Reflections on pastoring three decades in a downtown church (upon John Piper’s retirement from Pastoring)

This message is from September 12, 2012, when a new pastor was chosen for Bethlehem Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota where John Piper pastored for three decades (33 years to be precise). This allowed for Pastor John Piper to retires as pastor, in order to pursue more projects (such as traveling and speaking engagements, and writing more books) There are two previous (milestone) messages before this one that you can watch at the following links: (photo via www.desiringgod.org)

  1. There is the message given on December 29th, 2012 on his last official day as Pastor. You can watch it here – Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing
  2. And there is the last service he attended and preached, Easter Sunday March 31,2013 at Bethlehem Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota before retiring as Pastor there You can watch that video here – Last sermon John Piper preached. You can watch it here – God Raised Your Great Shepherd from the Dead
  3. There is also this new book being offered by Desiring God, authored by John Piper – FREE Ebook – Doctrine Matters by John Piper – Ten Theological Trademarks from a Lifetime of Preaching
  4. And here is a short snippet video message given at Southern Baptist Seminary recently in which John Piper talks about his love for the Book (Bible) and the influence Jonathan Edwards has had on his life- John Piper – What will you do your last 2 days?

The following message is from September 12, 2012 and has just been posted recently.

John Piper:

English: The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in M...

When I came to Bethlehem, in summer of 1980, which is just a few blocks from here, the Metrodome was under construction, and the first game was in 1982. And so, I came when it was being built, and I will leave next year, when it is being disassembled, and I’ve been thinking about the implications of that. (This was preached 9/12/2012 and by now, John Piper has already preached there for the last time, with the exception of  future visits at Bethlehem church). But, mainly, I’m mentioning it because of the way I responded to that felt threat. Not only when the dome was being built, did it feel threatening to our church: traffic, parking, crowds Sunday. Will this work anymore, when the games are at 12:03 and everyone’s driving in? But, when that freeway, that big junction, 94 & 35, when that was being built, in the late 60’s, early 70’s, you can imagine what a devastation that felt like to a nice, peaceful community that went across these nice little homes everywhere, and they’re wiping them out by the dozens, moving some of them. And our church is 100 feet away.

And the thought, „Can we even begin to survive, how is it even possible, will anybody be able to get here? So, the point is, how does one respond to threats. Because the point is, if you live even near an urban center, change is what happens. And maybe in little, rural communities the demands are very different. But, when you’re in a city, it is just one very exciting or threatening change, or both, one after another. And so, here’s what I wrote: I printed out the September 14, 1982 article that I wrote for our newsletter, called- God threw His shoe on Edom, or, The Dome is Dead. And the text was Psalm 108:9 „Moab is my wash basin, upon Edom I cast my shoe.” And, I’ll read the first two paragraphs:

Picture Edom in rebellion, against Yahweh and His people. Picture them mustering thousands and thousands of warriors. Picture the iron chariots, the war horses snorting and stamping, the bulging muscles and brawn skin of the mighty men, the razor sharp swords, the awful  pointed spears, the shields, flashing in the sun. The unflinching countenance of seasoned soldiers. Picture a horde of fierce fighting men, thundering through the valley. Fearful, dreadful, fierce, and powerful.

When God sees them coming, He sits down. He will wash His feet. With 18,000 fighting warriors approaching, like a stampede of Texas longhorns, God sits down to wash His feet. And then, as one would flick a fly, he tosses His shoe on Edom and 18,000 soldiers fall. God never even looked. He scarcely heard the noise. The world sits stunned at the victory, and God sits with His feet in the water. (3:40)

And that’s what I tried to show our people. That’s what I have been trying to show them for 30 years. We have a massively strong God. He’s never confused. He’s never perplexed. He’s never nervous. He’s never without an answer. He’s never threatened. And so, what I’d like to take my few minutes to do is just mention five things about that God that marked my efforts in the city here. And, you will discover immediately that they are not urban specific. And that is part of who I am. It’s been the way I’ve led, but, they are transferable, and they’re basic. So, here are the five things (4:35):

  1. Submit, (I have tried to, and I am encouraging you to)Submit to all of Scripture, as your absolute authority and bring into being a people who do the same. The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The testimonies of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, and the ordinances of the Lord are pure and righteous, altogether, more to be desired then gold, yeah, much fine gold.  Yeah, sweeter also than honey, and drippings from the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19) Brothers, it marks the God pleasing churches when there is an absolute commitment to His word. (5:48)
  2. Think through a coherent God centered theology and build a people who breathe that vision. Acts 20 „I do not count my life of any value, or as precious to myself. If only I might finish my course, and the ministry God has given me, to bear witness to the Gospel of the grace of God.” And then, he goes on, „And now, behold, I know, none of you whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom of God will see my face again. Therefore, I testify to you, I am innocent of the blood of you all. For, I did not shrink from telling you the whole counsel of God.” I am going to say that to my people. But, what’s that mean? ‘Whole counsel of God’, Paul said he did it. So it’s not impossible to do, for a human being. ‘Whole counsel of God’ can’t mean infinite. He did it. My take is that the whole counsel of God is that whole cluster of truths surrounding the core, the Gospel- Christ crucified, risen for sinners… Packer sums up the Gospel in Propitiation through Substitution. So, around that are clusters of doctrines. They are supportive and they’re explanatory, and they’re necessary to protect it and explain it, and to work it out, and that’s the whole counsel- it’s not every word in the Bible. I have not even preached one sermon in 33 years on the Song of Solomon. I’m ashamed of that, it’s a great love story. Is should have done that. But, I’m just illustrating, you pick and you choose, and you realize at the end of 33 years… oops. I shouldn’t have spent 8 years on Romans.But, you do the best you can. (photo below via www.gostandspeak.com)
  3. Preach the glories of that Good News, and all the truths that support it, and flow from it. I am underlining the word preach. Herald. I don’t mean teach, that’s great. I don’t mean share, and discuss, that’s great. I mean: HERALD- what a town crier does. Preach. So here’s the connection. All Scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, and correction, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God can be completely equipped for every good work. I solemnly testify, in the presence of God, and of Christ, who will appear to judge the living and the dead, by His appearing, and by His kingdom. PREACH THE WORD!!! That’s a weighty series of thoughts. And so, I’ve made that the bread and butter of the Bible theology preached. Because, frankly brothers, there are a lot of people today who don’t think preaching is uniquely used by God, but only one of many options. I believe that that word kerusso in 2 Timothy 4:2 means God has a special gift for His people, in the hour of worship over the word. And that, when a pastor full of the Holy Spirit, full of the word of God, heralds the glories of God in the Gospel, something unique happens. Other things are also essential. Small groups are also essential, education is essential, mission is essential. But, something unique happens, and I believe Bethlehem has thrived, flourished, maintained it’s unity through some really rocky times, because something happens in those moments, that, over and over again unite a people, in the presence of the living God, addressed by God almighty. So, I’m commanding it to you. You don’t have to have any particular personality to do this. If you have Jonathan Edwards on one side and Billy Sunday on the opposite side- they’re really different, and they both preached. Edwards, (with) one arm on a pillar and a manuscript in his hand, reading with blood earnestness, hardly a gesture. So, don’t write off preaching as a personality thing. (13:00)
  4. PiperMake prayer the visible engine of your life, and corporate prayer the visible engine of your church. So, have a place, and have a time for yourself. Spurgeon preached a sermon on a verse, that he called Robinson Crusoe’s verse. And the verse is „Offer to God a sacrifice of Thanksgiving, perform your vows to the most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me.” So: (1) Call on Me (2) I will deliver you (3) you will glorify Me. That’s the pattern of life. (1) Call (2) Receive (3) Glorify. And if your people learn that rhythm: (1) Call every day. Call on Him, ask Him for everything. Talk to Him continually, cry out. We love to say at Bethlehem, „What shall we render to the Lord, for all His blessings to us? We will call upon the name of the Lord!!! What a deal! You wanna pay me back? Ask for more! Because I am strong, and I get glory by being wealthy to my poverty stricken people. So, prayer is such a gift. So, personally, have your place, have your time. Don’t let anything take you from it. Kneel every day. There’s no big trick in that. (It’s) just something happens when the body says, once a day, „This too Lord (my body), I’m going low Lord, before You with my body.” I’m just gonna say it that way, too. Fasting and feasting. Both are good, neither has any rules on how long, or how much. It’s a good thing. And then, one of the hardest things we face is building a praying church, and a corporate praying church. And, Bethlehem is no great model. We’ve just tried over and over again to put prayer all over the place, and then to encourage the staff to be at one of those, or two of those, or three of those. I have, probably for 20 years, been to 5 prayers a week. 30 minute prayer meetings. Sounds big, it’s not big, because 3 of those are before services. Show up early and pray with 5 or 20 people, before service, for 30 minutes. And then, Tuesday morning and Friday morning, those are my prayer times with people. And, it makes a huge difference to pray with people. And then, model it from the pulpit. People don’t know how to pray, they don’t know how to feel when they pray, they don’t know what to say. But, if they hear you pray every week like a broken hearted, needy sinner, counting on God, crying out to a Father who loves you, they’ll learn how to pray. They will. And God will do mighty things, in answer to prayer.
  5. Trust every day that God cares for you, and will work for your good. Humble yourselves (1 Peter 5)  under the mighty hand of God, that in a due season (not now), in a due season He may exalt you, casting (and I think the participle means that the casting is an expression of humility), casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. So, keeping your anxieties for yourself is pride. Humble yourself (by) casting your anxieties away, on Him. He’s got shoulders that can handle them, and He won’t be the least burdened by them. If you keep them, you’re proud. It is proud to be anxious. You look weak, and you look frightened, and you look like a puppy, and all nervous, and you’re not, you’re proud. Because you’re not saying, „Ok, You want them, here they are.” And you give them to the Lord. (16:00)

Photo Wikipedia – John Piper born January 11, 1946
Chattanooga, Tennessee,United States

I’m gonna close, and I’m gonna give examples of how God’s been faithful to me:

(1) The excorcism. After the 1st or 2nd year here, I got a call that, „We have a demon possessed girl in this room, we want you to come.” (Up to that time) I had never in my life encounter a demon possessed person. I called Bob Stellar, cause the Bible says, „Go out, two by two.” I believed that, and we went together, at about 10 o clock at night. We were there ‘til, probably 1 in the morning, and she was ‘a gorilla’ with a knife, a little pen knife. So I kept on my coat, because I thought she could stick the winter coat (it was winter), and it wouldn’t do too much damage. And she’s walking around just – (sticking the knife) at people. And these were young Bethel students, unbelievably anointed and fearless, because they just stood there, they wouldn’t let her out. They were standing at the door, not letting her out, and she had a knife. She sounded like a (makes gruffy sounds). To make a long, horrible story short, about 2 hours later she’s passed out on the floor. We sang over her for about half an hour. She screamed for Satan to not leave her, went unconscious on the floor, as far as I could tell. (I thought) Did we kill her? I’ve never experienced something like that before. This is what you get handed, right? And she woke up, her face looked totally different, voice totally different, She had knocked the Bible out of my hands half a dozen times, as I was trying to read the Bible. I handed her the Bible, and asked her to read all of Romans 8. She did. She was in church the next Sunday, on the second row, scared to death that she was going to go wild in the service. She was resoundingly converted. She was in the church 6 more months, broke her leg playing soccerI visited her in the hospital and had long talks about what was behind all this. And if I could tell you her story you would not believe what she had done. But, God comes to me, and I’m a zero educated person, when it comes to demon possession and deliverance. What did I have? MY BOOK!!!! I knew, I knew that  I didn’t have anything. But, right here is power. I just kept reading it, and reading it, and reading it. And then, we just sang it. We took the tune „Aleluia, Aleluia’, and we put new words- ‘Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord’, ‘He is coming, He is coming’… someone would throw in another Bible truth and she went absolutely berserk and was delivered. God was faithful.

(2) A prodigal. My son came home one night (I won’t tell you which one), 15 years old, and he was an hour later than I had told him, I had waited up for him, „I said, „What happened?” And he lied to me. I didn’t know it at the time. In the morning he was gone. So, my son ran away. This is Friday morning, sermon preparation day.  I’m at home with him alone, Noel and the kids are gone. It’s just me and him. He’s gone. He left me a note under his pillow. „I love you, and I let you down, again. Don’t worry. I’m okay. Another city.” I wasn’t too worried, frankly, except: He’s gone! What do you do? How do you preach? How do you get a sermon ready? This is life guys. This is what you’re dealt with. And, I made the decision, knowing him, I wouldn’t call the police. He knows what he’s doing. I didn’t think he was suicidal, or anything like that. Big judgment call. And I prepared my sermon. I have no idea what I preached on. And I called one man, one guy, and I said, „This is the situation, pray with me, don’t know what to do.” (I) walked into church from behind, looking, maybe he’ll be here. You’re preaching under these c… He wasn’t, and on Monday I called the school and asked, „Is my son in class?” They said, „Yes.” „I’m his dad, I wanna see him now”. So I drove to the school. And he’s walking down the hall, and I’m walking out of the principal’s office, and he just starts to weep on my shoulder. God is faithful. And we had the longest, best talk that night…

(3) The spiritual gifts battle– trying so hard to be a bonafide noncessationist. To be open to all the good things God has given us. And crazies come out of the woodwork, and people give you false prophecy that just about devastates you, and God is faithful. I didn’t throw it away, I didn’t despise prophesying, but, I sure am cautious, because we got some of the weirdest stuff happen in the late 80’s, because we were trying so hard. And, I encourage you to try hard. „Earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may propehsy.” They are all for the upbuilding of the church. Don’t let them tear anything to shreds. And don’t let them make you bitter and ugly, which was my temptation. Because when a lawyer prophesied over me that my wife would die in childbirth, and my next child would be a girl, and you’re weeping your eyes out saying, „God, is that what you’re giving me?” And a boy was born, and she didn’t die- so- a false prophet.

(4) The moral failure in our church in ’92 and ’93 is the biggest challenge we ever faced, and God wonderfully got us through that

(5) The worship wars were hard, and He brought us through that

And so, the last point is TRUST HIM, trust Him. Cast all your anxieties on Him. He cares for you. Last verse:

„Let him who serves, serve in the strength that God supplies, so that in everything, God will get the glory, through Jesus Christ. To Him be dominion forever, and ever.” Amen

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