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Jeremy writes in with today’s question: “Dear Pastor John, I have served for the past seven years as a ‘worship leader.’ Something I’ve had trouble reconciling is how worshiping God turned into singing trendy praise songs in a community setting. Does it derive from the Levites and appointed leaders in the Old Testament? I have a hard time finding something relatable in the New Testament. In fact, one of the Scriptures that I find most denotes what worship is comes from Romans 12 where Paul tells the church in Rome that worship is giving of one’s self completely to God. Long question short, what brings us the corporate musical worship that inhabits almost every church today?”

Let’s just overlook the use of the word trendy, because I doubt that is really what he is asking. I don’t think he expects to find in the Bible a justification for trendy. I think his question really is: Why do we sing for a half an hour in worship services all over the world? Why do we do it that way?

So, let me try to go at that and see what I can do. I would define worship as anything we do which gives expression to the supreme, all-satisfying worth of God. That is worship, which would include both offering my body to be burned in martyrdom (1 Corinthians 13:3), because I am showing how precious Christ is to me, that I am willing to give up my life for him. And it would include my singing, my heartily offering up my voice and my heart in church as I sing, because I am giving expression to his worth as I sing a God-exalting song.

What makes them both worship is the experience of the heart which treasures God above all things. That is the essence of worship: the experience of the heart. Jesus says your heart is far from you. You worship me with your lips (Matthew 15:8–9). This is a zero worship. So, the essence of worship is a heart that treasures God above all things. The universe was created so that human beings would do everything we do and use everything we have to display the supreme worth of God. And in an ideal world all is, thus, worship.

Now, how does it come about that today most evangelical services around the world, at least the parts I have been to and that I look at online, have an extended time of singing at the front-end and preaching at the back-end? Here is my best effort to give an account for this. When you compare — this is the most important thing I am going to say; this is a little observation here — when you compare the Old Testament and the New Testament, something startling emerges with regard to worship. In the Old Testament, there is an extremely detailed set of guidelines for how everything should be done in relationship to the tabernacle and the sacrifices and the way people come to God. In the New Testament, those details are almost completely lacking. I am tempted to say completely lacking. There is no way anybody could construct a normative worship service from what we have in the New Testament. Lots of people think they can, but I don’t think so. There is more tradition going on there than they realize.

My opinion about why this is so is that the Old Testament was a “come see” religion with all of redemptive history focused on a culturally unified ethnic people called Israel, and the New Testament is a “go tell” religion with no ethnic center, no geographic center, no cultural center. And, therefore, the New Testament is written so as to be a manual of theology and life, useful in all cultures and all the peoples of the world, which is why it should be translated into all the languages of the world. If the New Testament had given detailed guidelines for what a worship service should be, it would have enshrined one first century culture to be imposed on all the cultures of the world. It would have been a colossal failure given what God designs for his church to look like all over the world as it becomes embedded in, incarnate in all the cultures of the world.Do We Really Need Musical Worship?

So, to explain why there is so much singing and why there is preaching, I don’t think you look for prescribed patterns in the New Testament. You look for emphases, trajectories, implications, the nature of God, the nature of man, the nature of his mind, the nature of his emotions, the nature of salvation, the nature of gifts. And what you find is that there is an extraordinary centrality and emphasis to the word of God in the Christian life, and there is at least one example of preaching mandated in the context of worship:

I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1–2)

And as we would expect from the Old Testament legacy of singing, there is a good bit of singing in the New Testament and pictures of it in the age to come.

There are a couple of texts, at least, that say it should be done corporately. Let me just give you a flavor of singing in the New Testament. Heaven in Revelation is full of song.

“And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!’” (Revelation 15:3).

And James says,

“Is any one [among you] cheerful? Let him sing” (James 5:13).

Then Paul says,

“I will sing with my spirit, and I will sing with my mind” (1 Corinthians 14:15).

And, again,

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

And then he says the same thing, almost, in Ephesians 5:18–19, only here he makes it clear that it is corporate. He says,

“Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”

And you got this same Paul — bless his heart; I just love this guy — at midnight, feet in stocks, having been beaten with many blows, and he and Silas are singing (Acts 16:25). They are singing hymns to God, which means he knew some hymns by heart. Singing was so much a part of Paul’s life. You don’t usually think of Paul as a singer, but as a logician who pounds out Romans on an anvil of truth. You are like: No, no, no, no. He sang in tongues and he sang intelligible language and he sang in prison. He probably sang on the road and sang in the boats and sang while he was clinging to the shards of wood in the sea. This man was a singer big time. And where did he get that? Jesus sang. He sang.

“When they had sung a hymn” — He and His apostles — “they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Mark 14:26)

The last thing he does with his disciples, almost, is sing with them.

And, of course, the New Testament loves the Psalms, and the songs are full of commands to sing over and over. Five times I think it says: Sing a new song (Psalm 33:340:396:198:1149:1). And Jesus says that his new covenant scribes, the writers, are going to be:

“like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52).

So, I expect we will always be singing new songs and old songs, and I don’t know if the word trendy is helpful. I think new is great. I hope we will, anyway.

So, it doesn’t seem at all surprising to me that over the centuries Christians would come together to corporately express the infinite value of God by lifting their voices and lifting their hearts in song about his worth, and that they would crave to hear the voice of God heralded from his word. Of course, lots more could be said about why we do what we do in worship. But that is pretty much why I feel so at home today in worship services like this, provided — this is a huge provision — provided the preaching and the singing are radically God-centered, Christ-exalting, gospel-rich, Bible-saturated, singable, and authentic through and through.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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We have a lot of questions from parents of prodigals, and those parents want to walk wisely. Dennis, a father, writes in: “Pastor John, thank you for this podcast. I have a 16-year-old prodigal son who has left our home and walked away from Christ. I struggle to know whether I should generously financially support him in the world, like the father in the prodigal son story. Or, unlike what it seems Eli should have done, should I take a more strict position in relation to my rebelling son? The prodigal was given his inheritance, blew it on lewd living, and returned home in repentance. Eli’s sons were wicked, lived in all sorts of sin unchecked and unrepented of, and they died for it. Abundant grace or strict restraint? What should the father of a prodigal do especially in regards to finances?”

I love the way he has already thought a lot about this and thought about it from the Scriptures. Frankly, I wish I had precise and clear answers, but let me say what I do have, and maybe the Lord will use it in some way.

One of the things that makes a relationship with a prodigal so difficult and complex is the interplay between passages of the Bible concerning church discipline and passages concerning parenting. One of the hard church discipline issues is that, on the one hand, we have a call, for example, not even to eat with someone who is a professing believer and living in immorality (1 Corinthians 5:11). And on the other hand, normal expectations of what godly parenting is might make that kind of guideline very difficult to carry through. And there are many other kinds of ambiguities as we try to sort through the special role of a parent in the life of a child who will not submit to his parents’ authority any longer or doesn’t believe any longer in what the parents believe.Should a Christian parent give their rebellious child money?

So, with regard to financial help for a prodigal, I can’t see that there is just one rule that applies to every situation. It seems to me that there are so many factors that make a difference. How old is he? How serious is his sinful behavior? And what are the effects of it on others and the harmfulness of it on himself? Are there elements of respect remaining in his heart? Is there departure? Was his departure ugly rebellion or just a more honest difference of conviction? Is he eager to get on his own feet financially, or is he just aimless and simply mooching? And on and on the questions go that we have to ask.

The reason I think these questions matter is because they are the sort of thing we have to ask about all of our generosity towards others, especially those who mistreat us. I am thinking of Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:38–42,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

However, as radical as those are — and I will circle back to that radicalness in just a minute — it is plain that from the Bible itself that there are structures of society, spheres of society where the Bible puts limits on those teachings. For example, in the family, children should obey their parents and parents should discipline their children rather than always turning the other cheek (Ephesians 6:14). In government, the state has the right to punish criminals rather than turning the other cheek (Romans 13:14). In schools, teachers have a right to give failing grades to students who don’t do their work. In businesses, employers have the right to see that employees fulfill their expectations in order to earn their salary; otherwise, they could lose their jobs. In the church, people can be excommunicated. But when all those spheres of life are taken into consideration, Jesus did mean something radical when he said, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,” and when He said, “Give to the one who begs from you.”

So, the older I get, the more inclined I am to take those commands more literally than I once tried to justify myself in not doing. I don’t think there is a simple rule that will dictate when you help a prodigal financially and when you don’t. On the one hand, you want to show the child that Jesus is your all-satisfying treasure. And any withholding of money which might be wise in any given situation is not owing to stinginess or fear or greed or insecurity. It is owing to a desire to do the child good. We want him to see that. And that would mean that parents would look for other ways to continually do good to the child.

I think that is a significant principle that, if you have to say no in one area because the child’s expectation is harmful as you see it, you try to help him see your heart is still there for him by pouring yourself out in other ways. You will continually reach out to him rather than write him off. You will continually offer yourselves even if you don’t offer your money. And that may be much more difficult. To get on a plane and go across the country might be much more difficult than wiring money. You will go out of your way to be there for the child.

And, yes, at some utterly surprising moment, you may give him a wonderful gift that is not designed to advance his sin, but lavish him with grace in the hopes that God might open his eyes. Above all, I would just say to this parent: Immerse yourself in the word of God and join hands with your spouse in continual prayer for wisdom and love and boldness and even joy while your heart is breaking. And I think God, out of that, will show you the way forward.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Today, we look at an intimate question, a dark mystery we all face in this life: the moment of our passing. A podcast listener named Jim writes in to ask simply: “Does God determine when we die? And was this determination made from even before we were born?”

Yes and yes. He does. God does determine when everybody dies and he did decide that in eternity. So, those are my answers.

The first thing to say is that God governs with infinite wisdom and power everything that takes place. Ephesians 1:11 says God “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” There is no reason contextually or biblically or theologically to limit that “all things.” So, God governs all things. That applies to the giving of life and the sustaining of life and the taking of life. He works everything, including when we are born and when we die, according to the counsel of his will. For example, in Acts 17:25, it says he is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” Or, again,1 Timothy 6:13, “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus.” And so on.Does God Know the Exact Day I Will Die?

Here is more specificity. James applies this sovereignty precisely to whether and when we die. He says that instead of saying we are going up to such and such a town to do some business there and get a profit, “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live’” — now, that just settles it for me — “‘and do this or that’” (James 4:1315). And then James adds, “As it is, you boast in your arrogance” — meaning, he thinks it is arrogant to presume we live one second longer than God wills for us to live. “All such boasting is evil” (James 4:16). The point is, only if God wills, do I live another minute. Therefore, the Lord decides when I die.

Jesus put it this way: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground” — meaning, die — “apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of much more value than the sparrows” (Matthew 10:29–31). Now, what is the point? The point is, if the time for the death of a tiny bird in a remote forest is of a concern to God and determined by God, how much more will our days be numbered and determined by God with great care and wisdom. In fact, the psalmist says to God, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16). Which means, the days that God has allotted for me and you are already written in a book. They are decided. There aren’t any extra ones outside the book that slip up on God.

Job confessed this about his own children when they had all died in a storm. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Hannah says the same thing in 1 Samuel 2:6, “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” In other words, life and death are in the hand of God. Moses says the same thing when he quotes God in Deuteronomy 32:39, “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”

So, my answer is: Yes, God is God. He governs the world, and that includes the time for our conception in the womb and the time for our death. His children don’t want to have it any other way, do we? God is always better than blind fate. God is always better than random chance. God is always better than demonic triumphs. What else would we want than for God to determine when we are born and when we die?

And in answer to the other part of Jim’s question: There are reasons for saying that God decides this in eternity, whether we live or die and how long we will live. One of the reasons is that he speaks of our being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the earth. It is hard to imagine that God would choose us for salvation before creation and leave something as relatively insignificant as when we are born and when we die to chance while taking care of the big thing before the foundation of the world.

In fact, Ephesians 1:11 says God “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” There is no such thing as chance with God. Therefore, all things are moving according to plan and, since God knows all the future, he can take all things into account when he plans in the beginning. He does not have to wait to see how history unfolds before he completes his plan. History and our lives were planned, and they were planned before the foundation of the world.

So Jim, you and all God’s children are in very good hands. You are as Henry Martyn said — now, let this sink in — “You are immortal until God’s purpose for you is complete.” What could be more thrilling? What could be more empowering? What could release more courage and risk in the cause of Christ than this?

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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This is one of the most important questions we’ve gotten in the Ask Pastor John inbox, and it comes to us from a listener named Jesse. “Dear Pastor John, in a recent episode (#948) you note that: ‘God sent his Son into the world to suffer with us and for us. This means that, if we trust him, none of our suffering is punishment for sin. Christ bore all of our punishment for sin.’ But there are very real consequences for our sin in this world, both on ourselves and on others, both for believers and unbelievers alike. For example, financial hardships following selfish overspending, or sexually transmitted disease following promiscuity. How do we see this as discipline and not punishment? And what really is the difference between the two?”

Is Pain Punishment for My Sin?The difference between God’s discipline of his children and God’s judgment on his enemies is an infinite difference. So, I hope I can help Jesse feel the difference, because it is so important for his or her own walk of faith.

So, let me begin by defining the difference with a cup full of biblical passages — just two. And they are massively important. When I speak of God’s judgment upon his enemies, I am referring to the misery that he brings upon them, not for any purifying or restoring or rehabilitating purposes, but solely to express his holy justice, his retribution, not restitution. And it is purely on the basis precisely of what the enemies deserve. It is not to demonstrate mercy. It is to demonstrate righteousness and justice.

For example, Revelation 16:5–6,

“I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, ‘Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!’”

So, there is the mark of pure retributive justice. It comes upon the sinner solely because of what they deserve, not because of any good that the punishment will do them.

You can see it even more clearly in Revelation 19:1–3, because here the judgments are eternal, not temporary. So, clearly they are not helping at all for a person to become holy. They are punishing him for not being holy. Here is what it says:

“After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.’ Once more they cried out, ‘Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.’”

So, this is what I am talking about when I speak of God’s punishment upon sin in contrast to the discipline of God’s children. It is what the guilty deserve. It is holy and just retribution, and it is eternal. Therefore, is not designed for rehabilitation. It displays God’s justice, and it highlights how valuable mercy is to those who receive it.

On the other hand, God describes his discipline for his children very differently and extensively in Hebrews 12:5–11. Listen how different this is:

“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him” (Hebrews 12:5).

Notice, this is discipline, not retribution. This is happening to God’s son, whom he loves and means to improve, even though it involves God’s displeasure. You can see that in the word reprove. And it goes on:

“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. (Hebrews 12:6–10)

There is the great difference: “for our good, that we may share his holiness.” That is different from punishment on God’s enemies. “For the moment all discipline seems painful, rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

So, I say again: There is an infinite difference between the painful things that come into our lives and discipline us — designed for our good that we may share God’s holiness as loved children — and that terrible experience of pure retribution where we simply bear what we deserve and experience God’s justice forever. It is called hell. And, of course, Jesse — and this may be the stumbling block — Jesse is absolutely right that many of the painful things in the Christian’s life are owing to our own sins: some that we committed before we were Christians, and some that we have committed since we have been Christians.

When Jesse asks, “How do we see this as discipline and not punishment?” it sounds like he may be making the mistake of thinking that God’s disciplinary action can only be the result of our righteous behavior through persecution, maybe, and God’s punishment comes only as a result of unrighteous behavior. Now, that is not the case. God’s discipline may indeed come from our own sinful behaviors and their consequences as Christians. And you can see this in 1 Corinthians 11:30 and following. Some Christians had sinned. They had really sinned in the way they had treated the Lord’s Supper. And here is God’s response:

“That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died,” — died for their abuse of the Lord’s Table, their sin. Christians sin. They died for it.

He goes on, “But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord” — meaning: ill, weak, death — when we are judged by the Lord — “we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:31–32).

Amazing. This is a stunning example of God’s disciplinary judgment that goes so far as to bring about the death of his child. And that death is the disciplinary effect of sin in the child’s life because it keeps him from going to hell. It says, “that we may not be condemned along with the world.” That is why he took us out. Amazing.

So, Jesse, there is an infinite and precious difference between God’s retributive justice in punishment and God’s purifying discipline in our pain. And that difference does not lie in the origin, the human origin of the pain — whether good or evil. It lies in the purpose and the design of God in our suffering.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Episode 1,000 today. It should be a little out of the norm, and it is. Today we tackle a surprisingly common phenomenon, made super convenient by the technology of the smartphone. Of course we’re talking about sending nude selfies. This is part of a growing conversation in our culture. I recently met with the assistant principle of a large public high school here in the suburbs of Minneapolis, to talk about smartphones and teens. She said to me this, I wrote it down: “In the last year, I’ve been shocked at how many kids — kids that you would never suspect — have naked pictures on their phones, private pictures sent between them and a boyfriend or girlfriend. In my job I look through a lot of phones, and when I come across those pictures, I’m simply stunned. To me, when it comes to high school students and their smartphones, this is the most surprising trend I now see.”

This is part of a much larger phenomenon, among young males specifically, who will send unsolicited nude pictures of themselves to girls, out of the blue — a disturbing new practice now well documented by journalist Nancy Jo Sales in her eye-opening book: American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers. It’s a troubling book, too, and a wakeup call for any parent with a daughter who has a smartphone.

I say all of this to introduce today’s question, which comes to us from a 20-something listener named Lily. She writes: “Dear Pastor John, I’m currently in a long distance dating relationship with a fellow Christian. Lately, he has requested that I send pictures of myself nude, which I obliged. I now regret this decision. What would you say to young, unmarried Christians, who are tempted to make this same mistake?”

Never Send Nude SelfiesI think I have good biblical authority in saying on behalf of God to every one of his children, male and female, don’t ever ask to see anyone naked except your spouse and don’t ever offer to show yourself to someone naked for erotic or sexual reasons — not medical reasons — except to your spouse. And I mean don’t do it in person and don’t do it in pictures. And I will give you seven reasons for why I think I have God’s authority in saying that. And I hope none of you hearing me will ever do it or ever do it again.

  1. When God created man and woman, it says in Genesis 2:25, “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” That guilt-free, shame-free existence came to an end when Adam and Eve sinned and their first experience after that sin was guilt and blame and shame. And so, in Genesis 3:7 it says, The eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” Then God had mercy on them in Genesis 3:21. It says, “The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”

God’s plan for the lifting of that shame is the sacred relationship of marriage, just like marriage is the reversal of numerous elements of the curse. The freedom that we are to discover is not on stage: let’s take our clothes off in movies and on stage. It is not in a striptease joint. It is not in front of boyfriends or girlfriends. It is not in front of our phone. It is the profound respect and love and security of a covenant relationship called marriage. That is where people of the most ordinary looks can be free from shame. That is what love does.

Outside of that relationship, God treats nakedness as one of the most vivid forms of divine judgment. Isaiah 47:3 says, “Your nakedness shall be uncovered, and your disgrace shall be seen. I will take vengeance, and I will spare no one.” Or Lamentations 1:8, “Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy; all who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness; she herself groans and turns her face away.” Ezekiel 16:37, “Behold, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated. I will gather them against you from every side and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness.” In other words, nakedness in the covenant bed of marriage is a beautiful and thrilling thing for God’s children. But nakedness outside that relationship is a manifestation of divine judgment, even though we have been taught as a nation by the media, by the movie industry, and by certain notorious stars to regard nudity as a form of power and distinction and fame. “They glory in their shame,” the Bible says (Philippians 3:19). That is number one.

  1. It follows from this understanding of nakedness and clothing that the apostle Paul would say, “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control . . . with what is proper for women who profess godliness” (1 Timothy 2:9–10). Now, all three of those words —kosmio, respectable; aidous, modesty; sōphrosunēs, self control — all three of those words, interestingly, have the connotation of thoughtful, serious use of a woman’s mind as to how to make her clothing speak about her godliness. Every woman should ask that question: How is what I wear and not wear speaking about my godliness? Clothing is not a matter of indifference in God’s economy. It speaks about a woman’s (and a man’s) view of God and her own commitments to God and joy in God and her freedom from the manipulative maneuvers of men to get what they want. That is number two.
  2. Paul assumes in 1 Corinthians 12:23–24 that we take special care in covering the most intimate parts of our body. He says, “On those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.” That is part of the way God has helped us live with the consequences of the fall in this sinful world.
  3. Paul tells Timothy and, by implication, other young men, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers” —treat younger men as brothers — “older women as mothers” — and here is the key one: treat “younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1–2). Now, what does that mean?Treat younger women as sisters in all purity.It means that, until a man is married, he should let his proper treatment of his sister, his real sister, dictate the purity of his behavior with his girlfriend. Another way to put it would be this: View the temptation to ask for nude pictures the same way you would view the temptation of incest.
  4. If a man asks an unmarried woman to show him her body, by definition he is unworthy of her: unworthy of her trust, her affection, and her covenant. That request that he is making, in itself, should be enough for the woman to say goodbye. I mean this. I really mean this. Come on, women. If any woman thinks that is normal male Christian behavior, it is not. It is sick. It means he is clueless as to godliness. It means that when he gets tired of you before or after marriage, he will feel free to ask someone else to take off her clothes. And if he can’t get it in person, he will get it from the internet. And you will have told him it is okay, because you cooperated before marriage, not just in marriage. So, just settle it. If he asks, he is unworthy — period. It is over.
  5. In the Song of Solomon, which exults in nudity between a married man and woman, it says, more than once, “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song 2:7; see also 3:5; 8:4). That is exactly what sexually erotic pictures do that we are not supposed to do. They stir up desire that cannot be lawfully satisfied, which means they will lead to masturbation or to fornication.

I don’t know what goes on inside a woman’s head. But I can only think that it is a deformed sense of sexuality if a woman gets pleasure out of helping a man act like a thirteen-year-old boy with his masturbation. Is that really the kind of man she wants?

  1. And finally, number seven, the least important reason. It is the least important reason and may be the most compelling. To take such pictures is virtually certain that they will go public sooner or later, and you will discover what God meant by bringing judgment on yourself.

So, with God’s authority, I think I can say to both men and women: Don’t ask and don’t give such pictures.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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A young listener of the podcast, named John, writes in to ask: “Hello Pastor John! I am in high school. At school I want to be well liked — even thought of as cool — but I’m also very scared that wanting to be popular will lead me into sin. How can I live godly and be well liked?”

I am glad he feels that way, because that is right. I think being driven by coolness is deadly. The problem with wanting to be cool in our culture is that cool is almost always defined by the fool. So, it is almost always: Cool = Fool.

If you want to know what a fool is, read the book of Proverbs in the Bible. In fact, I think every teenager, especially boys, should read Proverbs over and over and over again, because of how clearly the Proverbs expose the stupidity of much that is considered cool. They make the cool guy who is getting a different girl every weekend look like an ox going to the slaughter, which he is (Proverbs 7:22).

It is not cool. It looks cool. Everybody thinks it is cool. TV is going to tell you it is cool. Movies are going to tell you it is cool. Your friends are going to tell you it is cool. It is clearly not cool to regard him as not cool. God says he is an ox going to the slaughter, where his throat is going to be slit — and that is not going to look cool in the end. You can be smart. God is very smart. And you should trust what God says about what is cool.

Now, what about letting Jesus define what is cool? I mean, really, really cool — eternally cool, viewed as cool by the smartest, strongest, wisest people in the world. Here is what an example would be of cool:

“Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them,” thinking it is cool. “But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you” — now, substitute whoever would be cool among you, because I think great is just as good or ten times better than cool — “must be your servant, and whoever would be first” — or cool — “among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42–45).

So, the essence of cool — cool before God, cool before the wisest, smartest people in the world — the essence of cool is being so poised and so content and so peaceful and so satisfied and so mature and so confident and so joyful and so courageous in Christ that you are freed, you are set free from the insanity of the fool who thinks that being cool comes from your clothing. I mean, this is insane. Or your hair. Come on. Or what movies you go to or video games you have watched or what phone you carry. This is insanity.Can I Be Faithful to God and Popular at School?

You are a human being created in the image of God almighty, destined to live forever and ever and ever in hell or in heaven. Nothing could be more stupid than to think that your significance, your worth, your greatness, your coolness is in what people think about your outward appearance instead of what they think about your inner reality that is going to live forever and ever and ever. So, be one of those teenagers who wakes up from the lunacy of the cattle drive mentality where the whole herd of cattle is going right over the cliff because some cool bull or some pretty heifer is out there leading the way right off a cliff.

Here is the problem usually as I see it: Most teenagers in general — oh, I hope you are an exception to this. I hope everybody who is listening is an exception to this. But most teenagers in general are doing nothing of any real significance. They are playing sports. They are going to parties. They are watching movies. They are playing video games. They are cleaning up the room. They are hanging out. They are dinking around on their computers. They are doing a little homework. And since nobody is doing anything of real significance, cool has to be defined in silly, superficial, stupid things like looks or cleverness or swagger. Good grief. But what if Christian young people began to do things that are really significant with their lives — began to be like Jesus, serving other people rather than thinking that coolness is in how you look, making a difference in the world?

Let me give you a crazy example just to help you feel what I feel when I talk about real service, real significance, real cool in this world. The year is 1945. World War II is raging. Thousands of teenagers wanted to fight, and they are too young. Jack Lucas fast talked his way into the Marines at age 14 in 1942, fooling the recruits because he is just big. And he stowed away later on a transport out of Honolulu heading for Iwo Jima, and he survived on the boat by sympathetic leathernecks passing him food.

Now, he is 17. He has been doing all of this for three years. He is 17, stowed away, and on D-day when they went ashore — and you have to remember that 6,800 American soldiers are buried on this tiny island of Iwo Jima, and many of them, maybe most, were teenagers: 18- or 19-year-olds. He landed without a rifle, because they didn’t even know he was on the boat. He grabbed one lying on the beach and fought his way inland.

It is D-day plus one. Jack and three comrades are crawling through the trench when eight Japanese sprang up in front of them. Jack shot one through the head. His rifle jammed. As he is struggling, a grenade lands at his feet. He yells the warning to the others, rams the grenade down in the soft ash, and immediately another one rolls in. Jack, 17 years old, falls on both grenades. “You are going to die,” he remembered thinking.

Then, aboard the ship afterwards, the Samaritan ship, the doctors could scarcely believe it. This is a quote — sorry for the language: “Maybe he was too damned young, too damned tough to die,” one said. He endured 21 reconstructive operations and became the nation’s youngest medal of honor winner — the only high school freshman to receive it. Now, when I read that, my spine tingles. I am 70 years old, and my spine tingles. I don’t want to waste my life on cool — 10,000 times more cool than having your hair twisted just so that nobody thinks you are so yesterday.

So, my simple challenge to John and thousands like him is: Don’t try to be cool. And don’t try to be uncool — that is not the goal. Neither is. Try to be free from the herd mentality, and be a radical servant. Focus not on what you are not going to do or not going to be, but focus on what you are going to be — the things you are going to do for the good of others. He who would be great, cool, Jesus said, must be the servant of all, like Jesus who died for others that they might live. What would that look like at your high school, church, neighborhood? It would turn your whole focus around. How can I serve somebody today? Not, How can I get somebody to like me today? What a crazy, radical, wonderful, revolution. And I just say: John, lead the way in this.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Welcome back to the Ask Pastor John podcast with John Piper. We begin a new week with a question from a young woman named Kate. “Dear Pastor John, thank you so much for all that your ministry has done for my faith and relationship with God. I can’t fully express how much your words have changed my walk with Christ forever. I was very encouraged by your words in episode 908 about fatherhood, directed to the husband of a wife who wanted children. In the episode, you said, ‘There are glories of motherhood, too. That’s for another time.’ I would like to hear about this glory and any other encouragement you have for me.

“I have never taken it lightly to have children. It seems overwhelmingly weighty to me to be responsible for forming another person’s character for 18 years and beyond. It has absolutely terrified me in the past, and for a time I decided not to have kids. As I have found my identity in Christ, I have also found strength to agree to willingly have children, and obey God’s call on my life, but I am still so afraid of perpetuating my own dysfunction and sins into them. I am afraid of childbirth, also, but ruining their hearts scares me the most. I would love to hear any advice you have for me. Thank you.”

There are glories in motherhood that every woman should think about and embrace and rejoice in as God calls them to motherhood. And when I say “glories,” I don’t necessarily mean things that are easy, but things that are profoundly significant and beautiful and precious in God’s sight and essential for his purposes in the world. So, that is what I want to focus on. So much more could be said about those other issues she raised, but she asked me to say what are some of those glories that you said were for another time. So, I will mention five.

  1. It is a glorious thing that human life originates in the womb of a woman and is sustained for nine months by the woman’s own body and in most cultures is sustained at her breasts for another year or two. Both Moses and Paul saw this as a glorious thing, a great wonder of the world, that a mother should be continually amazed at. To be sure, all the glories of this life are fallen glories, imperfect glories, corrupted glories because both our souls and all of nature have fallen under the judgment of God because of sin. But the glories still shine through, and in Christ we are meant to embrace them and free them as much as we can from the contamination of the fall. Immediately following the words of God’s judgment on the serpent and the woman and the man in Genesis and immediatelybefore God’s merciful clothing of the man and the woman with animal skins, right in that little place, Moses records this: “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20).

What If I Ruin My Kids?Now, it seems clear to me that God intends this right where it comes — after the curse, before the mercy of those skins — God intends this to be seen as a gift of unspeakable grace. Both Adam and Eve were warned that the day they eat of this fruit they will die (Genesis 2:17). And, in one sense, they did. But instead of only death, not only did they live, but Eve becomes the source of all human life. He could have done it another way for the mother of all the living and every woman after her. Then Paul tries to show how significant this is in 1 Corinthians 11:11–12 where he says, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.” In other words, every man that has ever lived, however small or great, owes his life to a woman, his mother.

  1. Then the Psalms multiply the glory and the wonder of all of life originating in the woman by saying explicitly that her womb is no mere natural cocoon, but the sacred place of God’s own personal handiwork Himself. Psalm 139:13–14says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” God is at work in the womb of every mother, and his hands are forming an everlasting human being just as closely as if he were using his fingers and knitting needles — and that is a great glory.
  1. Then the Bible describes the glorious ongoing shaping of every human by the influence and teaching of his mother.Proverbs 1:8–9says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.” She has given her sons and daughters life and now, by her teaching, she gives them garlands and pendants for their neck. These are intended to be signs of glorious ministry. In my opinion, the most influential people in the world are mothers. Thousands of men may rise up to positions of power all over the world. All of them come from the womb and the influence of mothers, even kings and presidents. This is amazing: it says in Proverbs 31:1, “The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him.” So, not only do you have the words of a king, but you have Scripture as the oracle of his mother that she taught him.
  1. God’s design in all of this is that a mother should be duly honored, or, you could say, appropriately glorified for her gifts and her sacrifices to her children.Ephesians 6:1–2says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother.’” Children are to honor their mothers because their mothers have done an honorable and glorious thing in all that they have birthed and influenced.
  1. Lastly, the sorrows that every mother will experience in giving birth and raising her children will be glorious sorrows. And what I mean is that, when a mother has sorrows — even over the forsaking of God, the forsaking of a family by a child — when a mother has such sorrows, it is a glorious sorrow because it is a partaking in the very sorrows that Jesus himself experienced at the one point where he compared himself to mothering: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37). So, here we have Jesus comparing himself to a hen, a mother longing and aching and crying and praying out for the wayward children in Jerusalem, and they are not coming — and he is weeping over Jerusalem. Your sorrows as a mother are glorious sorrows because they share in the very sorrows of the Son of Man when he compared himself to motherhood.

And Kate, the list could go on. So, take heart. Of course, you and every woman and man bring brokenness. That is what you emphasize. You bring brokenness as well as faith to the challenge of parenthood. But remember these promises. I will just give you two. They are daily precious to me:

  1. My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus — that includes mothering needs, as well as others (seePhilippians 4:9).
  2. God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having all mothering sufficiency in all things related to mothering, at all times in your mothering, you may abound in every mothering good deeds (see 2 Corinthians 9:8).

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Last night John Piper published the article “How to Live Under an Unqualified President.” Today the Desiring God staff gathered in the commons area in our Minneapolis offices to watch the swearing in of President Trump, and pray together for him and our nation. What follows is a field recording of John Piper’s unscripted prayer, delivered with no intention of being made public. The below is a transcript of what he prayed spontaneously, reflecting on his article.

Father in heaven, we ask now that your name would be hallowed in this moment, in this room, and in this ministry; that your name would be hallowed in Washington, and hallowed by Donald Trump and his family, his cabinet, the congress; that your kingdom would come, that your will would be done there.

John Piper’s Prayer for President TrumpTo that end Lord, we ask that you would bring Donald Trump out of darkness and into light. Give him a spirit of brokenness and humility. “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). I pray that you would break his heart, give him humility, show him what it feels like to be penitent and to admit he’s done wrong — to confess he was wrong, ask forgiveness from you, and ask for forgiveness from the people that he’s wounded or people that he’s set a bad example for. He needs to be given the gift of faith and humility and repentance, and I pray that you would give it to him.

We’re not eager to have him as an adversary. We would like him as a brother. That will not be an easy transition for him. He’s a very wealthy man, and it hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23–24). But Lord, you are able. The disciples threw up their hands in dismay saying, “Who then can be saved?” You didn’t say, “Well, that’s a stupid question.” You said, “With man this is impossible.” Then, you entered the glorious news, “But with God all things are possible” — including our conversion and Donald Trump’s conversion (Matthew 19:25–26). That’s our big, overarching prayer: for the advance of your kingdom and salvation there and throughout this land.

Until that day Lord, in your wonderful providence, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). So, guard him from folly. Guard him from stupid decisions that would damage people, damage America, damage the church. Guard him. Superintend him and the congress in such a way that, beyond their explanation, things turn in a direction that makes for the kind of good that, even though it may not have faith in it, would have the form of faith in justice and love.

We’re asking for that kind of miracle, Lord: that you would surprise even him at what is able to be brought about. Protect him from the deceptions of the Evil One at the level of this providential governance of your way in the world, in America now. So God, I ask that the church would not rely on government and would not rely on a Trump presidency. I pray for evangelical leaders not to celebrate Donald Trump’s presidency with no apparent qualification, no tears, no brokenness, no sadness that he set such an awful example for this land.

Open the eyes, I pray, of evangelical leaders who seem so triumphalist in this moment as to think their way has been brought about and now good things are coming because we can lean on the arm of the flesh the way so many seem to give the indication. Grant that there would be a rising tide leaning upon the Holy Spirit, leaning upon the word of God; that there would be a countercultural dependence upon prayer, rather than the dependence of a power in high places.

Grant that there would be a burden for spiritual awakening, a burden for sharing the gospel, a burden for building healthy, strong, biblical churches in the land, a burden for taking the gospel to the nations of the world. Lord, don’t let us exhaust our energies fretting about the little molehill of this presidency when we have a Himalayan Mountain range of blessings in Christ Jesus. Grant that we would operate out of the fullness of Christ in doing many good deeds in this land. Grant that the church would be purified, and all the corruption and all the worldliness would be removed so that the world would stand up and say, “That’s a strange people. That’s a different people. That’s a godly, humble, servant-like, sacrificial, loving people,” rather than just, “That’s just Republican. That’s just what the world is.”

So God, work a great work of renewal in your church, I pray. May we live for the sake of the salvation of the world, O God. May this land not be our land, but heaven be our land, and the gathering of your people from all the peoples in every tribe of the world be our passion and our burden. Put America down in our priority list, and put the kingdom of God up, and the name of God up, and the church of God up, and the reaching of the nations up. Grant, I pray, that here at Desiring God, we would have a significant part to play in that. O, give us wisdom.

Give wisdom to the content team here, and great skill and wisdom to the technological team here so that together we might make the greatest possible impact to spread a passion for your supremacy, not American supremacy or Trump supremacy or Republican or Democratic supremacy. May it always feel like a heavenly orientation rather than an earthly orientation.

Make us willing, O God, to submit ourselves to the lordship of Jesus, not the lordship to any man who leads. We ask for your help. We humble ourselves under your mighty hand.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

 

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Today we have a question from someone who is drained. So in our exhaustion, how do we recharge without neglecting our souls? Here’s the question: “Hello Pastor John, I’m 41 years old and have been a pastor for nine years, leading a small but growing church of 120 people in Wales. As I have served as a pastor and leader over this time I have found that due to the spiritually, emotionally, and mentally draining nature of the work, whenever I have spare time (an evening off, a Saturday free) all I want to do is switch off and do trivial stuff like watch sports. I feel like I should be doing more personal reading or devotional, God-pursuing stuff, but I can’t find the energy or desire. Ministry is hard work, so when I have opportunity, I want to escape from things connected to it. How do you handle this tension between ministry as part of your work that you give your time and attention to for much of the day and then the need to have energy to pursue God personally outside of your formal ministry activities? Have you felt this tension and do you have any advice for a young, and already tired, pastor?”

How Should I RechargeYes, I have felt that tension. I doubt that you or I will ever escape it. As I have tried to examine and study my own heart in regard to its inclinations when I am tired, I am fairly suspicious of how self-justifying I can be in the defense of my inclination to compromise my mind and my conscience and what I do with my so-called downtime. I say that just to wave a yellow flag lest we assume that weariness after the Lord’s work can justify almost anything. I think such subtle self-justifications of worldliness are the beginnings of many pastoral downfalls. You might say worldly downtimes lead to wicked downfalls. So, here are a few things I have found and would suggest.

  1. I would begin by making it my daily prayer that God would keep me back from ministry-ruining, marriage-ruining, soul-ruining sin in my leisure. Jesus did not teach us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation” for nothing (Matthew 6:13). God keeps the hearts and marriages and ministries of those who cry out daily to be kept.
  2. I would say put your own personal Bible reading and meditation and memory work and your own soul feeding with Bible-saturated literature, put that first in the day, not at the end of the day when you are tired. Take your best times of the day with your best energy and feed your soul. Worship the Lord over his Word with your best energy, not the dregs at the end of the day. Any pastor who says “I work so hard at the demands of the church ministry that I don’t have energy for feeding my own soul through Scripture and Scripture-saturated books,” has got his day backward.

If there are parts of the day with much energy and parts with little energy, then let one of the parts with much energy be given to what is absolutely indispensible: communion with God in his word for the sake of seeing and savoring the King of heaven. Because if this personal joy, personal fellowship, personal hope languishes, everything languishes — and worse than languishes usually. What our people need from us more than anything is the aroma of Christ.

The world is filled with managerial experts in ministry. They create seasons of excitement in the life of the church, but they are shallow. And sooner or later, the human soul grows weary of such technical expertise. You have to keep propping it up with more smoke-and-mirrors and sound and light and everything external. You have to keep propping it up. It is so superficial. And the soul longs for a deep man of God. This is what people long for: a deep man of God. Have you been with God? Come show me that you have been with God. A man of the word, a man of substance who has gone deep with eternal things and comes up out of the valley laden with nourishing fruit for his people. This is only possible if we give the first priority to knowing God, not working for God. So, that is my second suggestion. Reverse the order of your days. Give your best energy to going deep with God. Your people will not begrudge being in second place. Oh, they will love it.

  1. And the third thing I would say is this. In the evening when your work is done or on your day off, it is no sin to leave your Bible on the table, provided you leave your Bible for the sake of your Bible. The Bible itself calls us to do many things beside read the Bible. Therefore, to obey the Bible, we have to leave the Bible on the desk. Now, here is the challenge. If we leave the Bible for the sake of the Bible, we must do things that don’t undermine our capacities to revel in what we find in the Bible. Let me say that again. When we leave the Bible for the sake of the Bible, we must not do things that have effects on our heart and mind which un-fit us for deeper, sweeter reveling in the glories of what we find in the Bible.

We must be absolutely honest with our hearts here. Come on, pastors. We must be honest with our hearts here. Does this video, does this TV show which everybody is watching — of course they are — does this video game leave us refined and intensified in our capacities to revel in the unsearchable riches of Christ in the Scriptures? I fear that for many pastors the answer would be no. And he just doesn’t care. He is tired. I believe we live in a day where immersion in popular culture with all of its God-ignoring, sin-enjoying, pride-exalting assumptions is not only assumed to be harmless, but assumed to be necessary. Both of those assumptions are wrong — deadly wrong.

So, let me see if I can give a few pointers for the kinds of things a pastor or for that matter anybody might do when he feels mentally spent.

  1. When the mind feels too weary to read, it is probably not too weary to listen. Therefore, audiobooks are an amazing way to feed the mind when the mind is too tired to pick up the spoon to feed itself. And this feeding can be enormously enjoyable and refreshing and informative and upbuilding. All of us know that there are great books, both fiction and nonfiction, that are a hundred times superior to what is on TV or the trending movies, which we have always wanted to read anyway. Listening to a great book may not provide the same exactness as reading it. But we are not comparing listening to reading. We are comparing listening to a great book on the one hand to groveling in the world’s sensual entertainment on the other hand. So, that is number one. Consider audiobooks that are great and edifying.
  2. If you are married, think about things you can do with your spouse. There are games like Scrabble you can play together that require different levels of mental energy. And Scrabble may not be your cup of tea. But they provide a peaceful, pleasant, relaxing way to be in the same room and provide natural occasion for conversation from time to time.
  3. And the last thing I would say is go to Spurgeon and get this. I love this. Don’t neglect the soul-refreshing world outside your house that God has given you precisely to touch your soul with new vision, new energy, refreshment. I am talking about the sky and the trees and streams and the fields and birds and the animals, even the beautiful cityscapes like I have outside my house, as well as landscapes, which you have to drive away to see. The soul needs God’s beauty. Take it in directly from nature. And here is the way Spurgeon put it:

He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and the sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy. A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours’ ramble in the beach woods’s umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive. A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is the next best thing. . . . For lack of opportunity, or inclination, these great remedies are neglected, and the student becomes a self-immolated victim.

So, let me summarize. First, ask God to protect you from wasted leisure. Second, reverse the order of your days and give your best energies to feeding your soul on the sweetness of Christ. Third, leave your Bible for the sake of your Bible — and that means, when you leave, don’t do anything that would diminish your capacities to revel in the riches of the Bible.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Welcome back to the Ask Pastor John podcast with longtime author and pastor, John Piper. Pastor John, here’s the next question on the list, and it’s a heavy one, an email from an anonymous man: “Pastor John, did God cause, or would God cause, my wife to miscarry our child because I have a struggle with lust and pornography? I have a lot of guilt right now, and I don’t know how to think about God’s discipline and punishment for my sin. I’m very confused, please help.”

Wow. I see four issues at least in this question.

  1. What does it mean to struggle with pornography?
  2. Does God discipline his children for their sin?
  3. May that discipline come in the form of harm, or even death to others that you love?
  4. What should you do if you believe God has dealt you such a blow?

Let’s take those one at a time.

  1. What does it mean to struggle with pornography?

I don’t know what our friend, unnamed, means by “struggle.” He struggles with pornography. It might mean daily bondage of joining sinners on the screen in their wickedness by supporting them with our interest and our attention and our pleasure and then feeling guilty about it when we are done every day. I don’t think that is much of a struggle. Calling it a struggle is a little less damning than what it really is; namely, capitulation and participation.

Or, he might mean that he conquers the temptation 99 times out of 100 and in a moment of weakness gives in, but quickly turns away and repents. That may be what struggle means. That would be a little more meaningful to call the world struggle. Whatever he means, I am glad he calls it sin, which he does, because Jesus takes this sin so seriously, he uses a horrible picture to describe the warfare against it — and the worst possible warning against failure in the war.

Here is what he says: “If your right eye causes you to sin” — so he is talking about lust — “tear it out and throw it away.” What? With a screwdriver? This is gross. This is horrible. What? Your fingernails? “For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). So, tearing out the eyeball is the most horrible description of the nature of the warfare, and hell is the most horrible warning of failure in the warfare. So, I doubt that any of us has ever overestimated the danger of failing to fight lust. And I am glad that our anonymous questioner has called it sin and is feeling bad about it.

  1. Does God discipline his children for their sin?

Does God discipline his children for their sin? Yes, he does. This is described, perhaps, most fully in Hebrews 12. He even speaks of bloodshed if necessary as the price we might pay for our sin. “Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:5–6). It never feels that way. But we need to believe that because the Bible says so. God says so.

It is very important to remember that this book of Hebrews 12 is the same book that in 10:14 says, “By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” — that means in the warfare.” Perfected. In other words, God can view his children both as perfected by Christ and still in need of perfecting in this life. And we should take tremendous heart from his painful perfecting work as evidence that we are perfected.

Or, we can add with trembling: He may see us in need of such protection from temptation that he takes our life. That is what it says in1 Corinthians 11:29–30, “Anyone who eats and drinks [the Lord’s Supper] without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” Fallen asleep means died. “But when we are judged by the Lord” — that is, put to death — “we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32). That is breathtaking. In other words, death, the death of a saint, the death of one who is perfected, the death of one whom he loves, the death is the discipline of deliverance from condemnation. God takes him out so that he will not be taken out by the devil and by sin and go to hell. So yes, the Lord disciplines, and his ways are not to be trifled with or made little of.

  1. May that discipline come in the form of harm, or even death to others that you love?

May that discipline come in the form of harm, even death, to others that we love, as well as ourselves? And the answer is yes, it may. This was certainly the case with David’s sin of adultery and murder with Bathsheba and her husband. Nathan the prophet said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin” (2 Samuel 12:13). And then the next thing, “Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord” — and surely that is what pornography is — “the child who is born to you shall die” (2 Samuel 12:14).

So, I would certainly say in my own life — now hear this carefully — I would certainly say in my own life, the most painful and humbling disciplining from the Lord has regularly been though the pain and suffering and sometimes death of those I love, rather than through any blows against my own body. Oh, that we only suffered in our own body. This has been the way the deepest Christians have always thought about the losses through the death of those they love. Jonathan Edwards preached numerous sermons about the way the Lord disciplines a church by taking away a godly pastor in death. Edwards’s godly wife Sarah spoke about kissing the rod of God in the death of her 54-year-old husband — a rod of discipline that she felt more than anyone. She called it a rod of God on her back. And she kissed it.did-my-lust-cause-our-miscarriage

Every loss that we endure as sinful children of God have two designs: one from Satan, one from God. Satan designs our unbelief and rebellion and renunciation and guilt and paralysis and loss of faith. God designs our purification and that we would hope less in this world and more in God who raises the dead.

I don’t know whether our friend who wrote this question lost his child in miscarriage as a direct discipline from God because of his pornography. I do not know. He does not know. I do know that in the loss of the child, God wills a new humility and a new submission and a new faith and new purity through the pain of this loss.

  1. What should you do if you believe God has dealt you such a blow?

Here is the fourth and final thing: What should you do? What should this person, this man, do if he believes that God has dealt him such a painful blow? And the answer is not in doubt. Many things are in doubt. Many things are uncertain in this situation. But the path of gospel obedience is not uncertain. The glorious truth of the gospel is that we never need to be sure whether a specific suffering is owing to a specific disobedience. You don’t need to know this. You don’t need to figure this out. I have dealt with so many people over the years who come into my office longing to know whether there is some connection between some pain and some sin. And I always start and end with the fact: You don’t need to know that.

And the reason we don’t need to be sure about that is that the gospel forgiveness and gospel righteousness imputed through faith in Christ does not depend on that certainty of understanding. It depends on Christ and on faith in him. We don’t need to be sure about the connection between our particular sufferings and our particular sins in this life, because the death of Christ is sufficient to forgive the worst sin in spite of the worst suffering. That is the glory of the gospel.

So, what our friend must do in this confusion — he says, “I am confused.” Okay, so I am saying, what he must do in his confusion is stop fretting about whether his pornography was the direct cause of his miscarriage. He should stop fretting about that. He will never know for sure the answer to that question, short of some direct revelation. Whether he knew it was or wasn’t, the lesson remains the same. The Lord gives and the Lord has taken away. And God’s merciful design for our friend is that he worship. Blessed be the Lord (Job 1:21). Worship more deeply the way Job did.

God also designs that he renounce sin more fully the way Job did and that he lay afresh on the power of the Holy Spirit to flee all temptation and that he renounce in the presence of his wife for her joy that he is done with this sin.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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