Via The Lookout:

On March 11 2005, Kevin Berthia wanted to take his life. He had climbed over the railing of the Golden Gate Bridge and was prepared to take a fatal jump into the San Francisco Bay when he heard a voice calling out to him from above.

It wasn’t the voice of a spiritual presence, but rather that of California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer Kevin Briggs. The two talked for 60 life-changing minutes before Berthia decided to climb back up the bridge and give life another chance.

Eight years later, the pair reunited as part of an emotional ceremony honoring Briggs and other members of the CHP whose job is to verbally persuade suicidal men and women from jumping off that bridge.

“It was phenomenal,” Berthia, 30, told Yahoo News about his reunion with Briggs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention public service ceremony.

May I be vulnerable with you for a moment? I anticipate some pushback if only because of those names you see up there in the title, but this is part of my story, part of my gospel wakefulness, and it is a part I will never deny or disavow.

I have met John Piper just once, a couple of years ago, when I was in Minneapolis to record some material with Desiring God Ministries in promotion of my book Gospel Wakefulness. On the way to what would be a brief visit to his home, I clutched in my hand a copy of my book to give him. I was told I ought to sign it, because he’d like that. I don’t remember what exactly I wrote inside that front cover but I know it included this line: “God used you to save my life.”

That is not an exaggeration. I don’t mean that Piper’s work was instrumental in my conversion. I professed saving faith in Christ as a child, before I’d ever heard of the man. I mean he saved my life. In my twenties, mired in the rotten fruit of my sin — the wreckage of my marriage, the dead-endings of my aspirations, and the bottoming out of my spirit — I spent a lot of hours feeling nothing and contemplating taking my own life. I dare not describe all of that to you, but I was in a bad way. We had a church but the teaching we received there was in the order of “seizing the day” based on inner potential. I had none of the latter so I could not manage the former. What kept me alive?

I was clinging to the hem of Christ’s garment then, sleeping in our guest bedroom, by which I mean living in the guest bedroom and spending plenty of nights face down on the carpet groaning. I was picking up the crumbs where I could find them. Two sources of bread. The podcasts of the aforementioned Pastors Mark and John. I was getting a vision of a very big Jesus with a very big grace for sinners from them. And the Spirit used their preaching in those days to work a gospel renaissance in my life, a miracle really. My wife can attest to that.

I read the story of this fellow talked off the bridge by a friend he didn’t know he had, recently reuniting to thank him, and I think of the strange places we find ourselves in life. I think of sitting down with Pastor John for those few minutes, his thumbing through my book and looking up the Wikipedia entry for Middletown Springs, Vermont on his Macbook. I know I’m not supposed to be a respecter of persons but I can be an admirer of them, and I can certainly be a “thanksgiver” of and for them.

Providence does make strange friendships. A black man in despair and a white cop. Two animated preachers (one a bit on the scream-o side) and a neurotic, depressed, “stuttering wimp” (to quote a girl’s appraisal of me in the 4th grade — still remember that, don’t you know). The God of the Universe and sinners.

Don’t stop preaching the gospel. And if you don’t preach the gospel, start. Then don’t stop. You don’t know whose life you are saving. Not you, really, but God.
God is in his gospel faithfully proclaimed doing his thing, talking people off bridges. Me? I’ll never forget. So I’ll never stop.

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31 thoughts on “John Piper and Mark Driscoll Talked Me Off the Bridge”

  1. matthew woodside says:

    good words.

  2. Hey Jared?

    Jared Wilson and Matt Chandler talked me off the bridge.

    I wept reading this because I’ll never forget reading Your Jesus is Too Safe and listening to Preaching the Gospel to the Dechurched and knowing God was going to save me from myself, and He used the two of you guys. Thank you.

  3. Adam Ford says:

    Beautiful post. Thanks for this. Plenty of keyboard-bullets are fired at Driscoll, some of which I can’t say are unfair, but I also was affected toward Jesus, by him, during my own gospel-renaissance. And none more than Piper. And, if I may say so, you as well, in no small way. So thanks, Jared.

  4. Matt says:

    I liked this, and would say that Ravi Zacharias saved mine.

    I heard Al Mohler once mentioned that as a young Christian teenager, he had many theological questions. He was growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His youth pastor, unable to answer all his probing questions, actually drove him to see D James Kennedy, who listened intently to young Mohler and then promptly gave him Francis Schaeffer to read. Mohler recounts that he didn’t understand Schaeffer, but recognized his (Schaeffer’s) brilliance, and, at that point in his (Mohler’s) young life, it was enough for him that a “really intelligent” man believed “this stuff.”

    That story so resonated with me. I grew up in a Christian home, came to faith as a child, etc. Early in ministry and married life, I experienced something of an unsettling in my faith, not a crisis of faith really, but yes, an unsettling. Exposed to all the intellectual arguments against God and faith, my reading was creating more questions than answers. Looking back, it perhaps could have been a much worse turning point for me.

    At that time, by the grace of God, I picked up, and to this day I forget how, but I picked up Ravi Zacharias’ book *Can man live without God?* My reaction was exactly like Mohler’s. I remember being awestruck by Ravi’s intellect and breadth of knowledge. I had never heard any Christian talk like this. I didn’t understand a lot of what he said, but it was enough at that point in my journey…

  5. Steve Bezner says:

    Jared, thanks for your vulnerability. I don’t know you, but I do admire you, your love for Jesus and his gospel, and your commitment to the church.

    I will continue to stand and proclaim hoping that the words of Christ emerging from my mouth might serve to save one, as well.

    Blessings.

  6. Daniel Ross says:

    Nobody (save for my mom and dad) has moved me toward anchoring my soul to Jesus more than Driscoll. He’s not perfect (neither am I or anyone else) but God has used him mightily in my life and I am thankful for that.

  7. Thomas says:

    While my family and I were stationed with the military in Washington state, we attended Mars Hill and listened to Mark Driscoll preach. Driscoll’s vanity is obvious, his temper is uncontrolled, his seeming inability to authenitcally express repentance publically is well documented, he is unable to nurture a team of leaders for any significant amount of time and his flock turns over as rapidly as any other mega-church. All to the amazing glory of the One Christ. Only an infinite Savior, a Commander of infinite redemptive power could effectively use Driscoll to glorify Himself. And He has. The miracle is not at Mars Hill or with Driscoll. It is obvious in-spite of Driscoll oftentimes.

    As it is with Driscoll, so it is with me, and my wife and children, and you. Do words exist to express how great is our God?

    1. Melody says:

      You just used giving God glory as an excuse to trash Mark Driscoll. I thought those prayer meetings people use to gossip under the disguise of concern was bad. This felt a hundred times worse. You might try humbling yourself instead of someone else next time you want to give God glory.

      If Driscoll has all those failings I wonder how faithful the members are to pray for him? Cause I certainly wouldn’t want to live out my sanctification on a stage and listen to everyone’s unloving two cents worth.

      1. Mary Alice says:

        It is unfortunate that Christian culture has become so afraid of criticism, as though any criticism of Christian leaders is malicious and petty. Loving criticism of our brothers and sisters in Christ can lead to growth of an individual and a community, but too many Christians are afraid of what honest contemplation about personal and professional criticism will reveal about their own hearts and minds. As a member of Mars Hill, I know that Driscoll has his failings and will continue to fail in many ways because he is a sinner trapped in a fallen world. Because he chose public leadership his failings and successes are on display in ways other’s are not. Yet crowds continue to flock to Mars Hill to hear the message of Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord and Savior. Is Driscoll a broken sinner like the rest of us? Absolutely. But the miracle of Christ’s love is that through Driscoll’s brokenness we are able see and respond to the perfection of Jesus Christ.

        1. Melody says:

          Yes and God is given the glory when we declare our own brokenness and the miracles that He has done through our own lives.

          It never works when we point out other’s brokenness. Unless they are dead and listed in scripture. Even then God gives us just enough of their sinfulness to benefit us. He doesn’t give us a long list of all the things wrong with them.

          I have no doubt that Driscoll has failings. I’m not a Driscoll worshipper. But criticism is just another word for judging. Are we called to judge each other? To a certain extent. But the bible is clear on how we are to handle it. Listing off your sins because you gave an opinion on the internet would be unacceptable. I would go to you alone and once forgiven I certainly couldn’t parade your sin as if that is how you are defined as a person. Philippians 1:6 applies to all of us.
          There was nothing loving in that post. It is very close to what we females know as a backward compliment.

  8. Aaron Schroeder-Tbah says:

    When I was a kid, my mom read C.S. Lewis stories to me. My dad encouraged me to read them on my own. I marveled at his image of a “not a tame lion” Jesus. God’s glory and His love shined through the allegory. My teenage years were molded by cassettes, then cds of Ravi Zacharias : God’s truth, His absolute unwavering truth was preached thoroughly. Whenever a college teacher brought up some argument against God or His truth it had already been shot down by Mr Zacharias. In my early twenties my cell group studied Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” : it’s not about you. “God has a purpose”, “his plan is perfect” are the kind of things we were reading when my wife went through a bout with cancer. I listened and was strengthened but still clung to a overweight idea of my responsibility. I was a legalist. I was guilt ridden. I was hopelessly attached to my works and my capacities.

    Then in my late twenties my brother says you should listen to this Driscoll guy… I listened and thought he was ok (i later grew to love listening to him), but Pastor Driscoll said that this other guy John Piper quoted Lewis a lot. So i listen to John Piper.

    It was like I was hit by a bus. GOD IS SOVEREIGN. JESUS IS ENOUGH. CHRIST. THE GOSPEL. GRACE.

    I was pulled of the proverbial bridge.

    I had actually taught my prayer group that “we can’t pray that God saves someone, it would go against that persons free will. If you want to pray that God puts helpful circumstances that’s probably okay.”

    God is gracious… I am grateful for his faithful servants that He’s used to steer me throughout the years.

    Thank you for the post, thank you to all those who answer God’s call to preach the word.

    Chicoutimi, Quebec

  9. anonymous says:

    “two animated preachers”

    ..with the most beautiful commonality – an obvious passionate, true love,adoration,affection for our Great God!

  10. Tom says:

    I, too, experienced a “gospel renaissance” in my life after reading Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Having been around an unhealthy version of fundamentalism during my college and post-college years I was spiritually starved and gospel ignorant. In God’s providence I happened to pick up Grudem’s book while at a Christian bookstore, and what I read about God, His sovereignty, His holiness, and His unconditional election of my wicked, depraved, and hell-bent soul changed my life (not to mention my theology). I am thankful for those teachers whom God has gifted to the church.

  11. Eric says:

    “We ourselves were all once foolish, disobedient, deceived …”

    Thankful that such a good brother as you knows what it’s like to be in a pit so deep that only Christ can possibly be deeper.

  12. Ben Thorp says:

    I, along with a number of previous commenters, had my life turned around through the ministry of Mark Driscoll.

    I had been through a number of years of real spiritual dryness, and I remember when my wife became pregnant with our first child I really wanted it to be a girl, because I felt I didn’t know how to teach a boy to become a man. Our daughter was born, and I realised that I wanted her to know Jesus, but that I was a poor example. Listening to Driscoll was a significant part of me rediscovering and reinvigorating my faith, as well as helping me clarify in my heart what is was to be a man of God. I know many will cringe at the thought of me taking my cues for manhood from Driscoll, but when our second child was born and it was a boy, I was delighted because I knew how much I had changed. Driscoll definitely saved my life, and I reckon he’s saved the life of my children too.

  13. Sally says:

    After reading all these testimonies of people being saved through Gods wonderful amazing grace, not to mention Him using flawed individuals, who none the less love and follow our Saviour,I cannot but Worship and praise our God for His awesome love and grace to us…Thank you Lord…

  14. Tuad says:

    It boggles my mind that you were ever in such a depresses state of mind. Thanks for being so open.

  15. Dan says:

    I’m sure that these guys get lots of love on their own (so I don’t feel TOO bad for them), and all are far from perfect, but I’m really, really appreciative to see someone just post…genuine gratitude for ministries like this, and some in the comments. In the Elephant Room 1 a few of them shared the weight, responsibility and burden of taking the role of a public figure, and it opened my eyes to what may really be going on in the hearts of many of these men – not as much pride as we assume, more fear and trust in God to do his thing and provide acceptance when they blow it than we realize.

    I feel like these two especially (Driscoll and Piper) get flamed a lot; often by both sides for being to ____ or not being enough _____. But to see an entire thread just celebrating what God has done through imperfect people…is pretty cool.

    And it’s humbling, too – I can get caught up in blasting so and so sometimes too – it’s a spiritual snobbery that’s fun with the right group of friends, but pretty sick and something that needs to be dealt with and repented of (not saying there isn’t a cause for concern with some teachers, but there’s a healthy and unhealthy way to do it, and we all assume we’re the ones with absolute truth on an issue.)

    I’m a big Piper, Chandler, and to some extent Driscoll fan, too :) God has used these guys to instill a love of God in me, to teach me how to first read, then study, then preach the Bible, and shown me how to love others and care for the lost. While I didn’t necessary first find them during hard times, I’ve returned during some of my darkest nights – not always with instant results, but always reminded of a big, and good,loving, and Holy God and my need(even when I didn’t want to hear it):)

    So I’ll say a healthy “Amen!” to your post, and thank you for sharing :)

  16. Matt G says:

    Jared,

    Thanks for sharing your story in addition to the story of this young man on the Golden Gate Bridge as well as weaving in the redemptive power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the ultimate story, through it and in it. You probably don’t remember me, we have met a couple times. Once at Lead 2011 in Auburn, Maine, where you, Matt Chandler, Ray Ortlund, and Stephen Um spoke. Then, again in 2012 at the TGCNE annual during a break in which we stumbled upon one another in the book area and pretty much chatted it up for the entire break, lol. The breaks were short though at that one. I’m a pastor of a small church Kittery, Maine, and have been working at re-planting a church that has been very traditional and steeped in a culture, but not necessarily Gospel-culture, and planting seeds of the Gospel here and in the communities of Kittery, ME, and Portsmouth, NH, which is the local community. It is important, I feel, for people to hear an honest and open message from pastors and church leaders that we suffer too. It’s not like our lives have been streamlined and golden from the beginning, but we suffer, we have suffered, and we will continue to suffer. It is in those times of suffering and those times of perhaps a drought of the Gospel in our lives where God more often than not, I’ve found, plants seeds and tends to those seeds in our heart, bringing renewal and as you might say ‘wakefulness’ to our lives. I remember a time after seminary when I was at Gordon-Conwell and after an expensive seminary and receiving an M.Div degree on top of my 2 college degrees (one of which is biblical studies from a Christian college), I had no ministry position in view or lined up. I had 6 months before the grace period on my student loans would end and the avalanche of debt repayment would begin. I moved back out west to Oklahoma, out of New England, to continue my search for ministry positions which was a little depressing. I kept looking for a ministry position and praying for one to open up, for a door to be open, but it simply would not. I worked at a coffee shop as I had done before for years, and it felt like I was backtracking in life. I remember getting depressed then and feeling isolated and alone. However, God led me to sermon podcast which greatly blessed me and enriched me in the midst of my spiritual or Gospel drought. I was led to a sermon, a free one, by Tim Keller on the Redeemer Pres website concerning Psalm 42-43 called Finding God on spiritual dryness, then to another sermon by Matt Chandler, then to another sermon, and to a Scripture text… In New England, ministry can be difficult and it can be easy to get depressed and let the observable circumstances drive our joy and happiness away from the Gospel and be dependent upon what we see. Yet, God, being rich in mercy and grace, has renewed my joy and zeal for the Gospel continual as John Piper says, “stoking the white-hot affection of my heart for Him.” Thanks for sharing. It’s important that pastors and leaders are not idolized as spiritual super-heroes, but people see that we are real people with struggles, but also that in the midst of our struggles and sin, we look back at the cross of Christ and forward to the inheritance and reward that is ours by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.

    blessings,

    Matt

  17. Jared, great post. Thanks for sharing about the tough moments in life.

  18. Kevin says:

    This is my story too.
    And it seems like back in the day Piper and Driscoll sermons were the easiest ones to find and listen to on the web. Thus, their influence is far and wide because they understood how technology can help spread the gospel.

  19. Jean says:

    I am in the middle of walking through a similar journey with my husband. If your wife ever feels led, I’d be interested to read how she walked her journey with you. Thank you for sharing! Stories like this help me stay in the fight.

  20. Flyaway says:

    Because of chronic pain for the last 30 years I’ve been somewhat like Elijah and or Jonah sitting under the shade and asking God to take me Home. But it is people like you and others who keep me going and focused on the Lord. Knowing that I might make a difference in someones life for Jesus is all that matters.

  21. C.M. Granger says:

    Jared,

    Your pastoral vulnerability is refreshing.

    Take care,

    Chad

  22. david carlson says:

    great words.

    our response to a story like that should be the same if someone walks into your church carrying a joel osteen book or having watched Robert Schuller- Praise the Lord, glad you have come to join us. God’s providence in our lives is his, not ours. Good thing.

  23. Thomas says:

    Did Moses lavish praise on the bush that burned with God’s voice? Did he carry a branch of this bush with him throughout his life? Did Balaam make a celebrity out of his donkey after the animal spoke on God’s behalf? Do Holy Scripture record great crowds abandoning their local flocks and herds to hear this donkey speak again?

    Did the Apostles Paul and Peter and John demonstrate marketing wizardry, publication genius, communication skills, or personal magnetism that we should emulate two thousand years later?

    Why does American Christianity insist on the “Great Man” theory by focusing on individual preachers when AN ounce of attention or affection that is diverted away from Christ toward a well-published man or woman is too much?

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Jared C. Wilson


Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. You can follow him on Twitter.

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