Monthly Archives: September 2011

 

Sep

28

2011

Jared C. Wilson|1:00 pm CT

The Gospel Cures What the Law Cannot

“The number of crimes does not diminish but is continually on the increase. You must admit that consequently the security of society is not preserved, for, although the dangerous member is mechanically cut off and set far away out of sight, another criminal always comes to take his place at once, and often two of them. If anything does preserve society, even in our time, and does regenerate and transform the criminal, it is the law of Christ speaking in his conscience. . . . It is only by recognizing his wrong-doing as a son of a Christian society — that is, of the Church — that he recognizes his sin against society — that is, against the Church. So that it is only against the Church, and not against the State, that the criminal of today can recognize that he has sinned.”

– Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

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Sep

27

2011

Jared C. Wilson|2:51 pm CT

Justified: Just-as-if-I’d always . . .

In Genesis’ tales of Abraham and Sarah, we see the ways that Sarah exerts control. “Go into my servant Hagar,” she tells Abraham. The rest is manipulative history. We also learn that “she was afraid” (Gen. 18:15).

Then, in 1 Peter 3:5-6, Peter commends Sarah’s submission and fearlessness.

Say what now?

Welcome to the covenant of grace. In here Abraham the sinful jerk has his faith credited to him as righteousness, and you can too. God out of his measureless love in the unsearchable riches of the grace of Jesus makes us controlling cowards totally justified.

Covered in his seamless righteousness, Jesus’ perfect obedience becomes ours.

Justified: “just as if I’d” never sinned, right? But also just as if I’d always obeyed.

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Sep

27

2011

Jared C. Wilson|1:55 pm CT

The "Religious People" Boogeyman

There’s something else about the “Did Perry Noble lie?” thing that I have found troubling for some time. Setting aside for the second whether Noble is evincing double-mindedness in the two stories, setting aside for the second the presuppositional problem that leads to thinking “Highway to Hell” in church (Easter Sunday or not) is a good idea, there’s something Noble says in both video clips, something that is typical for him (but that he by no means has innovated) that remains a systemic dysfunctional philosophy of the prevailing attractional church paradigm. It is this: there are “religious people” in our church threatening our culture of contempo-casual.

First of all, there are people in every church, no matter what kind of church it is, who struggle with the distinction between law and gospel, who struggle with the driving place of grace in their pursuit of holiness, so it won’t do to deny that legalism looms in our churches. Legalism lurks in every heart, actually, mine and yours. But this constant invoking of the judgmental “religious people” is very often a boogeyman. It’s an imagined threat, a scare tactic employed to both justify dumb exercises in license and arouse the self-satisfied mockery of self-identified “grace people.”

I remember first reflecting on these theoretical lurking legalists when the elders of a church I attended fired its lead pastor. The pastor called rallies in parks, spoke to the local news. He said the reason he was fired was because the elders wanted to satisfy “religious people” who wanted to make the church more stuffy and traditional. This was not true. He was fired for a long record of unrepentance in the areas of self-uncontrol, short-temperedness, verbal abuse, isolation, and the like. But I also knew his claims weren’t true because I’d been in the church long enough to know that those “religious people” weren’t there. That kind of person wouldn’t have lasted a month at our church. Our music, our architecture, our dress, our media, and our message was designed in part to repel them.

With a moment’s thought, the logic is easy to see, actually: Those kind of “religious people” hate these kinds of churches. So they don’t go to them. The truth is that people who hate attractional churches and the pastors who lead them, the people who are beyond humbly critical and well into legalistic judgmentalism, the people who want stuffy traditional “boring” worship don’t go to Newspring Church. Legalistic hatemongers who get out of bed hungry to rant on their blogs or what-have-you about Perry Noble et.al. actually exist, yes, but they go to other churches. And even if these kinds of churches did happen to have these kinds of people skulking about their congregations, out of masochism or whatever, they do not have them in any sizable number that would merit entire productions devoted to their offense.

So we’re left with two options, really:

- Pastors who invoke the “religious people” boogeyman are really just trying to offend people outside their church. This might be good for laughs and applause, good red meat for the congregation, good for camaraderie, but it is also profoundly stupid. If you make decisions at your church out of a desire to thumb your nose at people at other churches, you need to get a life.

- Pastors who invoke the “religious people” boogeyman are really just bullying and dismissing sincere people in their churches who have concerns or questions about the goings-on. It’s a fantastic way to deflect all criticism, whether it’s legitimate or not. It’s a great way to insulate oneself from reflection and accountability by drowning it out with the fan club’s laughter and chest-thumping.

“Pharisee,” “legalist,” “religious person” is the church version of racist or Nazi. It is the rhetorical nuclear option specifically designed to shut up anyone with questions and paint them among their brothers and sisters as graceless jerks. But I think it actually works the other way around:

Employing the “religious people” boogeyman ironically indulges in what it professes to decry. It is a great way to pray along with the self-justified pharisee, “I thank you God that I’m not like those religious people.”

If you’ve got real legalists in your church — and you do — the only way to intentionally offend them is by preaching the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. Everything else is just vain posturing and prideful provocation.

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Sep

27

2011

Jared C. Wilson|12:00 pm CT

Worship is Love On Its Knees

“Worship is humble and glad; worship forgets itself in remembering God; worship celebrates the truth as God’s truth, not its own. True worship doesn’t put on a show or make a fuss; true worship isn’t forced, isn’t half-hearted, doesn’t keep looking at its watch, doesn’t worry what the person in the next pew may be doing. True worship is open to God, adoring God, waiting for God, trusting God even in the dark.

“Worship will never end; whether there be buildings, they will crumble; whether there be committees, they will fall asleep; whether there be budgets, they will add up to nothing. For we build for the present age, we discuss for the present age, and we pay for the present age; but when the age to come is here, the present age will be done away. For now we see the beauty of God through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now we appreciate only part, but then we shall affirm and appreciate God, even as the living God has affirmed and appreciated us. So now our tasks are worship, mission, and management, these three; but the greatest of these is worship.

“And do you see why it’s so easy to create that pastiche of 1 Corinthians 13, substituting ‘worship’ for ‘love’? Worship is nothing more nor less than love on its knees before the beloved; just as mission is love on its feet to serve the beloved . . .”

– N.T. Wright, For All God’s Worth (p.9)

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Sep

24

2011

Jared C. Wilson|11:40 pm CT

The Pulpit is the Prow

“. . . for the pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favorable winds. Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.”

– Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

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Sep

20

2011

Jared C. Wilson|1:30 am CT

Missing Rich Here in America

The great Rich Mullins was taken up in his own chariot of fire 14 years ago today. Here’s the video for maybe my favorite of his songs. (Video’s not that great, but the song always stirs me.)

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Sep

19

2011

Jared C. Wilson|8:25 pm CT

The Fourfold Curse and The Tide’s Turning on Two Words

Ever felt Ephesians 2:1-10? You’ve probably read it, maybe multiple times. But ever felt it? Ever drunk it? Steeped in it? Had it knock you over?

Ephesians 2:1-3 is just brutal. Paul pulls no punches. How bad are we? Really, really, really, ridiculously bad. According to those three short verses we are, apart from Christ, dead. Dead, Paul says. Like, you know, dead-dead.

“But wait,” we think, “I sure didn’t feel dead. I could do stuff.” Oh, you mean like obeying your appetites (v.3), following the way of the world (v.2), and worshiping Satan (v.2)? Good job there.

It doesn’t get worse than this. We are dead, belly-ruled, world-following, devil worshipers. The curse we both suffer and embrace has us hemmed in on all sides. There is no escaping. We are much, much worse than we think we are.

Oh! But verse 4! Two sweet words start the reversal of our will and fate. Two words. Not “be still” but with the same effect — the ten-hutting of a storm. Two words that part the sea, roll back the darkness with violent force, like the jolting, snapping up of window shades. Two little words like wings of a seraph, breaking through our tomb with a bright ray of light and lifting us up and through the spiritual aether, seating us in the heavenlies (v.6).

“But God.”

Two words: the crash cart, the smelling salts, the sweet manna, the dagger in the devil’s neckbone.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ . . .

You feel that? Not if you didn’t feel verses one through three, you didn’t. “Til sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet,” Thomas Watson tells us.

The curse is four fathoms deep and un-swim-uppable. But “but God” signals the divine retrieval, our Spiritual surfacing, our deliverance. “But God” barrels in, carrying us out in two strong arms. “But God” heralds the arrival of God’s glory, the unsearchable riches of Christ, and in its wake trails the train of all the blessings Christ has purchased for us with himself.

If you understand those two words — “but God” — they will save your soul.
James Montgomery Boice

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Sep

15

2011

Jared C. Wilson|7:26 pm CT

The Lord is Never Late

Reading in my friend Michael Kelley’s upcoming book Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal, about his family’s journey of faith through their young son’s battle with leukemia, I found a passage of reflection taking me back in time. I do not know the fear and grief of having a child with a life-threatening illness, but when Michael writes —

I prayed. I petitioned. I cried. And I felt . . . nothing. Emptiness. Despair. Isolation. Darkness. Where was He, this God who so loved the world? Where was the great Healer? We needed Him there, in that cubicle of a hospital room. Doing something. Healing something. Springing into action. I didn’t need a Jesus that was sleeping in the boat while the storms raged around His friends. I needed a Jesus who was turning over the tables of sickness and disease and calling out cancerous cells like they were demons.

this I know.

I was taken back to the smell of the guest bedroom carpet, where my nose had been many hours of many nights, my eyes wetting the fabric as I cried out to God. You ever groaned? If you have, you’d know. I planted my face in that floor and prayed guttural one-word prayers til I couldn’t speak any more. The lullaby music from my daughter’s room across the hall haunted me. I felt alone, unloved, unaccepted, and unacceptable. But I knew I deserved it all, so I was trying to be as submissive to God’s discipline as I could. But it hurt. Oh God it hurt.

I was clinging to the hem of Christ’s garment in desperation in those days, beyond begging him for the restoration of my marriage, beyond begging him for forgiveness of my sins, beyond begging him to take away my thoughts of suicide. I just wanted to know he was there.

The Bible says “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). And by his grace I had that faith. A tiny sliver of it, to be sure, but I had it. Half a mustard seed maybe, clenched in my fist. All visible evidence to the contrary, I was still too afraid of the alternative. I was too scared to believe God didn’t exist, that he didn’t love me, that he didn’t care. I was exhausted but my stubbornness and that speck of faith persisted even in the spiritual silence.

And then one night I heard the voice of the Spirit, not audibly mind you, but clearly, straight to my heart, applying the word of the gospel to me: “I love you and I approve of you.” Because I had been exposing my mind to the gospel at that time, I knew he meant that he approved of me “in Christ,” not that he approved of my sin or righteousness; that much was clear by the devastation I was in. Like the prodigal son, “I came to my senses.”

In my pained estimation in those dark days, the Lord was moving much too slowly, but I knew in that moment that he is not slow in keeping his promises (2 Pet. 3:9). He was holding me all along, and his reviving word came right on time. I pray I will remember this in dark days to come.

The Lord is never late.

Don’t give up.

For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.

– Habakkuk 2:3

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Sep

14

2011

Jared C. Wilson|2:41 pm CT

A Picture of How the Gospel Cures What the Law Cannot

From Sarah Vowell’s engaging history of the Puritans, The Wordy Shipmates:

When John Cotton’s grandson, Cotton Mather, wrote his Ecclesiastical History of New England in 1702, he told a story about [John] Winthrop that I would like to believe is true. In the middle of winter, Boston was low on fuel and a man came to the governor complaining that a “needy person” was stealing from his woodpile. Winthrop mustered the appropriate outrage and requested that the thief come see him, presumably for punishment. According to Mather, Winthrop tells the man,
“Friend, it is a severe winter, and I doubt you are but meanly provided for wood; wherefore I would have you supply yourself at my woodpile till this cold season be over.” And Winthrop then merrily asked his friends whether he had not effectually cured this man of stealing his wood.

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Sep

14

2011

Jared C. Wilson|2:34 pm CT

On Coverings

You want this jacket? Well, you can have it. Because I am cloaked in failure.
– Jerry Maguire

Poor Jerry. He has the wrong covering.

Blessed Jerry. He sees his emptiness.

. . . from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.
– Luke 6:29b

You want this jacket? Well, you can have it. My shirt too. Because I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I’m all set.

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