Paying the Piper
Few people have had such a lasting effect on my life and ministry as a man I have only known from a distance—mediated mainly through books and online sermons. That man is John Piper.By incredible divine providence, his ministry has been manifest at almost all major epochs of my adult life. At nearly every turn in the river, it seems as though Piper has been a directional buoy. This blog is a tribute to that influence.
From Hedonism to Hedonism
I was saved just out of college in late 2001. Rather bored with my corporate job and being new to the Metroplex, I single-handedly delayed the eventual demise of Blockbuster with my frequent business. When I was invited to church, my motivations were less than noble. I was a hedonist with one chief end: to glorify myself and enjoy me forever. But those intentions were interrupted as I was enticed to attend a men's Bible study with the promise of flag football afterwards. Something profound erupted in my heart that evening; having heard the gospel my entire life, I tasted grace for the first time as I began to study Scripture and encountered Christ.
I began to change, but transformation was slow. The residue left by years of depression and hedonism clogged my heart and slowed my affections. I wanted to want God, but found even the desire lacking.
It was during this season that I came upon a book called Desiring God by a guy I had never heard of—John Piper. To this day I have no clue how I found it or got it. I doubt that a stork delivered it at my doorstep or that it simply drifted down from heaven onto my nightstand; but none of my family or friends had read it or recommended it, so I cannot recall how or why I might have first picked it up. I'm sure there is a perfectly good explanation, but perhaps I have forgotten in order for God's grace to be extolled and not the various means by which He exercised that grace.
In reading that book, my mind was awakened to a depth of glory and joy as I was confronted by my residual idolatry (especially of women) and began to see that my joy and God's glory were not incompatible, but that I was far too easily pleased by lesser things. Whether I identified with the term or not, I was becoming a Christian hedonist as I came to treasure the truth that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.
This was my first encounter with Piper.
From Corporation to Church
Over the next decade, I devoured his books and sermons. This was my initial exposure to and experience of theology deeper than some of the superficial "Christian living" supplied by Barnes and Noble. John Piper introduced me to Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, John Bunyon, John Calvin, and even a few non-Johns like Wayne Grudem, RC Sproul, and JI Packer. The fount of deep theology first flowing from the pen and pulpit of Piper was, to say the least, formational.
And of all the works of Piper which were most influential, none were more so than Brothers, We are Not Professionals and Let the Nations be Glad. Both books raised my awareness for missions and ministry and created a longing in me to spend my life for the glory of God. The hunger for ministry created in part by reading those books drove me to quit my job to start seminary in 2005. Shortly thereafter, I began working at The Village Church, which I had joined soon after my conversion.
From Church to Church
But after six years on staff, I felt like my wheels were spinning with no movement. I began to sense a prompting to step out from the confines and comforts of The Village and pursue some other endeavor, but had no idea if that was missions or preaching or planting. I felt like God was calling me away, but with no clear direction on where to go or what to do. So I waited.And as I waited, a huge weight rested on my soul. Having struggled with melancholy most of my life, I began to question my calling in ministry. In particular, I was wrestling with whether my personality as an introvert was somehow incompatible with vocational ministry. How could I be effective and faithful as a church planter or "lead pastor" or missionary with my particular temperament?
[Here is where this tribute gets name-droppy. For that I apologize; my intent is not to name drop for name-dropping’s sake, but rather to give a testimony of God’s abundant grace to me, through the faithful leadership of his servants.]
During this season of wrestling and questioning, Matt Chandler took me along as his pastoral porter to a colloquium with all of the members of The Gospel Coalition. Here were many of my modern heroes assembled to talk about theology: D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, and yes, John Piper. It was a bit like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, but rather than historical figures crammed into a phone booth, here were contemporary pastors and theologians gathered at Southern Seminary.
One morning Chandler and I had breakfast with Piper and a few others. I was giddy to be sitting next to John Piper as he drank his orange juice to the glory of God. And though the food was satisfying, that breakfast provided far more nourishment to my soul than it did my body as I noticed Piper was content to quietly eat while others spoke. Occasionally he would jump in the conversation when it turned to theology, but he was also happy to simply remain a proverbial fly on the wall.
That afternoon I noticed something similar about a couple of other pastors at the conference and slowly came to the transformative realization that many of my pastoral heroes were introverts! Almost immediately, my fears and insecurities began to melt away under the freeing discovery that introversion is no insurmountable handicap to deep and rich ministry.
Three years later, that newly discovered freedom led me to a little church in McKinney called Parkway.
From Singleness to Marriage
But there was one more significant interaction influenced by Piper— this time, from a distance. About five months after the aforementioned trip, I met Kaci Pastore on a blind date. The date was amicable and pleasant, but neither of us thought much of the prospects of a second date.
But, as providence would have it, we both also happened to be going to Minneapolis the very next week for the Desiring God National Conference. As there were going to be a dozen or so Village members at the conference, I arranged a lunch for us all to hang out. Though Kaci could not make it, that invitation started a conversation that culminated in a chat in a coffee house in Minneapolis. And one night of coffee turned into two, which then turned into sitting together at the conference and regular texting.
By the time we both boarded the plane back to Dallas, neither of us were apathetic to the prospects of a future date. Eleven months later, she became my wife. And yet, had we not both been going to that conference, we never would have had a second date.
It is rare to be able to trace God's grace through a particular person standing at so many of the crossroads of one's life, especially when that person is neither a friend nor family. Nevertheless, as I look back on my sixteen plus years as a Christian, I see Piper somehow intricately woven into some of the most significant seasons and transitions I have experienced – sanctification, marriage, ministry, moving to McKinney. Without that influence, who knows if I would be in ministry or even married! Not bad for a man I have only met thrice and with whom I have had only one significant conversation.
Had God not used Piper, He could and would have used other means to draw me unto Himself, my wife, ministry, and Parkway; but nonetheless, I am eternally grateful for the role that this man has played in my living and thinking. More than that, I am thankful to our Father, the fount of all good gifts, even the gift of John Piper.