Pastor John is back in the studio. Listeners, thank you for your weeks of prayers, and weeks of patience too, as we navigated this busy season of travel. As a result, we have a backlog of questions to catch up on soon, but I wonder if it would be best for us to start with a brief update from your travels and ministry in South America. Pastor John, how did it go? What do you want to share with podcast listeners about your recent travels? Can you debrief your trip for us?
Joining God’s Work
I’d love to share about the trip. From February 24 to March 6, 2019, Noël and I and some others were in Brazil and Argentina. Fiel Ministries in Brazil, the local Gospel Coalition, and the leaders of a weeklong Christian celebration in Campina Grande in northern Brazil invited us to come there. In Argentina, the leaders of a Bible conference reached out to us. That was the cluster of people who said, “Would you please come and minister here?”
“We are not marketing the brand. We’re encouraging local, indigenous movements that God’s already doing on the ground.”
I want to underline that idea of invitation. The way we look upon these kinds of international trips — and this became clearer to me on this trip than ever, and I feel really happy about it — is not as a way of spreading what you might call the Desiring God brand or the Bethlehem College & Seminary brand or the John Piper brand. That’s just not the mindset at all. We didn’t foreground those ministries. We are not marketing the brand. We’re encouraging local, indigenous movements that God’s already doing on the ground. He’s doing it all over the world.
I wrote down 23 countries I know of where there is a resurgence of Reformed, evangelical, gospel-centered, exposition-oriented, lovers-of-the-sovereignty-of-God people. These were just two of the countries, Brazil and Argentina.
The key biblical text that gets at it for me is Romans 1:11–12. Paul has never been to Rome, but he knows God raised up the church in Rome. Paul didn’t raise up that church in Rome, and now he’s coming, and he writes like this: “For I long to see you” — he’s never met these people — “that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you.” And then he pauses, and he says it a little differently: “that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11–12).
That’s exactly the way I feel. I do have something I want to say. Yet, when I pause and I look back on it, there was a mutuality of encouragement. At least, I know the encouragement came my way. I hope it went the other way. All over the world God is creating indigenous movements like this.
When I think of movement, I want people to have a sense of what I mean. First, it’s a fresh awakening to the power and the preciousness of the sovereignty of God in salvation and providence. That is a very different message from man-exalting views that give the human will the power to thwart God’s omnipotent wisdom.
“I go to encourage them and to nourish them, to make my little contribution. But I leave more affected and more encouraged.”
Second, it’s a fresh awakening to the sweetness of his omnipotent care in suffering. This is a message very different from the prosperity preaching, and that’s probably the note that people brought up to me most often with thankfulness. It was the note that we strike about God’s sweetness and care and omnipotent power in suffering, not escaping from suffering.
Third, it’s a fresh awakening to the glories of the gospel of free grace. This is a message very different from the sacramentalism of Roman Catholicism, for example, in Brazil or Argentina.
Lastly, it’s a fresh awakening to the depth and wonders of Scripture experienced by God’s people through powerful expositional preaching. It’s those four pieces that I see all over the world.
Partners in the Gospel
These outcroppings of renewal movements are rising up at God’s bidding. What I think I’m called to do with the team at Desiring God is to simply discern as best we can how we can serve these movements. We need the help of people on the ground, and people like Rick Denham, who is gifted at this. He’s such a helpful person. What I’m called to do is to discern authentic indigenous movements, and then serve them in whatever way they think would be most helpful with the message God has given us.
You can hear — at least I hear — in that a tension: they are looking for me to serve, and yet I have a message that I’m not going to compromise. I’ve seen it in the Bible. I love it. And I would say it anywhere, where anybody wants me to say it. There’s this tension, and the solution to the tension is that these people who invite us to come know us. In other words, the Web has created the possibility of watching and listening for years, so that they can grow in their confidence. They can say, “Well, here’s a person who, if he says what he believes, would probably serve us well. So let’s invite him to come do that now.”
God Is in Charge
Another thing I felt so strongly is that I feel no illusions in going into a place like this and a movement like this that I’m that supervising or controlling what God is doing on the ground around the world.
My picture is something like this: God is preparing a great loaf of bread in these various ethnic settings, and he’s kneading the dough with his fingers. Piper’s role for those few days is as one of the coworkers with God. It is to contribute a certain kind of biblical leavening or some theological spices. I hope and pray they these might add just a little nutriment to the bread and a little flavor to the dough that would make it even more nourishing to the church and to the world.
But God’s the baker, and he’s doing the kneading. He decides what goes into this bread and what doesn’t. He decides what the loaf looks like when it comes out. So I don’t think we should have illusions when we do ministries like online work like at DG. We shouldn’t think we’re going to shape and control the world. That’s just ridiculous. The world is huge and complex. And God is running it, not us.
“I was blown away by my experience of standing before this sea of people hungry for the word of God.”
In Brazil and Argentina, that included messages focused on God as the gospel: God himself is the greatest, best, final good of the good news. That led to messages on Christian Hedonism. Well, if God is the gospel, if he’s the greatest good, how does that impact the way we are worshiping or the way we love people? That led to the thought, “Okay, if God is the gospel, and the way you glorify him is through being satisfied in him and loving people, then how do you preach with expository exultation?” That was kind of the package or the cluster of truths that we laid out.
Of course, it should not go without saying that the tables are always turned. I go to encourage them, and to nourish them, and to make my little contribution of spices and nutriments into the loaf. But I leave probably more affected and more encouraged than I gave or than I influenced. Here are some examples.
Stories of Grace
I met a Muslim convert to Christ from Morocco who feeds daily on Solid Joys, which is translated into both Portuguese and Spanish. He feeds on that for his faith. I met two women, both of whom asked to see me. They both have cancer, and with tears thanked me for the note of help in suffering, not escape from suffering. They felt like they were sinking in the teaching of prosperity in their particular situation.
This is the last example, and probably the most moving one for me. I met three teenagers who asked to see me in the green room before I spoke one night. Their parents, earlier this year (I’m not sure how long ago, maybe six months ago), were about to get divorced, which was breaking their hearts. They heard a message or they read a message (I couldn’t quite discern) from me about marriage not being mainly about being in love, but being covenant keepers. It revolutionized their attitudes. They have resolved to work it out, and the kids wanted to thank me. The 14-year-old girl had tears in her eyes and gave me a piece of paper written in Portuguese that said, “I know you can’t read this, but maybe you can get it translated.”
I’ve been praying the end of Psalm 90 since I’ve been back. I scattered my seed, I put my leaven in the loaf, I tossed my spices in, and I met a lot of people. I’m now praying, “O Lord, establish the work of our hands” (see Psalm 90:17).
Christ Replaces Carnival
If I think back on one of the most striking things, it would be being a part of the conference in Campina Grande in the north of Brazil. I spoke twice. It was in a huge tent that holds about 12,000 people, and about 100,000 people come through this conference in the week that it was held. What’s so striking is that twenty years ago, that city was totally dominated with the Mardi Gras–like celebration they called Carnival.
“The world is huge and complex. And God is running it, not us.”
It’s pretty bleak. For example, a woman was walking around scantily clad, and she had devil horns sticking out of her head. The sign around her neck said, “Are you still afraid to go to hell?” — meaning, “I’ll be there. Come.” That’s the kind of thing that dominated.
Well, this conference grew from a teeny apologetics conference to offset things that were being said from the occult to now being the event, and Carnival has been pushed out of the city. All of those I would call godless, cultish, satanic influences are still there, but they’re marginalized. I saw them walking around the lake where our hotel was, but as far as the center city that used to be filled with these influences, it’s now filled with gospel preaching. I was blown away by my experience of standing before this sea of people hungry for the word of God.
The man who leads it is just a powerhouse of vision and energy. I can’t remember exactly what his background is, but he would just probably be a big-hearted Bible evangelical guy who loves Jesus and wants to see the gospel triumph. Yet, when the thing started to grow, he looked around for counsel as to whom he should invite to these events. He began to trust — this is my understanding anyway — the key leaders of this Reformed awakening who gave him names.
He didn’t know me from Adam. He trusted them to let me address what he has grown up under God’s hand. There’s a stream of very Bible-oriented and Reformed spokesmen — not only, but largely — who are coming to that event.