Passion personified: Piper 'on his game' in GCU visit

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Gillian Rea
GCU News Bureau

Going back over your notes from a talk by Dr. John Piper is like fishing in plentiful waters. You count up your catch at the end of the day and realize you have even more than you expected – record size, too.

Dr. John Piper speaks at his Friday night session, "Don't Waste Your Life."

The fishing reference is apropos considering Piper’s affinity for that pastime. There was a lot of food for thought when the founder of visited Grand Canyon University on Friday and Saturday, starting with these at his question-and-answer session Friday afternoon with local pastors and members of the College of Theology faculty:

● When asked about the role of material gifts in the Christian life, Piper talked about how thankful he is for water, food, clothes, etc. and said he thanks God for the opportunity to fish by saying, “You’re awesomely majestic, and I get to fish! Hook ’em, cut ’em, eat ’em.”

But he added, “If your desire is to get rich, you’re sinning. (God) put beautiful things in the world not to lure us away from Himself but to give us a taste of Himself.”

Then he held up a bottle of water and said, “You’re moving into idolatry if you don’t taste God when you drink this.”

● The first question was about whether being a pastor is a calling or whether those who fulfill those roles should see a need and feel equipped to do it.

Piper gave first-time listeners a preview of the next hour and a half with a lively, humorous answer about how the world needs effective preachers. “Being called requires aspiration to it, and you need to show that you have it,” he said. “And there should be a need for what you have to offer.”

After about 10 minutes and musing several times about his roundabout path to an answer, he drew laughter when he concluded with this: “So, for these reasons, I say, yes.”

● His response to how he’d get a 12-year-old to read the Bible: “It’ll never work to say, ‘Just do it.’ … I would tell them that you will never be free without the word of God. You must tell them that and then model it.”

The Chapel band performs before Piper's talk.

● Regarding the movement to unite Roman Catholics and Protestants on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, he said the key is not to try to agree on the same doctrine but to see whether Christians can live with their differences: “There always are fences. Can we stop throwing hate bombs over the fences? Can we throw love bombs? … Christians, without losing their convictions on any matter, should lean in.”

● “I’m a Christian hedonist. I think everyone should be happy no matter what happens in their life.”

● “Paul’s No. 1 priority was that he could live to make Christ look great. … In every situation you move onto, you could look like an absolute fool. Be a fool for Christ.”

Piper’s talks Friday night (“Don’t Waste Your Life”) and Saturday morning (“Reading the Bible Supernaturally”) – both based on books among the more than 50 he has written – were filled with even more notable sound bites. The 71-year-old Baptist minister from Minneapolis is considered one of the foremost preachers in the world, and he still brings God’s message with a passion that is direct, down to earth and to the point.

A member of the audience worships God during the band's performance.

“You don’t get that kind of straight talk in many worship services,” said Dr. Jason Hiles, Dean of the College of Theology. “He was on his game.”

Students from GCU’s Chapel bands performed for long stretches at the beginning and end of each session, giving the public – and Piper, who even referenced the students’ words in their songs – a taste of the excellence that Chapel attendees get to hear every Monday morning. Talk about a great experience for the performers.

“You’re actually leading worship for one of the best preachers of the last 50 years,” Hiles said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

The crowd of nearly 3,500 Friday night was mostly students, eager to hear Piper’s message about how to live life.

It is a message he has honed and perfected for 30 years, and it started with a video of a talk he gave around the turn of the century. “It’s better to lose your life than to waste it,” he told a gathering of 30,000 students that day.

Students follow along during one of Piper's frequent references to verses in the Bible.

He went to great lengths Friday night to again warn his listeners against buying into what has become known as the American dream: wealth, affluence and a cushy retirement.

“Everyone’s trying to get you to buy into this dream,” he said. “Don’t buy it!”

Piper reminded his listeners that they should believe what he tells them only if he can show them passages in the Bible that back him up, and for every point he made he referenced at least one verse in Scripture.

He cited two questions that stem from not wasting your life.

First, and most important: “What is it like to have that maxim hanging over your life?” His five answers with the Bible passages he used:

  1. ● “It looks as if you have no power.” In other words, you didn’t say it on your own – God gave you that power (Acts 20:22, 1 Corinthians 12:3).
  2. ● “It’s like being OK with not knowing what tomorrow will bring.” (Hebrews 11:8, in which Abraham obeyed God without knowing where he was going)
  3. ● “It’s like being courageous enough not to stop running when the race course of Christian life leads to suffering.” He added, “All who live the godly life will be persecuted.” (Acts 14:22, 2 Timothy 3:12, Matthew 10:25)
  4. ● “It’s like living to make much of the grace and glory of God, your living treasure.” He added, “The only reason I live is to make the most of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:5-6)
  5. ● “It means that this courageous person has a mindset that says, ‘I will not live for the American dream.’”

He followed his last point with this:

Piper is a passionate, animated speaker.

“You’re mostly students. Why are we talking about your sunset years? Because you’ll hear for the next 60 years from people who will spend billions trying to sell you on the American dream. They don’t believe there’s a dream on the other side. They want you to try to bring it to this side.”

Piper’s second question was, “Why is it better to lose your life than to waste it?” He had one simple answer: “Because when you lose it while not wasting it, you don’t lose it, you gain it.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

His presentation Saturday, which included another Q&A, built on his talk the night before by focusing on his contention that “the glory of God is revealed in and through the reading of the text” of the Bible. … You can’t do an end run around thinking about the Bible in order to discern supernatural reality in it.”

Piper talked on both days about how the glory of God was revealed to him when he was 6 years old. He doesn’t have any memory of it, but he is sure it happened.

That was why he urged the Saturday audience to “learn who you are from the Bible, not your memory.”

He has given his life to preaching from the Bible, and he doesn’t try to coddle anyone when he breaks open the word of God.

“If you don’t see it when it’s opened to you, you are spiritually blind and you should tremble … you should tremble,” he said. “And I am certain there are people in this room listening to me who do not see it, and I want to scare the wits out of you because you are helpless.”

He had some final thoughts for students:

“Don’t do an end run around going to college. I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you’re studying. I’m glad you’re thinking. I think thinking is necessary. … Thinking rightly, construing words and phrases and clauses and logic and paragraphs, is necessary in order to see supernatural reality.”

● Complete replays of each event:

Friday night (“Don’t Waste Your Life”)

Saturday morning (“Reading the Bible Supernaturally”)

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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