The Absolute Priority of Being Deeply Rooted in the Word - Advice for Church Planters from John Piper

Growing a Church Without a Heart for Doctrine
-John Piper, cited from Counted Righteous in Christ, pp. 22-23

To begin with, the older I get, the less impressed I am with flashy successes and enthusiasms that are not truth-based.  Everybody knows that with the right personality, the right music, the right location, and the right schedule you can grow a church without anybody really knowing what doctrinal commitments sustain it, if any.  Church-planting specialists generally downplay biblical doctrine in the core values of what makes a church “successful.”  The long-term effect of this ethos is a weakening of the church that is concealed as long as the crowds are large, the band is loud, the tragedies are few, and persecution is still at the level of preferences. 

But more and more this doctrinally-diluted brew of music, drama, life-tips, and marketing seems out of touch with real life in this world - not to mention the next.  It tastes like watered-down gruel, not a nourishing meal.  It simply isn’t serious enough.  It’s too playful and chatty and casual.  Its joy just doesn’t feel deep enough or heartbroken or well-rooted.  The injustice and persecution and suffering and hellish realities in the world today are so many and so large and so close that I can’t help but think that, deep inside, people are longing for something weighty and massive and rooted and stable and eternal.  So it seems to me that the trifling with silly little sketches and breezy welcome-to-the-den styles on Sunday morning are just out of touch with what matters in life.

Of course, it works.  Sort of.  Because, in the name of felt needs, it resonates with people’s impulse to run from what is most serious and weighty and what makes them most human and what might open the depths of God to their souls.  The design is noble.  Silliness is a stepping-stone to substance.  But it’s an odd path.  And evidence is not ample that many are willing to move beyond fun and simplicity.  So the price of minimizing truth-based joy and maximizing atmosphere-based comfort is high.  More and more, it seems to me, the end might be in view.  I doubt that a religious ethos with such a feel for entertainment can really survive as Christian can survive for too many more decades.  Crises reveal the cracks.


We Ain't Nothing, Really -

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
- 1 Cor. 1:26-31

Sometimes having a chainsaw in my hand brings clarity to my thought life.  I’m not really quite sure how it works, but this evening as I was clearing brush I had a revelation…I’m nothing…really.  I was thinking of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthians as he was reminding them that often God shows mercy to the nobody.  I cannot run like Usain Bolt.  I don’t have the intellectual capacity of Stephen Hawking.  I don’t have the oratorical genius of Martin Luther King.  I’m not wise, I’m not powerful, I have no noble birth; oftentimes I am foolish, I am frequently weak, and truth be known, God could have done much better by picking a more promising prospect.  It’s like signing a t-ball player to play in the World Series.  A far cry from Nietzsche’s √úbermensch, I barely graduated high school. And yet, somehow, God glories in making Himself known through the weak and powerless….

Just let this settle in amongst the synapse…glory is revealed through the nobodies.

It really shouldn’t surprise us though.  A God that considers reconciling the world to Himself through the ignominy of a Cross would be able to find glory in the most unlikely places.  A God that shows grace through the foolishness of preaching and baptismal waters and the bread and cup is a God that will glory in the ordinary and mundane.  He is a God in whom the foolish and ordinary and outcast can believe.  In Christ the nobodies are given righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, because at the end of the day our boasting is found in Another. 

The fact of the matter is…we ain’t nothing, really.



None Like You -

‘Ain’t no woman like the one I’ve got.’
- The Four Tops, Ain’t No Woman

Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’
- Proverbs 31:29

‘…to lose your life for another, I’ve heard, is a good place to begin.’
- Andrew Peterson, Dancing in the Minefields

Every year at this time there is a pause to reflect upon those women who have had significant impact in our lives.  Truth be known, I am surrounded by amazing women…,

My paternal grandmother is still alive.  Her health is failing and her memory is gone, but at 96 there is good reason.  She has lived an amazing life.  Raised in the rough and tumble mining town of Anaconda, Montana, her life was never easy.  With the challenge of alcoholic parents at a young age she took care of her even younger siblings and when the authorities found out all of the children were placed in a state orphanage and were kept there until they could fend for themselves.  Life was much more difficult then.  She married my grandfather and their marriage was always a challenge.  Still, she soldiered on until my grandfather’s death in 1996.  My grandmother lived a life in service to others.  Last week I had a meal with a couple she and my grandfather befriended in the 60’s; the wife had escaped from East Germany and the husband had escaped from Czechoslovakia while both were under communist rule and they had no friends or family in the states.

Both my mom and Judy’s mom are still alive.  Judy’s mom is an incredible treasure.  She can make me laugh like no other and her bold witness for Christ is unexcelled.  I feel like I still have much to yet learn from Ramona.  She has raised four children and worked hard as a farmer’s wife.  When the Minnesota winters got too cold she faithfully followed her husband to the Pacific Northwest.  And when her husband George died in 1984 Ramona only redoubled her efforts at loving and serving her family.  Always quick with conversation, you’ll find that no one is a stranger to her.  Her life has truly been lived for others and even at 83 her days are spent caring for her elderly friends.

My own mom is a rich treasure as well.  She raised three headstrong motorcycle-riding boys and lived to tell about it.  She and my dad will soon be married 60 years and in case you’re counting that’s a long time.  She is a faithful Christian wife and mother and doesn’t mind speaking up about it.  She loves my dad, her church, and Christ, and her kids, grandkids, and great grandkids are always on the receiving end of her many kindnesses.  Just tonight she ‘whipped up’ dinner for a bunch of us here at our place working on a little project.

I have four amazing daughters.  Each one unique and each one gifted in so many ways.  Lydia, our youngest, is sixteen, but headed for twenty-five.  She is mature and intelligent and has a sense of humor and wit that runs deep.  We can just look at one another and burst out laughing.  She has made it much more difficult for me to be serious about anything anymore (Just tonight she asked me how the motorcycle riding high school flunkie got the high school honor roll cheerleader!).  Children and adults love her.  Her nieces and nephews can’t get enough of her.  Her smile lights up any room.  Never concerned about herself, her life has been lived serving others as well.

Esther is my third oldest.  She and Tim have been married ten years and they have three beautiful children.  Esther is quiet, pensive, bright, and opinionated.  She loves her family like a mama bear and heaven help the person that tangles with her.  She makes friends forever and is as true blue and loyal as the day is long.  She teaches her children well, is an excellent cook, and always makes sure we are well fed.  We have great conversation; can incessantly tease one another, and we never really take one another too seriously.

Hannah is my second oldest; picture Sandra Bullock’s character in The Blind Side.  No one can make Judy laugh like Hannah.  She says and does hilarious things that manage to get to the most ticklish spot on our funny bone.  Hannah and Jim have two beautiful children.  Jackson is the family athlete and ‘bella is Hannah’s ‘mini-me’.  Hannah is the diligent student in the family and just this weekend graduated with another degree in nursing.  Hannah exudes kindness and everyone loves her as well.  If you are discouraged your cares are her cares.

Sarah is my oldest.  She is an entrepreneur, a businesswoman, and a tremendous help to her husband.  Sarah and Kevin have four beautiful children.  They are incomparably generous and are always looking for ways to help and serve others (Kevin and the two oldest boys spent the day here today installing a drip irrigation system for Judy for Mother’s Day).  Sarah’s boys work harder than most men I know, and Sarah and Kevin’s work ethic is the envy of the family.  Sarah is compassionate, serious-minded, plainspoken, articulate, and committed to her family.  She has a way of always getting to the nub of the matter.

Next is my dear wife Judy.  The reason our four daughters are the way they are is because of her profound influence upon them.  Judy is funny, reflective, smart, hard working, full of mercy, wise beyond words, longsuffering, a faithful friend, and is always glad to make sacrifices for others.  Her life has been lived in serving her family and others.  She has shown us what it looks like to suffer well and to come through tremendous trials with her faith intact.  There is truly none like her.

In each of these women the grace of God is evident.  In each of these women I am blessed beyond measure.  Their worth is far above the richest treasure. 



The Brevity of Life -

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
–Ephesians 5:15-16

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
-James 4:14

“Resolution #6: “Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.’”
-Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1, xx-xxi

Judy, Nathanael, Lydia, Daphne (our golden retriever) and I went to the coast yesterday*, specifically to Long Beach, Washington and Astoria, Oregon. It was an unusually beautiful day. It was warm and there was no wind to speak of. For a while the kids played in the surf and I threw a ball for the dog as Judy basked in the warm sunshine. For some reason I became quite melancholy. As I watched the kids play in the surf I become acutely aware of the brevity of life and that these moments as a parent would soon be gone. Soon enough both Nathanael and Lydia will be out of the home and Judy and I will begin a new season of life together. We drove to Oysterville and visited the old Baptist church. We spent about an hour just looking at old graves in the Oysterville pioneer cemetery and talking about our own mortality. We ate all the wrong food. We saw Jake the Alligator man at Marshes Museum. We got into a goofy staredown with a raccoon in downtown Ilwaco. We saw a herd of elk at Fort Clatsop. We drove to Astoria and fearfully climbed the Astor Column. At the end of the day the kids went out of their way to express their appreciation for the time we were able to spend together. It was an extraordinary day and will likely be a day not soon forgotten. These kinds of days seem to be few and far between. Like Peter in Luke 9, I wanted to build three tents and set up camp. I didn’t want it to end.

At different points during the day I began to think about God’s grace and the brevity of life. How is it that God gives wonderful days like this to undeserving sinners? Theologians call it ‘common grace’, or that grace that is a reflection of God’s kindness to believer and unbeliever alike (Matthew 5:45, Romans 2:4). And any gift that God gives (including wonderful days at the beach) comes as a result of His Son. Our lives are a vapor- too soon gone. I cannot keep time from moving forward, but because of Christ I can implore God for the grace to redeem it. Because of the gospel, forgiven sinners can see redeeming grace brought into the brevity of life and see it utilized for God’s glory. Even the unmerciful tyrant time must bow before Lord of eternity. The Psalmist writes, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). May this be our resolution and prayer, “Lord, teach me to take whatever days of my life that may be left and redeem them so that you may be glorified above all else.”


*Written in June 2007


The Absurdity of Beauty -

This evening an unmistakeable scent wafted across the back deck.   A closer inspection revealed that Judy’s lavender lilacs are coming into full bloom.  And just an hour or two earlier the sun was lying low in the sky and from the front porch a fresh hatch of insects were criss-crossing through the amber glow of the evening.

The fragrance of spring flowers and the golden incandescence of late afternoon sun, the laughter of children, a carpet of new trillium on the walking path, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, the taste of fresh strawberries, the subtle brilliance of Vermeer’s ‘The Lacemaker’, or even the artful guitar riff of Mark Knopfler…all aesthetically appealing, and all recognized as intrinsically beautiful.  The ponderous question is - Why?  In a purely naturalistic universe beauty is absurd.  Splendor serves no purpose.  Loveliness has no utilitarian value.  Magnificence equates to worthlessness.   In a world where stark and hardscrabble survival rule the day beauty is an unnecessary and unwanted luxury, and yet we see it all around us.  Why beauty?

Part of our problem is that we are far more than brute beasts.  The beautiful Chesapeake Bay Retriever by my side may enjoy a good steak bone, but I’ve yet to see her gaze transfixed by the orange and purple hues of a spring sunset.  We recognize splendor when we see or hear it.  We understand the contrast between the beautiful and the ugly.  We know when a musical piece is played badly or when cheap jack’s art is being pawned as the profound. 

Could it be that the beauty we behold is both reflective and doxological?  Could it be that beauty is intended to reveal something far more sublime and by doing so, beauty is to evoke worship?  Could it be that the beauty we see is pointing to something far more glorious? 

Consider the words of Israel’s ancient poet-king,

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

Could it be that all things beautiful are not the alchemy of a primordial crapshoot, but rather a megaphone loudly calling to us to look beyond?  After all, to declare is to announce with a loud voice.  In the universe around us a proclamation is being made and perhaps it’s time to listen to its insistent quasi-subtleties. 

While we lean forward in hopes of hearing this proclamation perhaps it’s time to take a deep breath as we catch a fresh scent of the lilacs.  Perhaps beauty is not so absurd after all.



C.S. Lewis' Evolutionary Hymn -

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair;
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

Wrong or justice, joy or sorrow,
In the present what are they
while there's always jam-tomorrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we're going,
We can never go astray.

To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
Towards that unknown god we yearn.

Ask not if it's god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.

Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature's simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,
'Goodness - what comes next.'
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.

On then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present,
Standards, though it may well be).

- C.S. Lewis