of God believe that Jesus is the Christ (I John 5:1).

11. Those who are born of God overcome the world (I John 5:4).

I would add two more.

Those who are born of God know they are sinners and flee to Jesus when they sin (I John 1:8-2:2).

Those who are born of God believe that Jesus came in the flesh (I John 4:2).

I would also add to his number three that the emphasis in I John is on loving the brothers, that is other Christians. Of course, John is not excluding loving our enemies and pagans, but that is not the emphasis in I John.

Book Review: Think

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of GodThink: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great book for any Christian to work through. Pastor Piper effectively combats both laziness in thinking and pride in thinking. The book pushed me to work harder at thinking as I read and write. His chapter on the connection between faith and thinking was a bit weak. He seemed to be saying that you must be able to think to have faith. Still the book was superb and has already changed the way I study. As usual, Pastor Piper aims for our affections. He wants thinking to be an expression of our love for God and love for men.

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Take Up and Read

John Piper shows how grace takes a very practical priority in Paul’s letters. He begins and ends each letter with grace. Pastor Piper tells us why this is important.

Over at Ligonier they discuss what Charles Spurgeon believed about unconditional election. Several of Spurgeon’s quotes are pure gold.

Translating the Bible into various languages is one of the primary ways the Church reaches into lost countries and cultures.  Without a Bible in their own language people will have a difficult time learning about Christ and obeying his commands. However, there is always the danger that a translation will not be faithful to the text.  Some Islamic translations are attempting to make the Scriptures less offensive by removing the term “Son” when referring to Jesus. Gene Veith addresses that particular issue here.   And here is a lengthy note by a missionary on why this translating to accommodate a  particular culture is rotten.

I remember a pastor preaching on Proverbs 7 and adultery saying, “Dread the first step.”  How many lives, marriages, and churches have been destroyed because men and women do not dread that first step?  They play with knives and wonder why they and those around them end up bleeding on the floor.  Andree Seu over at World Magazine describes how affairs often begin with a very small first step.

Here is a tribute to John Knox. One of my favorite men from the reformation. He is a great example of how clinging to Christ gives one courage.

Finally, Carl Trueman has great quote from B.B. Warfield, a professor at Princeton when it was still reformed.  The quote hits at the center of the Christian life; an understanding that we are saved by grace through no merit of our own.