Mono, John Piper, and the Sovereignty of God

In light of the 2012 year being the end of John Piper’s tenure as Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church, I wanted to share how John Piper was one of the main catalysts for my passion for God’s glory and helped me to see that God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.  Here’s a bit of how John’s story and mine intersect:


It was only the second time I had been to the great arctic civilization known as Minneapolis.  I had traveled there once previously with my parents to view the campus of the University of Minnesota, thinking it was merely a formality before I went there for my undergrad degree.  I was shocked when I didn’t get in, my ACT was fine but my GPA was too low, and I had never been back, and honestly thought I would never have a reason to go back.  For all I knew, I would never enjoy the winding maze of the skywalk (is it cool or completely passé to call people in the skywalk, “skywalkers”?) or see a Vikings game (Why would I want to anyways, unless it was to watch them get stomped by the Packers?). 

However, through events already set in motion at the foundation of the world, God’s sovereign will would bend my very being to Minneapolis and the ministry of Bethlehem Baptist Church and the ministry of John Piper through Desiring God.  By God’s kind grace I met Jesus Christ on the campus of the school I ended up at (University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point) and became involved with Campus Crusade for Christ (now called CRU, which was the cool thing to call it before they changed the name to the cool thing).  It’s where I met my wife and I also owe it as the place where my passion for pastoral ministry started. 

On a cool week at the end of December, after the close of my first semester as a sophomore, my friend and mentor Chris Tillman and I made the 3 ½ hour journey to Minneapolis for their Christmas Conference know as TCX.  We made only one stop, to fill up and to enjoy some Cousin Subs on the way (I had the BLT on Asiago Cheese Bread).  I was anxious to get there, since I was excited for my first real big conference as a believer, and was excited to spend the time with my friends. 

Also, being a big Packers fan, during the beginning of the conference, the Packers and the Vikings were fighting for the Division Title, and the Packers were on their way to a shellacking of the Denver Broncos and were waiting the outcome of the Vikings game.  Before the start of the main session, Josh McCown of the Arizona Cardinals threw an 18-yard TD catch to Nathan Poole as time expired and the 3-12 Cardinals snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and sent the Vikings home for the playoffs.  I remember screaming my lungs out at all the Vikings fans a big chant of “Go Pack Go”.  Crazily enough, Poole’s touchdown was the result of him being forced out, a rule that no longer exists in the NFL and would be an incomplete pass if played today. 

That night, after the main session, which was a great talk by Bryan Lorritts, I was not feeling the best.  I went to sleep early and when I woke up in the morning I felt like I had been hit by a truck that was on fire and full of dynamite.  I was down for the count, and came to find out after I got back from Minneapolis that I had mono.  I had a 105 degree fever, could not keep down any food and was totally dehydrated, despite my best efforts.  And remember that BLT with Asiago Cheese Bread?  It was the only thing on my breath or in my stomach for the next 5 days.  It took me a solid 10 years to even want to eat at Cousins again, much less eat the Asiago Cheese Bread.  Surprisingly, it did not stop me from eating BLT’s, but I think it was due to the overwhelming influence that bacon has on me.  (Yay Bacon!)

I was totally bummed.  I had asked for money to come, my Aunt Kathy had been extremely generous and given me most of the money for it, and now I was stuck in bed sleeping and feeling miserable.  Not to be deterred, I had heard a lot of rumblings and positive things about a local pastor named John Piper speaking in the afternoon of the second day of the conference.  I wanted to go, and it was the only session I made it to the rest of the time, but it forever changed the trajectory of my life. In God’s sovereignty, he challenged me to not waste my life, which I had been doing up to that point.  He spoke of the recent, at the time, earthquake in Turkey that had killed thousands of people, and spoke directly to my new, fleshly, Spirit-awakened heart to embrace a life of purpose and direction lived for the glory of God.  I picked up “Don’t Waste Your Life”, and it was like 12 of his sermons all rolled together into a fist of conviction.  I was pumped for studying the Word, loving the gospel, and living for Him. 

And THEN I found his website, DesiringGod.org.  I felt, at that time, I must be taking down the whole site by myself.  I listened to sermons, biographies, and Ask Pastor John’s and read and listened to Taste & See articles.  I bought books, tracts, and anything I could get my hands on from Desiring God.  It exploded with a view of God I had never encountered.  A big, sovereign God who is more holy and more majestic than I could put into words, but was also a kind, loving Savior who condescended into human history, came as a man, and died a death I deserved in my place.  I was floored, picked back up again, and then cut down by a God so big would have chosen something so microscopic like me to be a part of His family and a brother and friend to His son. 

And THEN I heard about the Pastor’s conference.  My pastor at the time and mentor, Israel Haas, invited me and some other guys to go to Minneapolis for the Desiring God’s Pastor’s Conference.  I had barely heard of him before this, but D.A. Carson was the keynote speaker.  I think now I would have been there in a heartbeat, but then I was going because of Piper, and it had nothing to do with Carson (Sorry Don).  It was there that I felt the full-heated passion to enter pastoral ministry.  People had been giving me those opportunities and I had others suggesting it to me, but it was at the 2008 Pastor’s Conference that doused gasoline on the flames. 

Ultimately, it led me to begin pursuing whatever avenues I could to enter ministry and become a pastor.  I preached, I learned, I taught, I repented, but most of all I sough with all my fervor to find myself fully satisfied in God and thereby glorifying Him.  That’s why we moved to Waukesha and by God’s providence to be a part of Waukesha City Church.  I truly felt this was why I was here.  To pastor God’s family and be a small scene in God’s big story.  

Although I am walking prayerfully with Him into our next chapter, I owe a lot of that initial passion to the preaching and ministry of John Piper.  I may have moved well past the “fanboy” stage and wouldn’t go out of my way to get a picture with him, but his passion for the glory of God did much to equip me theologically and raise my affections for the God of the Universe, and for that I owe immense gratitude.  
 
You may never read this, but thank you John Piper for your ministry and for your allegiance and fervor for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, our shared God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 
Soli Deo Gloria,

Joshua Crabb (that guy who was at Sam Crabtree’s house once and tried to look through your kitchen window from far off.  Sorry) 

Morning Brew 12/31/12

Bizarre Baseball Comeback Story – Ugueth Urbina is trying to make a comeback into baseball after spending 5 and half years in prison for attempted murder.  Not sure if this story is interesting or disturbing, but apparently the guy still has a 90 mph fastball after being in prison.  I’m sure this is not the last we will hear of this story.

Dying Regrets and New Year’s Reflection – “[P]eople at the end of their lives have “phenomenal clarity of vision,” and therefore we should consider what we might learn from their wisdom.”  A cool article by Tim Brister with some prayerful reflections.

Best and Worst Movies of 2012 – Matt Mueller of OnMilwaukee.com gives his Top 10 and Bottom 5 movies of the year.  I can’t argue with this list, sorta, and it gives me a couple movies to look forward to seeing.  

Ending Extinction or Playing God – These scientists will have to make the case that the quest to keep some of the world’s most endangered creatures alive is going to involve a measure of death.”

The Best 20 New Bands of 2012Paste Magazine picks its Top 20 new bands.  #1 seems to be the right choice, but I am interested to find out about some of these other bands.  These kinds of lists blow up my playlists.  

Weekend Brew 12/29/12

Sufficient Strategy – “[P]rograms and strategies are not bad, but they are bad at for injecting authentic community and real mission into the church.”  An excellent article from Gospel-Centered Discipleship on looking back on 2012.  

Finding the Balance Between Gathering for Church and Scattering for Church – Hugh Halter with some helpful advice for those planting and leading missional communities.  This is a re-post of an older article, but I still wanted to share since it is some good wisdom. 

The Rise of Hallelujah – CNN Radio with a piece on the song Jeff Buckley made famous, but it is an interesting article and I wasn’t aware that Leonard Cohen originally wrote the song in the year I was born.  So cool. 

A Pastor’s Take on the New Les Miserables – Anyone who knows the storyline of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (Les Mis) knows that any cinematic rendition will push strongly against the most common USAmerican movie theme: revenge.”

Django Unchained – Speaking of revenge in movies, I think there is something incredibly profound in Les Mis and Django coming out on the same day.  This article from Grantland looks at the pathos and cultural ethos of Django Unchained.   Relevant Magazine has another view of Django Unchained that I am still mulling over and I think sells the movie, and Tarantino, a little short.

Randall Cobb’s Head’s Up Play – I was wondering why this was called a touch-back in last Sunday’s bludgeoning of the Tennessee Titans. Quite an intelligent and heads-up play from Randall Cobb and reinforces his growing importance to the Packers and burgeoning stardom.  

Best Christmas Movie Ever?

Happy belated Christmas post to everyone! 
Personally, I absolutely love Christmas.  There is no better time of the year in my opinion.  Life is usually for the better during this time of the year.  You work less (due to vacation and holidays), your spend more time with family and some friends you haven’t seen in awhile, and everyone is a tad more generous and merry during this season.  As a Christian, nothing beats this time of year.  It is when a small slice of time is devoted to meditating and enjoying the birth of Jesus Christ.  The Savior and God of the Universe, sent by the Father and empowered by the Spirit, humbling himself and coming into our world to proclaim the Kingdom of God and ultimately to die for our sins, in our place.  The season is full of joy as we celebrate the glorious coming of Christ! 
Also, Christmastime means MOVIES!  There is no Christmas if my family does not watch movies like White Christmas, The Polar Express, The Garfield Christmas Special, Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life, and Die Hard.  We laugh when Snoopy wins first prize in the Christmas decoration contest, we cry when the citizens of Bedford Fallscome to George Bailey’s aid on Christmas, and we beam with pride for our country when General Waverly walks into his surprise party put on by Wallace and Davis and his old army corps.  Christmas movies expound our cultural ethos, ooze the pathos of everyday life, and ultimately point us to the Logos who became fully man on Christmas Day (John 1:1-3) 
Of course, everyone has their favorites.  I barely scratched the surface by listing six Christmas movies and there are many quality movies that some years I just never get around to seeing.  Therefore, I thought it would be fun to give a rating to a good pile of the Christmas movies out there. 
But how does one go about rating?  There are way too many subjective categories to be able to give any solid rating from one guy.  That is where IMDb comes in.  Their rating system is massive and takes in to account both a metascore of all critical reviews and a 1 to 10 rating system from users and viewers.  So, I put their rating system to good use and was able to come up with a pretty good way to rate Christmas movies.  I rated 36 different movies and include a smattering of the more well-known Christmas specials.  Here is what I came up with:
Title
Rank
It’s A Wonderful Life
1
Die Hard
2
The Nightmare Before Christmas
3
A Christmas Story
4
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated)
5
Love Actually
6
Charlie Brown Christmas
7
Miracle on 34th Street
8
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
9
Christmas Vacation
10
The Muppet Christmas Carol
11
Home Alone
12
A Christmas Carol
13
The Bishop’s Wife
14
Gremlins
15
Bad Santa
16
White Christmas
17
Holiday Inn
18
Frosty the Snowman
19
Garfield Christmas Special
20
Christmas in Connecticut
21
Arthur Christmas
22
The Ref
23
Scrooged
24
A Christmas Carol
25
Elf
26
Ernest Saves Christmas
27
The Polar Express
28
The Santa Clause
29
Reindeer Games
30
The Santa Clause 2
31
Christmas with the Cranks
32
The Santa Clause 3
33
Santa Clause Conquers the Martians
34
How the Grinch Stole Christmas – la
35
Jingle All the Way
36
I realize this is an imperfect list, of which I am certainly not completely happy with.  Everyone has their own opinion, and in my opinion, due to nostalgia and family significance, White Christmas should NOT be rated right below Bad Santa.  Seriously?  Billy Bob Thorton over Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye?  I think not.
Any who, I thought I would share three comments on this list and then leave it open to you: 

  1. You have to give the nod, no matter who you are, to It’s A Wonderful Life.  This movie is so well done and Jimmy Stewart performance is boffo!  There are so many great, memorable lines in this movie, and the story is compelling and heart-warming.  You couldn’t ask for anything better in a Christmas movie.
  2.  Die Hard is a tough sell at number two, since it is a Christmas movie by technicality.  This is a staple in our family, though, and I will never forget everyone falling asleep at Grandma’s house on Christmas Day watching Aunt Stefie’s copy of Die Hard on VHS.  Good times. 
  3.  I have never heard of Santa Clause Conquers the Martians, but now I HAVE to see this movie.  It received the overall lowest rating by viewers than any of the other movies.  I cannot imagine how bad/awesome this movie is going to be.  I am simultaneously going to want to claw my eyes out and look on with wonder.  It’s going to be great! 

What do you think?  Should other movies be higher on the list?  Some lower?  Insulted that your favorite movie was beat out by another?  Did I forget any movies?  Let me know!
Also, if you want the formula for how this was determined, I can get that for you and you can have your own fun!  

Morning Brew 12/28/12

Every morning during the week, the Morning Brew provides a small sampling of the best of the previous days articles found all over the wonderful interwebs.  It could be anything, since it is subjectively selected articles that I have read and enjoyed or think many of you would want to read.  You can typically expect four to five articles with a small synopsis or quote after.

Five Movies to Look Forward to in 2013 – Personally, I’m looking forward to the new Superman movie, but this list from OnMilwaukee.com gives a nice preview of some of the cooler and lesser-hyped movies coming out in 2013.

Why People Think Christians Are Fake – The worship leader I talked to said when he performed ‘Come Thou Fount,’ he changed the lyrics.”

Should You “Choose” To Be Attracted to Your Potential Spouse – Stephen Altrogge addresses Christians finding a spouse.  I agree with with his sentiments and believe that too often pastoral dating and marriage advice overlooks that, to a certain extent, we should be physically attracted to our potential spouse.  Seems pretty rational and straight-forward, no?  Well, we love to make life more complicated than it has to be.

Lomas Brown: “I regret it happened” – I am a big football guy (not as big as baseball) and a huge Packers fan.  As a result, I listen to ESPN 540 every day at work, and this has been causing quite the stir this week.  I find sports to be incredibly fascinating and not just fun to follow, but shows the full spectrum of human experience and cultural ethos.  Any who, I’m wondering what you think of all this rhubarb.  

2012 Blockbuster Face-Off

        VERSUS 

2012 Blockbuster Face-off!  

By the wonderful use of the limited Christmas list, I was gifted both The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises for Christmas this year (both movies I hadn’t seen).  I was ecstatic but made sure to spend my nickel in the cinema-clink for having not seen either of these movies in the theater.  And, since I had two nights where my family was going to be at my in-laws while I came back to Waukesha to work, I figured I could watch one each night.  So, before I got home, I decided to pose the question, “Which movie should I watch?”

It touched off a rather healthy dialogue on both of these movies.  Some thought, hands down, Avengers was the better movie.  Others (some with a bit of vigor), thought Dark Knight Rises was the superior movie.  They divided into camps, started to sling arrows, and eventually sortied out onto the field of battle and warred for their favorite movie (I might be exaggerating, a lot).  Anyways, I knew I was getting somewhere and that I was in for a good two-night stint.

After watching both movies in true viewing form (loud volume, lights off, and bowl of cereal), I can say with absolute certainty that both movies were fantastic.  They do not fail to disappoint, are spectacularly made, and left me wanting to watch them again and find out more.  As an aside, I can tell I like a movie a lot when I watch the extras, look up the movie on IMDb right after, try to find out more about the origins of the story, and read reviews from move critics and other fans.  I have a lot quite a few thoughts on the movies and enjoyed most of what I saw, but I clearly think one is better than the other.

I want to take a post for each movie since this is definitely a showdown worthy of a semi-lengthy treatment.  I’ll look at both of these movies through the 5 lenses of story, characters, actors/actresses, pathos, and entertainment.  I find these 5 categories a good mixture of what to expect in a dramatic movie and does a good job of giving a proper snapshot of the overall quality of a film.

So, first up is going to be the Avengers.  Be prepared for heart-pounding drama, edge-of-your-seat-grabbing action, and Samuel L. Jackson.