Reflections on John Piper and Steve Jobs

So yesterday was a big day for two American guys I admire. They even kind of look the same, but they’ve got some antithetical stuff going on – Jobs is all hip with his black turtlenecks and sneakers, while Piper, well, he wore a black shirt last night – but it appeared his top button was done up. He’s a little daggy. But otherwise they’re more or less exactly the same.

Their binary opposition goes a little further. They essentially have the same outlook on life, but for Jobs this outlook meant making fun toys for people to play with, and computers that make people more efficient at making money. It also meant making a lot of money.

For Piper, his outlook on life is well summed up by my liveblog of his Don’t Waste Your Life session in Brisbane last night.

Anyway. With Jobs resigning the internet is full of buzz about his life and times. Lifehacker featured this quote that reminded me a lot of Piper last night:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Here’s the video of the speech that quote came from…

Lifehacker, in a post featuring that quote, summed up his message as:

“There are many diverse opinions about Steve Jobs, and that’s the kind of result that generally follows a person who goes after what he or she wants and finds success. Regardless of how you feel about what he’s created, he had a vision, set out to achieve it, and did. As he notes in this quote and many others, this is your one chance at life. Don’t waste it.”

Here’s a few snippets from Piper last night:

Our lives go fast. The older you get the faster it rushes by. Our lives don’t consist in the abundance of our possessions. No one gets comfort from their bank balance as they lie dying. It’s really not about what we own and what we strive to own.

The pursuit of possessions ends in frustration because of the impending reality of death. Laying up treasure for ourselves, without being rich towards God, is foolishness. You’re a fool if you treasure up the world and don’t count God as your riches, as your treasures. A life devoted to amassing stuff is a life wasted.

Bizarrely similar. I guess the question for me is do I want to spend my life excited by the products of Steve Job’s approach to the dilemma of death, or standing beside Piper and magnifying Jesus. Hopefully it’s the latter.

Liveblogging: John Piper in Brisbane – Night Time Session

Piper is on familiar territory tonight with the talk titled “Don’t Waste Your Life” – which, if you’ve come in late, is the title of one of his most popular books. There are 3,300 people in da house.

Colin Buchanan kicks off proceedings with a little bit of 10,9,8, the Isaiah 53:6 Sheep Rap, the song Be Strong and Courageous, and Real Hope. Which is a sensational song. He closes with a sing along to There is A Redeemer.

John opens in prayer. Pleads that none of us will waste our lives, which are rushing away. We only have one.

In seventeen days we mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11. 157 people died on the two planes that crashed into the towers. 2595 people died when the towers collapsed. The third plane killed almost two hundred people at the Pentagon.

2986 people died in a matter of hours. Two years later there was an earthquake in Iraq and ten times that number died in one night. And then there was a tsunami that killed ten times that ten times in one night. Two weeks ago a helicopter with 31 soldiers on it was shot down by a “lucky shot” in Afganistan. Yesterday 11 people burned to death in an incredibly painful and tragic house fire. We would be stunned speechless if we were made to watch the car accidents that kill 50,000 people every year in America. Lest we think these are unusual statistics, 50 million people die every year in the world. 100 every minute. What does Jesus want us to learn about our lives from that?

Particularly from yesterday’s fire. What is Brisbane supposed to hear from that?

Jesus answer to that question is found in Luke 13. If a news reporter was to ask Jesus as one asked John “where was God” as they did after a bridge collapse a couple of years ago, this is what Jesus would say…

” 1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.””

The key is that last bit. We know that Jesus feels pain, and weeps, with compassion. You’re in trouble if your first answer is analytical. But after a few days sympathy won’t cut it anymore and we want answers. We need something concrete to stand on.

The astonishment we feel in the face of calamity is astonishment about the wrong thing. We should be astonished that we live while others die. The astonishing thing isn’t that people die from horrible stuff, that’s not the astonishing thing in a world of hell deserving sinners. The astonishing thing is that the roof in our building hasn’t collapsed.

Until we are amazed that we are alive. And breathing. Until that’s our paradigm, we won’t comprehend the gospel. We won’t understand what life is about.

God is setting the stage in these things to make sense out of life. All life hangs by a thread of grace. We have no control about whether our heart keeps beating. None. God does. He wants us to feel utterly and totally dependant on him and his grace. God owns us. We are not our own, we belong to him by virtue of him having brought us into being. We know we’re more than chemicals and matter and energy. There’s something more that chemicals. Love. Hate. Deep sacrifice. We know that these things are more than chemicals. It’s an awesome thing to be a human being. An unspeakably great thing. To be a human being. And God owns us and decides what the wasted and unwasted life is.

Job had ten children. It wasn’t a fire, but it might as well have been. It wasn’t 11. There were 10. And they were precious. And a wind came, and they were all dead.

John talks about a sudden wind at a sports event.

He plugs his son’s blog. Where he saw it. John tweeted “save your OMGs for the brink of eternity.” In a situation where an incredible burst of God’s power occurs it’s an appropriate response.

Job acknowledges that in God’s hand is life. The life of every living thing. The breath of all mankind.

We belong to God by right of creation. He made us. We hang by a thread of grace. Whether we live through hearing this message will depend entirely on God. James 4 – our lives are vapour, our plans are not our own – we should rather say “if the Lord wills” – it is arrogant to speak otherwise. It is arrogant to say “I’m going to Sydney tomorrow morning”… unless implicit in our thoughts/soul is “if the Lord wills it”.

If this ceiling collapsed and we all perished – God has done nobody wrong. He owns our lives totally. He can take our lives any time he pleases. If we take one another’s lives the injustice isn’t that we’ve taken life from each other, but that God has rights over our lives and we dare not touch it. God decides. Abortion is wrong. He just threw that in there.

If God sends his son into the world to die, to rise again – what’s it for – we don’t want to waste it. We don’t want to throw it away. Jesus is jealous that we not waste our one life. Our lives that are going very fast. The older you get the faster it rushes by. John says he “joins Jesus in not wanting to waste his life” – our lives don’t consist in the abundance of our possessions. It’s really not about what we own and what we strive to own.

The pursuit of possessions ends in frustration because of the impending reality of death. Laying up treasure for ourselves, without being rich towards God, is foolishness. John thinks this means you’re a fool if you treasure up the world and don’t count God as your riches, as your treasures.

Our foolishness, twin foolishness, is forsaking God (one) and his provision of life, for our own creation (two) that doesn’t compare or bring life.

“If anyone would come to me let him deny himself and take up his cross”

We might gain the whole world. But in the end, it’s over.

Have you ever known anybody that on their deathbed was heartened and made hopeful by the size of their bank account. It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work that way. It just seems to work that way when you’re healthy. A life devoted to amassing stuff is a life wasted.

“Only one life, twill soon be passed, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Piper is old and scared of wasting his life. He’s old enough to be our father. He wants us saved, our generation, and he would die for it. Our culture is geared to retirement and play. Buying a comfortable retirement. Collect shells. It’s a waste. He pulls out the “look at my shell collection” line. People laugh.

Fool. Don’t waste your life. Some of us will die young. In this room. And the onus is on us not to waste whatever life we have remaining.

This is the key juncture of this message… what does the unwasted life look like?

What does it mean not to waste our lives?

Philippians 1: The unwasted life is the life devoted to displaying the worth of Jesus in everything we do and say. God created this world in order that we might be so satisfied in him that we display to the world his glory. And our part of the bargain is everlasting joy and satisfaction. Life is about his worth, not our worth. Our life consists of displaying his worth – our created job, as the image of God, is to be the image of the one we’re the image of. We are designed to live so as to be so completely satisfied in who he is that our lives reflect that value. That’s what the unwasted life does. It falls so in love with God, and all that he is in Jesus, that when it lives it magnifies his worth.

Philippians 1:20 – “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. ”

This is a charter for life. John prefers “magnified” to “exalted”… you can magnify something in two ways. With a microscope and a telescope. The question is how we “magnify” Christ. A microscope takes something really small and makes it bigger than it is. To think of Christ that way is blasphemous. We’re doing what telescopes do – telescopes take things, stars or galaxies, things that look tiny to us, but they’re not tiny. A telescope makes these things look much more like they are. Or closer to how they are.

People in our cities give Jesus zero attention. Jesus is tiny in Brisbane. The point of living is to live so that Jesus doesn’t look tiny to people. That’s how we magnify him.

Whatever gain we have we count them as lost, in order that we might gain Christ.

You make Christ look valuable by living in a way that shows you prefer him to everything else. Everything else is rubbish compared to him. That’s how you make him magnificent. By valuing him above all other things.

We eat food in a way that shows Christ is more precious than food.
We use our house, our possessions, our computers, in a way that shows that Christ is more valuable than our stuff.

This is the core principle. We waste our lives if we use our stuff in a way that people would say we value it more than we value Jesus.

Paul says this magnification happens whether by life or by death. Christ can be seen as magnificent if in our dying we are counting it as gain. If we see being with Christ as being better than with our wife, our friends, our retirement. It’s infinitely better to be with Christ.

In death we lose everything in this world. And all we get is Jesus. And if at that moment there is a heart expression, as you’re in the hospital, “gain”… the nurses will know that to you, at least, Christ is magnificent.

That’s what the unwasted life looks like, magnifying the worth of Jesus.

Life and death are given to us.
For the purpose of displaying the supreme value of Christ in life and death.
The supreme value of life is displayed when we treasure Jesus above what life can offer and take. Either we aren’t scared of losing our possessions, or we’re using them for his gain. The challenge of the Christian life is to use our lives for his gain (the meaning of 1 Corinthians 7 might hang on this…). We should work hard at marriage, and at work, but there should be something in the way we hold these things that doesn’t look like the way the world clutches at them.

Treasuring him above all things is most seen when we are seen to be gladly willing to live or die for Jesus.

There’s a contrast in the way Paul approaches the thorn in his flesh and the way the typical secular Australian responds… “your power is shown to be great in my weakness, therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ might rest upon me.”

The point of life is not to be rid of thorns. There’s heaps of thorns in this life. There’ll be more tsunamis. More earthquakes. More death. We don’t live for that. We live for making much of Christ. Magnifying the surpassing power of Christ and his glory in our weakness.

What Australia needs. according to Piper, is 3,000 people whose worlds have seriously been turned upside down by Jesus Christ. So what we’re willing to lose, and striving to gain, has been turned upside down by the gospel.

Australia is a secular land. But a reached land. There are lots of cultures and places that are unreached. Almost all the places left to be reached don’t want us to come. They’re happy in their own religions. And that has zero to do with whether we should go. Paul wasn’t really welcomed anywhere. Paul went anyway. Even when he knew he was going to cop it.

John’s plea is that we see the example of Christ… who came, lived, died and was raised. In an unwasted life.

Jesus claim that he lays down his life, and takes it back up (John 10) is one of John Piper’s favourites, a magnificent thing.

Our aim is that before the judgment throne God doesn’t say “fool” but “well done, good and faithful servant.”

And we’re done.

Liveblogging: Piper in Brisbane – Daytime Event

John Piper, famous wearer of tweed jackets is in the house today, and by the house I mean the Brisbane Convention Centre. There are about 700 ministry types here for a day session, and there’s a sell out crowd of 3,300 coming tonight.

We’re celebrating 100 years of QTC today, and Piper says he is praying for the school at their church (Bible College) 140 years in advance, because that’s how long their church has been around. This shows remarkable faithfulness.

Today’s session is focused on preaching and it’s called “Proclaiming Christ”…

Piper opens by praying for:

“A passion for God’s supremacy as a cause of joy for all peoples. That Christ be magnified in our bodies, by life or by death. And that God would embed a desire to preach Christ in us”

And that’s about as fitting a summary of the content I think we’re going to hear today.

Then he says let there be light, and the house lights came on.

Proclaiming Christ without the Holy Spirit is in vain… our preaching is worthless if it’s not in the power of the Holy Spirit. He’s “setting the stage” for his five steps of proclaiming Christ with that foundation.

You can grow a church without the Holy Spirit. You can achieve lots. But who wants to do that. If we want ministries that reflect the fruits of the Holy Spirit they need to be based on the work of the Holy Spirit.

Proclaiming Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is what he’d retitle the talk as… if he wanted to be less catchy.

We’re looking at Galatians 3.

“Publically proclaimed as crucified” – doesn’t mean flannelgraph or video, it’s a recreation of the crucifixion before the heart’s eyes of the audience.

“Let me ask you this, did you receive the Spirit by works of the law (no) or by hearing that message with faith (yes).”

The Holy Spirit was received, and it came on the spear of the word – and that spear sank and they received the spirit.

“Are you so foolish, having begun…”


Piper says these are things that only God could have done. That’s the definition we’re working with.

The Spirit is the starting point.

The Spirit has transformative and empowering abilities in all of life, work, sex, relationships, ministry… this happens through the proclamation of the word, but this proclamation only happens through the Spirit’s power.

The Spirit is unleashed to crucify sin and to magnify Christ.

That’s the role, two texts that take us there.

John 16:14 – When the Spirit comes he will glorify me.

JI Packer’s book Keep in Step with the Spirit is the best book on the Spirit, though John Owen is possibly better, but less accessible.

The Spirit and the Word come together like stunt jets. Flying in formation, out of the mouth of the preacher. Wherever the word is flying faithfully the Holy Spirit is doing that work, preparing a slipstream. If the plane of proclaiming power lands the Spirit packs it in. If you get up and make a lot of Christ biblically you’ve got this jet with you. If you get up and magnify yourself you’re a plane crash waiting to happen (that’s an editorial summary of the analogy).

Wherever you magnify Christ, and look for ways to make much of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is right there.

Romans 8:13 – “by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, you will live”

By the spirit, we, and the people we preach to, kill sin.

We want people walking out of church equipped to kill sin in their lives on Monday and replace those with the fruits of the Spirit.

What does this mean though? How does it work? How does the Spirit kill sin? Is it a weapon/sword. Is it an accident that the sword in the armour of God is the word of God?

By the Spirit you put to death sin with the word of God. You don’t helmet people to death, or shield people to death, you use the sword to kill. But not to kill people – to kill sins.

Hear the word, believe it, be transformed by the spirit, and stick your sin with it… that’s the process we’re aiming for in preaching. To be equipping people to pause before they sin and stab it… the work of the Spirit is not like a gas producing amorphous feelings – it’s an active “stabbing” a cutting out, deliberately.

The Five Points

The aim

The aim of our charge is love. And faith. There are more ultimate aims – like glorifying God.

Conscious to our minds should be the aim to have people walking out of the pews deeper and stronger in faith in God’s word, and particularly the promise of the gospel.

We want people to walk out like Gideon – confident, valiant, knowing that they are insignificant and God is magnificent.

Why is faith the aim and not a slightly higher bar?
Piper wants to leave some deposits of the things he cares about in Australia. He wants people to think deeply about the nature of saving faith. Until you go deeply there you don’t see the transformative power of faith. The thing we miss often is that faith isn’t mainly a decision or affirmation of truth – such an affirmation is an aspect of faith, but it’s not the main aspect – because the Devil believes Jesus died and rose. That can’t be a main, saving, article of faith. It’s crucial that we get “main” right… receiving Jesus seems important, and traditionally we say “as saviour and Lord” and that is right… but this is a bit of a pat answer and isn’t a full understanding of the picture. It misses something essential.

We must receive Jesus as our treasure. That’s what Piper thinks is missing (I think it may potentially be implied in saviour and Lord but we may have lost some of that…). People aren’t driven by Lords and Saviours in our time – they’re driven by what they treasure. Passions. Status. Wealth. Joy. If we don’t fight that fire with a superior fire we’ll lose it. Saviour and Lord don’t resonate with people, the treasure lies in those concepts – but we need to address the competition.

“I count everything as lost because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”

That’s the attitude of faith, that everything is garbage compared to God… (I suspect that’s a fairly interesting doctrine of creation, but you see his point).

The same aim from different texts – a Spirit given treasuring of Christ as supremely precious.

The lynchpin point in that sentence is “supremely” – the supreme really means supreme.

The aim of proclaiming Christ is that he be treasured as supreme – this is what we should really be thinking when we use the language “believe” not just rationally assent to something…

The content

If that’s the aim in your preaching of Christ then you should, in your preaching, point out as many things about Jesus that are supremely valuable as you can. To me it was given to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.

If you asked Paul about his content strategy, that’s what he’d say.

Wherever you are in the Bible – go there. Somehow. To the unsearchable riches of Christ.

A word study of “riches of” links the concept to God’s grace, kindness, glory… this gives us a bit of a picture of what the riches of Christ should look like.

2 Corinthians 3:18-4-6 – one of the most ministry shaping passages in the Bible for Piper.

“We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit”

Paul is pushing the idea that because he’s presented Christ constantly he has done his job, he’s washing his hands of their fate if they haven’t listened to his message. He’s left it all out on the floor.

Piper doesn’t have any ideas, in terms of transforming lives, past pointing people to Jesus.

We want to continually find ways to unfold the riches of Christ’s glory. That’s the way it works.

That glory is seen most clearly (2 Cor 4:4) – “The God of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.”

Where is the glory of Christ seen at its apex? In the gospel. So our ministries should centre on the glory of Christ – which is the gospel.

What is the gospel?

6 Statements that Piper thinks somes up this gospel message.
Mostly from 1 Corinthians 15.

1. The gospel is planned. Christ died according to Scriptures. There was a plan. If there’s no plan there’s no gospel.
2. It’s an event. Christ died. In history. If he didn’t there’s no gospel.
3. He accomplished something at that moment. When he died. Before we were on the scene. Sin was punished. Righteousness was completed. Wrath was satisfied. These things happened before we were born.
4. They are freely offered to faith. Carson says the free offer is an essential component of the gospel itself, Piper agrees. If Christ accomplishes something, and you come and tell them about the accomplishment, and tell people to “work hard” – that’s not gospel. It’s free. Received by faith.
5. It is applied (via the Spirit) (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied – a good book). The accomplishments are now yours. The wrath taken away. The righteousness given. The punishment taken.

Most people stop there. With those five elements. Historically there’s nothing controversial about those elements. In many cases the sermon ends there. There’s a “who cares” element to all of these five. There are wrong answers to the question “why would I want to be forgiven”… you don’t apologise to your wife to get rid of a guilty conscience. You apologise for her sake.

But here’s point 6. Those points are going somewhere. Towards God.

6. He suffered once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. God is the gospel. The end point is that restoration of relationship with God. It’s not about our forgiveness. It’s about God – do you want him.

That’s where we see the riches of the glory of Christ most fully displayed. A ministry that meets our aim will lift up Christ in a thousand ways, but be centred on the gospel…

The manner
Paul makes it clear through his choice of words (kerusso in the Greek) that preaching is not evangelism, teaching, speaking…

Paul piles up preparatory statement before his imperative to Timothy to “preach the word” (2 Tim 4).

1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word;

Kerusso is a herald. The “hear ye” yeller of Roman times.

Preaching, not just teaching, is a distinction the Bible makes. John is worried that it’s not an operational distinction in Australia. If church is just teaching we lose something about the experience of the church to come. Small emotions for Jesus is blasphemy – it’s out of step with who he is and what he values. Preaching is designed to be the kind of communication that pulls together right thinking and right emotions. Expository Exultation is what Piper calls his methodology (he spells it out so we don’t think it’s exaltation). We worship when we preach. We worship when we experience God’s word made plain in a way that resonates emotionally.

A spirit filled preacher should see Christ clearly, not check out his mind with sloppy exegesis and hormones… he sees clearly and savours Christ deeply and exults over the word. The manner is expository. And a treasuring of Christ emotionally. There has to be lots of thinking but also experiencing.

The preparation
Lucid exposition and authentic exultation comes from Spirit given thinking and Spirit filled praying.

Think over the passage. Think over what it says. Use your tools (cheap plug for Accordance), then think. Think. Think. Think.

Most of the time in sermon preparation is spent thinking, and scribbling pictures with a pen. Pastors have to outthink everybody in the church. They have to think about all the objections, or at least the key ones. People love to have their pastors successfully outthink them. Best compliment he’s ever had is when somebody told him he anticipated and answered their problems in his preaching.

The Lord giving understanding, via the Spirit, comes after thinking. It’s not unfaithful to do the hard work of thinking. God uses it to show us truth. God didn’t have to give us the Bible, he could have done a direct communication thing via the mouth of the pastor… You have to learn to read to preach, or at least somebody has to do your reading for you and tell you what to preach.

Prayer. “Lets get really practical” – you pray before, middle, after, during, every 30 seconds. Help me. Help me. Guard me from pride. From fear. From rabbit trails. Help me. Every few minutes as you’re doing your preparation you should be praying for guidance.

Piper prays an acronym – IOUS.

I – incline my heart to your testimonies. (Psalm 119:36)
O – Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your word. (Psalm 119:18) What do you do when you look at the Bible and just see black marks on a white page? Pray that.
U – Unite my heart to fear your name (Psalm 86:11) – Sometimes we feel like our heart is fragmented by the worries of our minds. There’s crazy thoughts everywhere. So this is a good principle to get it together around…Don’t you just hate it when you start, mid preaching, watching yourself and wondering how it’s going. There’s a lack of integrity there, as soon as that process starts – either way you’re either starting to feel pride or insecurity. “Give us the miracle of self-forgetfulness.” We don’t just mean avoid fragmentation, but let there be just one of us – the one doing it.
S- Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love. We want to love what we’re doing, and what we’re saying. Even in times of his deepest depression, he has always recovered on Sundays. And he’s had low points (shares anecdote about forgetting his childrens’ names when writing a book dedication).

The Act
How do we speak/serve in the power that God supplies?

We serve in the strength that God supplies. But what does it feel like. It feels like we’re doing it. When we preach. I’m doing it. I’m moving my hands, and my mouth. So what does it feel like to serve in the power of God.

Another acronym. APTAT.

This has been Piper’s method, sitting on the pew, every time he’s spoken for 25 years.

A – Admit that we can do nothing (John 15:5). Say “Lord you know, I’ve prepared and I’ve thought, but I can’t achieve any plans for this church without you.” We can’t do anything without God.
P – Pray for help (Luke 11:13) – what we’re promised in Luke is the Holy Spirit, that’s what we’re asking for. Grant us the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
T – Trust a specific promise. This is the nub of the matter. You’re going into the pulpit to preach in the power of another. Piper picks specific promises from his devotions (say, Psalm 32 – God’s steadfast love surrounds us). Believe it as you speak.
A – Act. You just get up in the pulpit and act. Use your will. Your minds. Your mouth. You just do it. You don’t check out and become a vacant vessel. Get up and use your gifts. Preach, trusting that God is at work.
Thank him – Thank God that it is him at work.

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