The Little Things: John Piper and Erica Christian


 

I am intrigued by the way people view each day. Sure, all of us have those days that begin so stress filled and busy that we can barely think of anything except what task we must complete next. I think of how my dad is hosting the 13th Region Baseball/Softball Tournaments this week. On Monday, he arrived at work around 7:00 or 7:30 A.M. Being the Athletic Director, he must be there early to make sure everything is ready. When I say everything, I mean everything! It was pure insanity the entire day. Erica and I offered to help him out by taking tickets and we worked for 14 hours. He beat us by an hour and was working much harder than we had to. I literally have never seen one person have so much thrust upon him in one day and be able to be seemingly calm and collected while having to make difficult decisions nearly every moment while having to work on the baseball and softball fields almost every hour. With all of that craziness going on, I am sure that he could not think of anything except for what he had to get done. By the way, the first day of the 2012 13th Region Baseball/Softball Tournaments was the most succesful that I have ever seen. I have been apart of 13th Region Tourneys for 6 years and I have never seen one so organized, put together, and enjoyable. For this, I must stand and applaud my dad, Keith Gilbert, for all of the hard work he has put in over the past view weeks. With that in mind, he could not have noticed what I noticed. I saw how beautiful the sky was. I smelled the freshly cut grass. I gazed upon the newly risen sun. I admired the beauty of the baseball field ready for games to make their mark on it. I heard the joyful roars from the crowds of the winning teams and the sorrowful and frustrated cries from the crowds of the losing teams. While it was a long day of work for me, I enjoyed the beautiful nature of the day which so elegantly and cordially reflected the glory of God.

While I did take time on Monday to notice all of these things, I typically am like most others in the sense that I do not notice creation everyday. Most days I even get more frustrated with nature than I enjoy it. I complain when it is too hot only to complain even more when it is too cold. When the temperature is just right, I complain about the sun not being out. I complain when it rains, snows, storms, and when it is clear. I just do not appreciate creation and as a result I belittle the great Creator. By belittling His creation, I inevitably belittle His glory and greatness. There is tremendous joy found in honoring creation because of the Creator. I have seen this great joy in two people who have greatly influenced my life; one who is with me everyday and another who doesn’t even know my name: John Piper and Erica Christian.

In one sense, these two have nothing in common. John Piper is a highly respected and well-known theologian and pastor who is elderly and living in Minneapolis, MN. Erica Christian is a respected college student who is young and living in London/Williamsburg, KY (depending on what month it is). They both are teachers. John Piper teaches the Word of God and Erica Christian teaches in special education as well as elementary education. In relation to me, John Piper is a man I have never met nor seen in person, but he is a great mentor and teacher to me through his many books and sermons. He has shaped my theology and view of God and the world like few others have. On the other hand, Erica Christian is my fiance. She is my best friend. In her a great deal of my joy is found. She is the most beautiful and precious gem of a woman who I have ever met. She greatly has an effect on my life and walk with Christ more than she could know. As I watch her each day be more committed to God, I am inspired and pushed. Her love for me seems to be unfailing even when we both fail each other. She is my love and my life and one day I will be overflowing with joy to call her my wife.

While these two saints are quite different in their relation to me as well as in relation to each other as I have outlined above, they are eerily similar in other respects. Now, I am not referring to the obvious similarities such as, they are both human beings, they both live in the USA, they are both Christians, or they are both in a local church. I am referring to something that is rare in at least the majority of people I come into contact with. They both have keen observatory skills when it comes to creation and they find overwhelming joy in them. I consider joy to be “overwhelming” when pages are filled with words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that lift the reader’s soul and body to jump and grin from ear to ear. I also consider joy to be “overwhelming” when one describes what they see in creation each day and emotions flow from them and is so contagious that they are noticed in others as well. I have seen this overwhelming joy in John Piper and Erica Christian. In order for you to understand their joy in the little things of life, I will give you an example from each of them.

Consider this text from John Piper’s work “The Pleasures of God”:

“Two nights ago I took a kitchen chair, put it in the grass beside the cottage and sat down to watch the moon. Ordinarily I live beside a busy freeway in downtown Minneapolis where the car lights and street lights hide the sky. But for these few weeks of vacation and study-leave, I live with Noel and our sons on the outskirts of Barnesville, Georgia, on a piece of wooded property called “Brightwood.” There are no street lights and no freeways. We sleep in a little cottage down the hill from where my wife’s parents live. Just across the barbed wire fence there is a tiny “mobile study” about sixteen-by-eight-feet with windows on two sides. It sits in a clearing surrounded by two-hundred-year-old oak trees and eighty-foot arrow-straight Georgia pines mingled with maple and sweet gum trees. This is where I sit and write and, between paragraphs, stare out over the four-acre lake at the bottom of the hill.

This is a place made for eyes and ears and nose and skin, and a big heart. Almost every day I simply stop and stand still between the cottage and the study or between the lake and the woods or on the hill going up to “the house”–I feel so moved by the beauty of this amazing world of sight and sound and smell and touch that I want the moment to last long enough for all the beauty to soak in and to stay.

Coming down to the cottage from the house the other day, I stopped at a rotting stump and broke off a piece of wood. It was surprisingly hard and snapped instead of crumbling. I looked and saw that the broken part was streaked and reddish and even moist. I put it to my nose and was jolted by the best cedar fragrance I have ever smelled. All the way to the cottage I kept inhaling this amazing aroma from a piece of wood that has probably been dead for ten years.

About fifty yards from the cottage, toward the pecan orchard, we are cultivating a worm bed. There’s a pile of mulch with some old tires and cement bricks and a wooden door lying on the mulch to keep it moist underneath. We water it now and then with the hose. When we want some worms we lift up the door and turn over the tires and blocks and let the granddaddy longlegs scatter by the hundreds. Then I use the pitchfork to scrape off the top layer of mulch while my seven-year-old son spots the crawlers and wigglers, snatches them with his hand and puts them in a bucket. They are floppy and fast. But Barnabas is faster.

Three or four times a day I stoop down to go under the barbed wire fence between the study and the cottage. There is a big pink rope wrapped around the wire so that we won’t get snagged. The metal post, holding the wire where we crawl through, is hollow. To our amazement we discovered that a little gray tree frog lives in the post. There is a little water in the hollow and he goes up or comes down in the post according to the heat and the light. He will let us walk right up to him as he sits on the edge of the post in the evening. It is clearly his place, because he has been there for several weeks now and nothing we do chases him away. This has made me wonder about all the other tree frogs that at night produce such an incredible whirring and buzzing and scratching in these peaceful woods (along with the crickets and cicadas). I have wondered if all the tree frogs are as possessive of their turf as he is. If so, there are thousands of little knotholes and crooks and branches all staked out and claimed by their own little tree frogs. It must be an amazing world of turf and territorialism up in those trees that completely escape us humans.” (John Piper, The Pleasures of God, pp. 77-79, Multnomah Books 1991, 2000)

Whew! All of this rambling of detailed observation may seem meaningless to you, yet my heart leaps with joy as these images run across my mind. The physical nature of life is so prevalent that we ignore it, yet by ignoring it, we forfeit joy. Taking time to notice worms, frogs, lakes, fields, granddaddy long legs, mud, and every other creepy crawler in the earth simplifies life and allows you to see the beauty and complexity of God’s works. He takes pleasure in them and so should we.

“May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works” (Psalm 104:31).When I read this verse, I think of my beautiful fiance, Erica Christian. As I drive each morning with her to work and as we go nearly everywhere together, I cannot help but think this is the cry of her heart. I can say this because she rejoices in the works of the Lord every single day of her life (barring those “bad days” I mentioned we all have from time to time). For example, driving down the road this morning on the way to work, there was a great cloud of fog hovering over us and out in front of us as far as we could see. I sarcastically thought, “Great! Now we cannot see anything!” Erica on the other hand genuinely said, “Wow! Look at the fog. It is so amazing!” She was intrigued by the fog and after further observation, she was amazed by the fog. It was a glorious creation made by a glorious Creator and she adored it because He made it. I can think of another time when we were walking along the sidewalk to class this past spring semester. I nearly stepped on a worm crawling from sidewalk to grass. I thought nothing of it, but Erica stopped me and said, “Don’t step on him!” She then proceeded to help the little worm finish his journey into the grass. She saw more than  I did. She had a greater appreciation for even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant of God’s creation. As we continued to walk, she hears a bird singing. It was nothing out of the ordinary to me, but it is always special to her. She wonders what kind of bird it is and looks for it. Her eyes trace the landscape and search all of the trees until she finds it. And if she doesn’t she ponders which species of bird it could be. Their songs are beautiful to her as she hears them as praises to God who gives them life. They reflect His glory through graceful flight and beautiful song. The wind blows and she embraces the feeling and laughs if it messes up her hair. As the sun beams down, Erica doesn’t complain about the heat, but instead she smiles as the sun warms her soft skin. She wonders if it will burn her or slightly tan her skin. “What is the temperature?” she asks. No matter the reply, she widens her big brown eyes in amazement and appreciation. As creation reflects the glory of God, she realizes it as her heart exclaims, “The glory of the LORD endures forever! May the LORD rejoice in his works!” Erica notices how great God’s works truly are and she praises Him by rejoicing in them like He does. If she could work at a zoo or aquarium to admire both the enormity and microscopity of creation, she would. She loves the rain. She loves the sun. She loves the snow. She is not the biggest fan of storms, but she will curl up next to me on the couch as we wait it out in fear of the Lord who controls the wind, storms, and seas. Every season is her friend and a day on the beach will lift her soul up in joy as she praises the God of the ocean, sand, and sunshine. His works are great and there is no other person in my life who realizes this the way Erica Christian does! She is flooded with emotion and true joy through the works of God in creation. The greatest part is that she finds her ultimate joy in the Creator and not ultimately in His creation. However, her admiration of the physical realm of life only fuels her worship of God, the sovereign Lord and Creator of all.

I am eternally grateful for these two Christian Hedonists. John Piper wrote a book on Christian Hedonism (Desiring God) and Erica Christian probably doesn’t even realize that she is one. Nevertheless, both of these saints find their joy in God and they realize that true satisfaction and lasting, eternal joy can only be found in Him. From this, they both adore, appreciate, and rejoice in the works of the Lord, for they glorify His great name! I am encouraged by these two every day to appreciate the little things of life that I pass by and ignore daily. Make no mistake, fullest joy can only be found in the presence of God (Psalm 16:11). However, do not allow this to stray you from adoring the works of God in creation since they glorify His name daily without fail. Never ceasing, creation obeys its Master. In fact, we humans are the only part of creation that have the gall to tell God, “No! Not your way! Mine!” May we repent daily.

So what does this mean for us today? Allow the accounts I have given of these two faithful saints to penetrate your soul. Be encouraged and go outside today! Embrace whatever weather condition God has sovereignly placed on your city, town, or village today! Pick up a flower and smell it. Jump into a pond or lake and feel the rush of cool water. Lay in a field under the sun and embrace its warmth. Pick up a caterpillar and let it crawl all over your hands. Pick up a lightning bug and peak under your closed hands to see it light up in the dark. Watch the birds fly and fish swim. Look carefully in a field and maybe catch a glimpse of a deer running across it. If nothing else, walk outside and feel the wind or heat. Sweat, feel exhausted, relax, and rejoice in the Lord and in the creation that He rejoices in! Notice the little things and thank God for them!

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” – Genesis 1:31

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” – 1 Timothy 4:4-5

“May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works, who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke! I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD. Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more! Bless the LORD, O my soul! Praise the LORD!” – Psalm 104:31-35

By His Grace — For His Glory — For our Joy

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