Monthly Archives: February 2012

 

Feb

29

2012

Jared C. Wilson|10:26 am CT

Until We’re Finally “There,” There is No “There” – There’s Only “Here”

One of the most helpful things I read last week was this word from Justin Anderson:

I’ve seen the “promised land” — and it’s just ok.

Refreshing is what that word is. Anderson elaborates:

For the last couple years, I have been living the dream. Our church has seen explosive growth, people be saved, baptized, and join groups all the time. We have four campuses, thousands of people, and a great staff. Finally, all the toil of church planting has paid off and the prospect of megachurch stardom was a reality.

Most of us want some version of this in ministry. I finally reached the promised land, and I can report that it’s just OK. Don’t get me wrong: there were parts that I loved, but at the end of the day there is always more to do, always another idea, hill to climb or battle to fight—it never ends.

Much wisdom here for all of us, big church or little church, succeeding or struggling. Wisdom there for pastors and laity alike.

Too often we envision “successful ministry” — this vision may look different from person to person, church to church — and pour our energies and affections into seeing that vision become a reality, assuming that once we finally “arrive,” things will be better, easier, finally and ultimately fulfilling. This is, functionally, idolatry. It is a creation of a false heaven, not simply false in its falling short of the real Paradise but false in its inclusion of talent, acquired skills, and grit to reach.

Don’t settle for the false heaven of a “successful ministry.” Because real success is faithfulness. Big church or small church, growing church or declining church, well-known church or obscure church — all churches are epic successes full of the eternal, invincible quality of the kingdom of God when they treasure Jesus’ gospel and follow him. Jesus did not give the keys of the kingdom with the ability to bind and loose on both sides of the veil only to those who’d reached a certain attendance benchmark. So do well, pursue excellence, and stay faithful. God will give you what you ought to have according to his wisdom and riches.

The reality is, as Anderson is able to reveal from that fabled other side, there is no promised land until the promised land of the real heaven. We always think things will finally be . . . well, final when we get “there,” wherever “there” is for us. But there is no there. There’s only here. Because once you get there, there becomes here, and there’s a new there. On and on it will go until our discontentment with ourselves is shaped by the contentment found in Christ and our yearning for thisworldly “theres” is conquered by the vision of the everlasting “there.”

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Feb

29

2012

Jared C. Wilson|7:19 am CT

Adequate Preparation for Brokenness

The portion of this feature on Lauren Winner that jumps out at me is this:

“In Christianity there’s this script of, you do the right things and you will not come to that place of despair, and something is wrong with you if you do,” she said. “I didn’t feel I had an abundance of preparation for hitting that experience.”

What she describes in the first sentence is not Christianity, of course, but what passes for it in many churches and faith communities today. Do x, y, and z and no harm will come to you. This is what most of the idiots on television preach. But it is also there, mostly between the lines but often not, in the way many evangelical churches teach the Scriptures. Call it moralistic therapeutic deism, call it self-help religion, call it legalism, call it whatever you want, but don’t call it Christianity.

What Winner says in that second sentence — “I didn’t feel I had an abundance of preparation for hitting that experience.” — speaks to the utter importance of gospel-centered preaching, teaching, discipleship, counseling, community fellowship, and on and on. I didn’t have preparation for hitting the experience of despair either. I had a lot of helpful hints and tips, a treasure trove of weekly seven steps to this or that, and an abundance of Christian resources. But nothing “works” like hearing and knowing and trusting that nothing could separate me from the love of God and nothing could invalidate the approval I have from him in Christ Jesus.

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Feb

27

2012

Jared C. Wilson|9:30 am CT

A Christian is a Person Who Cannot be Conquered

In A.D. 404 John Chrysostom, the early church father, was brought in before the Roman emperor. The emperor threatened him with banishment if he remained a Christian.

Chrysostom responded, ‘You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house.’

‘But I will kill you,’ said the emperor.

‘No, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God,’ said Chrysostom.

‘I will take away your treasures.’

‘No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.’

‘But I will drive you away from your friends and you will have no one left.’

‘No, you cannot, for I have a friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you, for there is nothing you can do to harm me.’

(And this anecdote always reminds me of my favorite line from Richard Sibbes’s The Bruised Reed: “A Christian is an impregnable person. He is a person that never can be conquered.”)

HT: Dane Ortlund

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Feb

24

2012

Jared C. Wilson|4:46 pm CT

The Vision Without Which People Perish

“Where there is no vision, the people perish . . .”
– Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)

Proverbs 29:18 may be one of the most misapplied verses in all the evangelical church today. Many a church leader has used it to spiritualize his strategies and blackmail followers into supporting his entrepreneurialism. Vision statements are cast. Mission statements are crafted to serve the vision. A list of values is composed to serve the mission. An array of programs is developed to serve the values. A stable of leaders is recruited to serve the programs. An army of volunteers is inspired to assist the leaders.

Much of what goes on in our local churches serves to make sure the church machine keeps running. In less healthy — but sometimes very big — churches, the entire machine is designed to put on an excellent weekend worship service. All of this would indeed perish if that vision were not cast.

But what if a leader’s good idea for church growth or success was not the vision Proverbs 29:18 had in mind? What if we aren’t free to insert anything we come up with, no matter how spiritual or “inspired by God”?

The verse is longer than is usually quoted. Proverbs 29:18 (in the ESV) in its entirety reads: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” The vision is “prophetic vision”; what is in mind here is the revelation of God to his biblical spokesmen. Where there is no vision shared with us by the prophets, to whom God revealed the mysteries of the ages, we like savages run wild. In other words, we may have a vision, but if it is not the one given to the biblical representatives of God’s revelation and the forecasters of God’s coming glory, it is not to be conformed to. “But blessed is he who keeps the law.” The latter part of the verse implies that when the vision of the prophets is held by the people, the blessing of living God’s way ensues.

What is the vision of the prophets? It is “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints” (Col. 1:26; see also Rom.16:25 and Eph. 3:9). The vision is Jesus.

The world would have us know a billion other things. The church would sometimes have us know many other things, as well. But those who have beheld the life-changing vision of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ know better. Here is what Peter says:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:16-19)

You will do well to pay attention. We have something more sure, more true, more bright, more majestic, more powerful. He is the only surety, the only truth, the only light, the only majesty, the only power.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 11: The Blessed Fixation from my book Gospel Wakefulness.

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Feb

23

2012

Jared C. Wilson|3:00 pm CT

Come and Die

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
– 2 Timothy 2:3

Have you ever seen a military recruitment poster or TV ad that showed wounded soldiers? Ever seen one that showed soldiers taking bullets, medics administering morphine to blood-gushing comrades, or an array of battle-hardened quadriplegics?

No, you have not. We recruit soldiers by showing shiny weapons, technologically advanced machines and systems, adventurous locales, and strong, healthy men and women using them, engaging in them, and bravely enjoying them.

But not Paul. He will not whitewash the mission. As Christ says, “Count the cost” and “Take up your cross” and “Die to self,” Paul’s recruitment slogan is: Share in suffering.

In 2 Timothy 2:7, he writes, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” He wants disciples of Jesus to consider what he’s just laid out for them, which is that Christianity is about suffering like a soldier, training like an athlete, and working hard like a farmer. One thing these three examples have in common is a stubborn commitment to a diligent daily grind for a payoff that is not instant or immediate.

“Think over what I say.” Mull this over. Consider this. Count the cost. So that when hardship comes — and as Gary Demarest says, “Following Christ causes problems” — you are not acting as if something strange is happening to you (1 Pet. 4:12). Instead, you have a vision of what will be, of the “eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10) that lay ahead.

When Shackleton advertised for recruits for his venture to Antarctica in 1914, he did it this way:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.

“When Christ bids a man,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “he bids him come and die.”

Ah, but then he lives! Really, truly lives. He can’t be stopped. There ain’t hardly nothing you can do to him.

We might rewrite Shackleton’s ad thusly:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition guaranteed.

Come and die (and live!).

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Feb

23

2012

Jared C. Wilson|11:45 am CT

God’s Astonishing Revelation

I’m a fan of the kind of UFO movies that tap into that inscrutable human longing for contact with what’s “out there.” Signs was a good one, not really about aliens at all, but really about faith. E.T. is a classic not least for speaking to a growing generation of lonely children. I love the scene in Contact where those long-listening to SETI’s droning broadcast suddenly and startlingly hear an anomaly, a signal at last from another world. But my favorite extraterrestial film is Spielberg’s other classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. So much angst throughout, so much mystery, so much hurt and hope, hurtling forward into the climactic moment at the end when all the hopeful longing is met with the arrival of creatures from another world. And there is a sweet, beautiful illustration of the wonder, the transcendence, the “coming home”-ness of the heart that has eternity written upon it finally being filled. If you’re like me, when you see these scenes, you feel stirred in some way. They are playing on a frequency deeper than mere entertainment.

I think this is because there is something essentially human about feeling that we are not alone.

As Christians, we know that God is real, that God is out there, that God is the settler of the restless heart. The “thing” everyone is longing for is God himself. And this God is real! So here we have the God: eternal, immortal, invisible, God only wise. He is utterly transcendent. To him alone be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Basically, we’re talking God — like, the God. And he’s written us a book. That we don’t open this divine revelation with eyes wide, mouths gaping, hearts leaping out of our chest is an astonishment of its own.

And that he has revealed himself in the person Jesus Christ, once here and returning soon, is surely faint-worthy. That he has given us his Spirit is thrilling. That the Spirit helps us understand the book is amazing. That he through the Son revealed in the book illuminated by the Spirit presents us blameless before the presence of his glory is too wonderful for words.

The God has made himself known. Staggering.

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Feb

21

2012

Jared C. Wilson|3:00 pm CT

Just as if I’d . . .

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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Feb

21

2012

Jared C. Wilson|10:34 am CT

“But God is One” and The Gospel

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
– Galatians 3:19-20

What does this mean, “God is one,” in relation to the gospel in Paul’s letter to the Galatians?

An editor’s note in one edition of Calvin’s commentary on Galatians mentions 250 recorded possible interpretations of Galatians 3:20. That’s not a little intimidating, but here’s my contribution to be counted among them or added to them:

The Law was put in place via angels, through Moses. We see this affirmed in Acts 7:38 and 53 and in Hebrews 2:2. Deuteronomy 33:2 tells us the Law came to Sinai by “ten thousand holy ones.” That’s a pretty impressive scene. “An intermediary implies more than one.” Yes. There were several links in the chain of command: from God via his ten thousand holy ones to Moses, then to the people. And let’s not forget to factor in the priests and the ceremonial rites and regulations that went along with all that. There were a lot of working parts. Many persons, many sacrifices, many details between. In order to deliver and then to administer the Law, teamwork, as they say, made the dream work.

“But God is one.”

So why is the gospel better than the Law? Why is Jesus more glorious than any other intermediary? Because it is God himself doing the job himself for the people himself all by himself. Consider the exhaustive and exhausting comprehensiveness and rigor that the Law entails. Multiply that by the glory that radiated on Moses’ face, that was transmitted on mountaintop via ten thousand flaming angels. Multiply that precise measurements, a routine cycle of sacrifices, and an every-T-crossed attention to detail. Now consider that Christ Jesus is more glorious, more precise, more fulfilling, more encompassing than all that. And then! Consider that Jesus doesn’t just hold up his end of the covenant of righteousness: he holds up our end too. An intermediary implies more than one. But God is one. He does his job, and ours.

That’s what I think Galatians 3:20 means. I believe that is in keeping with the trajectory of the passage and the context of the book itself, which is to say that the Law is good (for what it’s designed for), but that Jesus is much, much better. The law is awesome, but the gospel is awesomer than awesome.

“Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.”

– 2 Corinthians 3:7-10

Here and elsewhere we learn that God saves us from himself to himself by himself for himself.

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Feb

17

2012

Jared C. Wilson|12:22 pm CT

The Perfect Storm for Gospel-Driven Sanctification

Doing flows from being.

This side of heaven, there is still sin in me. I am a wretched sinner.

Born again, I am a new creation and the Spirit of Christ resides in me. I am a saint.

As Cornelius Plantinga writes in Beyond Doubt:

As a result, all Christians need to say two things. We admit that we are redeemed sinners. But we also say boldly and joyously that we are redeemed sinners (89).

Here in this tension is the perfect storm for the mortification of sin by the power of grace. If I hold only that I am a wretched sinner, I trudge against sin, pursue holiness as one through quicksand, motivated perhaps only by self-pity. And if I hold only that I am a saint, I shield my eyes to my pride and egotism, become passive about sin, claiming victories under my own legalistic power that don’t exist.

But if I put the vinegar of the acknowledgment of my indwelling sinfulness together with the sodium bicarbonate of my eternal standing in God by the grace of Jesus Christ and his righteousness credited to me through faith — look out! Only in the grasping of this double-reality can I fight against my flesh with the holiness God commands through the power of the holiness he has already imputed to me.

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Feb

16

2012

Jared C. Wilson|3:00 pm CT

Dude, Prepare for Later Now

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.”
– Ecclesiastes 12:1

Ah, youth! I remember, in the prime of my life, overflowing with the confidence and vigor of pure, automatic trust in my teenage athletic abilities, stepping into the huddle of one of our Saturday football games and saying to Mark, our all-time quarterback, “Just give me the ball. I will score.” And Mark let loose a beauty of a pass — few things look and feel so beautiful to a teenage football-playin’ boy than a perfectly thrown pass in the dazzle of an autumn afternoon squirmish — and I on the furious run brought it to safe harbor in my arms like a baby, racing past the staggered defense on skinny wheels, thirty yards, twenty yards — he.could.go.all.the.way — ten yards, five yards, touchdown. I did what I said I would, because I knew I could. Ah, youth!

But the evil days come, creeping in inch by inch, day by day, as metabolism sneaks out of the house overnight, easing the sports car out of the driveway and disappearing. Were I to enter that huddle this coming Saturday and speak with honesty, I should say, “Just give me the ball. I will run out of gas ten yards in, pull up with a muscle cramp, and collapse with two high ankle sprains.”

I’m trying, really I am. But compared to the halcyon days of youth, the days have come in which I say, “I have no pleasure in them.” Things creak when I get out of bed. I don’t even know what they are.

Remember your Creator, the Teacher says. Remember him in your youth. Because youth is passing, fading. It is vanity, meaningless, chasing the wind. Even if you’re fast, dude. So it is imperative, in the days of vim and vigor, to prepare for later now. Place your lasting joy in lasting things. Enjoy what you’ve got while you’ve got it, but set the termination of your affections on the treasure you cannot lose.

If you fail to prepare for later now, you will wind up a pathetic relic to the past. Before you know it, you’re not reminiscing but lamenting. Do you wanna be that guy looking up time machines on the Internet and electrocuting your gonads, eating everybody’s steak and ruining their lives? Or leaning against the wall of the high school hangout, a total creeper? They’re not laughing with you; they’re laughing at you, dude.

Ah, youth. Rejoice in it, for now. Rejoice in the Lord always.

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