Monthly Archives: February 2012

 

Feb

16

2012

Jared C. Wilson|9:00 am CT

Love Rushing Like a Dam Break

Man is eager for vengeance and God is eager for forgiveness.
– John MacArthur

There is only one against whom we have all sinned and we keep sinning, and yet he is the only one whose posture of forgiveness is more eager than eager. He has grace like riches (Eph. 1:7, 2:7). He doesn’t have to watch his spending. He forgives like it’s going out of style.

A fellow sinner may forgive but it takes some working up to do. In some cases, he may even be eager to forgive but this eagerness does not come naturally. In many cases, though, there is not eagerness but dutiful obligation. We bring our sorrow, our repentance, our request for pardon, and we receive questions, probing, testing, measuring. We deserve this, there’s no question about it. And really repentant persons will accept the difficulty of an offended party’s forgiveness as part of that repentance. So we slink, tail between our legs, chastened and stung. It has to be this way because of the nature of human hurt and the antisocial nature of sin.

But, genuinely sorrowed over our offense, aren’t we deep down hoping, craving, desperate for the offended not to stand off, arms crossed, waiting for us to drag ourselves into a posture of penitence, but smiling, ready to accept us again? And so our God runs to us. And he tells us to approach his throne with confidence (Heb. 4:16) to receive grace in our time of need.

The cross of Christ both proves and founds God’s eagerness to forgive. Because of Christ’s propitiating sacrifice, planned in love from eternity past and effectual to eternity future, we have no hoops to jump through, no qualifications to meet, no penitent mantras to intone, and no cowering to do. The act of God’s forgiveness is not a muted, somber affair, but a “time of refreshing” (Acts 3:19-20).

His lovingkindness endures forever. He is not just quick to forgive, but eager and aggressive. Forgiveness is flowing out of him. Your heavenly Father is not a miser with grace. He is a fountain of forgiveness.

“Forgiveness is mainly that the love of the offended shall flow to the offender, notwithstanding the offense. It is love rising above the dam which we have flung across its course, and pouring into our hearts. Our own parental forgiveness is in some feeble way analogous to God’s, and shows us that the essence of it is not the suspension of penalty, which may or may not be the case, but the unchecked and unembittered gift of God’s love to the sinner.”

– Alexander McLaren, “Christ’s Claim to Forgive, and Its Attestation” [emphasis added]

God’s forgiveness is like love rising over the dam, yes, a brimming overflow, but it’s also like love rushing mightily through a dam break, flooding freely.

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Feb

15

2012

Jared C. Wilson|3:00 pm CT

Look!: Spurgeon’s Conversion

His story of his conversion sounds like gospel wakefulness to me:

I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. . . . The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. . . . He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth [Isaiah 45:22].”

He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus: “My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look.

“But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me’. . . . Many of ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. Ye will never find any comfort in yourselves. Some look to God the father. No, look to him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some of ye say, ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin’.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.’”

Then the good man followed up his text in this way: “Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ and great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! Look unto Me!”

When he had gone to about that length, and managed to spin out ten minutes or so he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I dare say, with so few present he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “and you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.”

Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a primitive Methodists could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but to look and live.” I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said—I did not take much notice of it—I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” What a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could have almost looked my eyes away.

There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to him. . . . And now I can say—

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And Shall be till I die.

– from Spurgeon’s Autobiography

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Feb

15

2012

Jared C. Wilson|9:00 am CT

First in the Mind of the Good Soldier

Paul addresses Timothy:

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!

(2 Timothy 2:3-9)

A good soldier joins the fight for the faith, committing to be faithful to the cause of Christ, his brothers in the church, the church as his family, and the elders to whom he’s accountable. He has the cause in view, understands the mission — if not totally, at least to the extent of his role in it — throws off distractions and entangling temptations, eager to please to whom and that to which he is pledged.

A good soldier follows the rules, not merely out of duty but out of his guts, out of an understanding of the importance of the rules. He doesn’t just obey the Law, he delights in it, having lost his taste for the way of the world. He rejects passivity, puts his nose to the grindstone, gets his hands dirty, develops blisters on his feet, then callouses. He spends himself for the glory of God.

A good soldier ponders the Word of God, he mulls it over, chews on it, eats it so that he will bleed it when cut.

But a good soldier will keep foremost in his mind not his own wherewithal, gumption, or courage. That will all be sapped. In the chains of hardship, persecution, imprisonment, sin, or suffering, a good soldier will resolve to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Good soldiers, if you are flagging, dragging, or slacking, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David” as preached in the gospel. As you strive, remember you are also seated with him in the heavenlies. And while you use your body up, perhaps even to the point of death in service to the Lord, your heart is expanding to fit the scale of eternity. The risen, glorious Christ shines in you, over you, before you, supplying his approval, his grace, his glorious might so that you will finish the race, reap the harvest, and receive the soldier’s highest honor.

You, then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus…
– 2 Timothy 2:1

The body they may kill
God’s truth abideth still
His kingdom is forever.

– Luther, “A Mighty Fortress”

Photo credit: Soldier of US Army Taking Rest in Foxhole Near Front Lines Around Stolberg During Push Into Germany by John Florea

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Feb

14

2012

Jared C. Wilson|4:04 pm CT

7 Ways to Kill the Thanksgiving Impulse in Your Life

“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

– Philippians 4:5-7

This is an excellent recipe for what it itself describes: a Spiritual settling of the heart, thankfulness, closeness to God. But let’s suppose you didn’t want those things, you didn’t want to be thankful in all circumstances (as God commands through Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5). How would you design your system in order to crush any impulse of thanksgiving in your heart?

1. Freak out about everything.
Let your unreasonableness be known to everyone. Be unreasonable about everything. Turn everything into drama, everything into a crisis.

2. Practice practical atheism.
The Lord is at hand, which is certainly something to be thankful for. Our God isn’t just transcendent, but immanent. He wants to be known. You could therefore intellectually acknowledge God is there, but act like he’s not. Assume he has no interest in you or your life. If you pretend like God’s not there, you don’t have to thank him for anything.

3. Coddle worry.
Be anxious about everything. Really protect your worry from the good news.

4. Give God the silent treatment.
The best way not to give thanks is not to talk at all. That way you’ll never give thanks accidentally.

5. Don’t expect anything from God.
Don’t trust him for anything. Normally we do this so we don’t have to feel disappointed, but another reason to do it is so he won’t give you anything to be thankful for. If you pray for something, he just might say yes, and then you’d be obligated to thank him.

6. Relentlessly try to figure everything out.

The peace of God is beyond our understanding. He is bigger than our capacity to grasp him. The closer we get to God, the bigger he gets. An immense vision creates immense reaction. So if you want to crush that reaction before it has a chance to start, ask as many “why” questions as you can, and don’t settle for the answers Job or Habakkuk or David did. Best to think you’re better than them and deserve an explanation from God. If you really want to kill thanksgiving, act like God owes you. Leave no room for the possibility you might not know or understand something. And one of the best ways to crush thankfulness is to take credit for everything you can.

7. Focus on anything other than the gospel of Jesus.
God owes us nothing but has given us every good thing in Christ. If you’re not interested in thanksgiving, by all means, pay no attention to that. Concentrate on your problems. Don’t concentrate on Jesus, or you might accidentally end up thankful in all circumstances.

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Feb

14

2012

Jared C. Wilson|8:14 am CT

Force the Issue

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you . . .
– 1 Corinthians 15:1

If you are a pastor committed to gospel-centrality, it can be frustrating and distressing to re-learn every day how difficult it is for people to “get it.” Every day in gospel-centered ministry is a new lesson in “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive” (Isaiah 6:9).

This is not a deficiency of pulpit preaching, because a) people seem very good at remembering the parts they want to remember, and b) the gospel is the primary message of everything else you do, isn’t it?, from counseling to children’s ministry curriculum to friendly chit-chat to social media and the like.

Still, many seem pathologically devoted to anything warm and fuzzy that is not the gospel. “If I just stay positive, things will be okay.” Well, no, they won’t. And I’ve told you that a billion times. “If I just pray more, my life wouldn’t be so difficult.” Are we reading the same Bible? “Just keep hoping; that’s all we’ve got.” That doesn’t even make sense.

It is heartbreaking and resolve-testing when those who hear the gospel clearly articulated on a regular basis couldn’t tell you in their own words what the gospel is.

In the Scriptures we find this phrase “lay it to heart” or “take it to heart”. We find that there are many who hear the words of God, but they never lay them to heart. We’re still failing to do that, and I think every fleshly bit of us is still attracted to anything shiny. We’re like babies this way, or cats. Anything that smells of the cross activates the reverse polarity of our flesh.

So. We must force the issue. Let’s be stubborn about the gospel’s “first importance.” With ourselves first and then with our churches.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…
– Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)

“Here I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law), but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel willeth me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”

– Martin Luther

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Feb

13

2012

Jared C. Wilson|10:08 am CT

Commanded Affections, The Gospel, and Asperger’s

I don’t have any personal experience with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, which for a while has been placed in a distinct position along the autism spectrum (but may soon be re-labeled and folded back into it), but I do have a few friends with children who are either diagnosed with or presumed to have Asperger’s.

If you’re not familiar with Asperger’s syndrome, in a nutshell it is commonly described as a “high-functioning” form of autism, most often characterized by a profound social awkwardness or disability. People with Asperger’s — and there is a spectrum of ability and function even within the syndrome — tend to be incredibly artistic and highly intelligent, and often very polite and mannered, but lack the ability to pick up on emotional cues, understand metaphor or irony or sarcasm, and empathize. A friend of mine recounted a conversation between coworkers including one with Asperger’s that went something like this:

One employee is consoling another who is crying. Employee with Asperger’s approaches and asks the tearful lady, “Sheila, do you have the reports from last Wednesday?”

The consoling coworker says, “John, Sheila’s father just died.”

John says, “Oh.” Pause. “Can I get the reports off your desk?”

It’s funny, but not “ha ha” funny. And John (a name I made up, just paraphrasing my recollection of the incident) was not trying to be rude. He just wasn’t able to emotionally understand what was appropriate at the moment. In the article linked above there is this anecdote:

Rachel Klein, a child psychiatrist at New York University’s child-study center, describes a patient she saw for two years before realizing that what she was looking at was Asperger’s syndrome.

The child, who was 9 when Klein started treating him, appeared to have attention issues, she says, yet “there was something very strange about him. He would walk into my office, shake my hand, say, ‘Hello, Dr. Klein, how are you?’ Pseudo-adult. Mechanical. Stilted.”

His only friend lived nearby in New Jersey. One day, he went outside to borrow a bicycle. There’d been a car accident, and his friend had been run over and was lying in the street. “He walked over to where his friend was lying and asked him, ‘Can I borrow your bicycle?’”

“He was completely matter-of-fact about it—he wasn’t being cruel or vicious, just totally self-absorbed,” Klein says. “This was when I realized this was Asperger’s.”

One of my friends who has a child with (undiagnosed) Asperger’s says this can be a mixed blessing. They worry about their son’s inability to understand and empathize but they also see it could be an advantage as he is typically unable to pick up on when other children are making fun of him for being different.

All of that is just set-up for something I began thinking about yesterday morning. As we look through so many of the commands of the Scriptures, we see that it’s not just our will being commanded but our desires. God commands our affections and our emotions. A very tiny sampling:

“Love one another with brotherly affection . . .” – Romans 12:10

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15

“But take heart . . .” – John 16:33

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility . . .” – Colossians 3:12

These and others would appear to be commands of which most with Asperger’s (and many other forms of autism) cannot obey. If one’s “compassion” switch is turned off in the internal wiring — indeed, may not even exist — does it makes sense to command him to feel compassion? Romans 12:15 is the verse that first prompted me along this pondering. If one of the key signifiers of Asperger’s is an inability to empathize, what do we make of God’s command to Christians to empathize? He’s not just commanding that we do nice things for people or to commit loving acts to them regardless of an inner disposition — that’s hypocrisy. He’s commanding that we actually feel joy for our brother’s joy, grief for our sister’s grief, actual love for all.

I have come around to this: Am I really that different from my brother with Asperger’s in this regard? The biblical commands do a few things, but one of them is this: They tell us things to do while simultaneously exposing our inability to do them. Now, these commands, as all commands, don’t mean the opposite of what they say. God says do something, he means do it. God is not a reverse psychologist. Yet the Law as mirror shows us how far short we fall. It’s not just those with autism who are unable to rejoice and weep with others, it’s me. How many times has my wife had a bad day and I just want to know what’s for dinner? Too many to count. How many times has my brother enjoyed some measure of success, and I was not only not joyful over it, but bitter? An Asperger’s “ambivalence” would be a step up!

I can’t muster up emotions for things I don’t naturally feel emotional about. I need re-wiring too. I need God desperately. And so here we all stand at the foot of the cross where the ground is remarkably level.

Romans 12:3 implies that God has assigned diverse measures of faith to those in Christ’s Body. To whom much is given, much is expected. And I suppose there is a corollary there for those with God-assigned disabilities, as well. When we do obey God’s commands, we can thank God for the grace that has enabled and empowered our obedience. That work is ours, but it’s his first. And when we disobey, we can thank God for the grace that does not produce sin but forgives it, covers it, replaces it with the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Our holy God demands perfection from all of us, abled and disabled alike, yet in the richness of his loving mercy he supplies it in eternal abundance, regardless of our relative-to-each-other badness or goodness, received through faith alone, which need not be big or strong, only true.

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Feb

13

2012

Jared C. Wilson|8:38 am CT

That Lonesome Valley

Feels like a Mississippi John Hurt morning.

If you’re walking a lonesome valley this Monday morning, you have to walk it yourself but you don’t walk it by yourself.

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.”
– Psalm 34:18

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Feb

03

2012

Jared C. Wilson|9:00 am CT

24-Hour Armor

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God . . .”

– Ephesians 6:11-17

Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:10 to “be strong,” but he tells us to be strong in the Lord’s might, not ours, which is why before we get to praying and making supplication, we are to put on the armor of God. Notice that this armor consists entirely of things God does or provides for us. We don’t put on the helmet of self-affirmation. We don’t put on the shoes of motivation. We don’t put on the belt of intestinal fortitude. No, we put on what God has done for us in Christ, which is to say, we put on Christ.

When the enemy attacks my heart, I don’t want my self-righteousness standing guard, but the breastplate of actual righteousness, Christ’s righteousness. When the enemy whispers his accusations into my ear with his forked tongue, I don’t want Stuart Smalley-esque daily affirmations sitting there; those would protect me about as much as cotton-ball earmuffs. But the helmet of salvation is another story. If my mind is ready with the great salvation of the gospel encasing it like a force-field of grace, I am really prepared.

Which is why we must wear this armor constantly. We should never take it off. We should wear it to bed as pajamas. We should make sure we’ve got it on first thing in the morning by turning to the gospel as immediately as possible. This is wartime. Don’t take the armor off. You don’t try putting on your seatbelt when you see the Mack truck bearing down on you at 60 mph; you put it on before you pull out of the garage. Likewise, don’t wait for the enemy to show himself before you start suiting up.

You don’t know when the attacks will come; best to sleep with your boots on and your sword by your hand.

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Feb

02

2012

Jared C. Wilson|6:56 pm CT

Leading and Following in Covenant

“We submit joyfully to our leaders as our leaders serve us humbly.”

That is a statement from our church‘s membership covenant, which must be agreed to by every member of our church. It is phrased this particular way on purpose. It is not just member submission we are after but leader humility. And neither is more or less important than the other. In fact, each part of this affirmation is married to the other. That is the function of that little word “as.”

This is what our covenant is — a commitment of mutual trust. Leaders “go first,” so if any leader will not serve humbly, he forfeits the expectation that a church member under his authority will submit joyfully. That member may submit under fear or coercion, but that is not the submission we’re after. Leaders must lead, not push. Leaders must serve, not domineer.

Likewise, church members commit to submitting joyfully, realizing that not to do so creates temptation for leaders to cave into the flesh in their work, abandoning humility and servanthood to adopt something else they think may “get the job done.” A leader’s sin is not a member’s fault — and vice versa — but a covenant community ought to be oriented around bearing with one another, leading each other not into temptation, forgiving each other as God has forgiven us, and outdoing one another showing honor.

In this covenant agreement, which is larger than just this one phrase, we agree to treat each other un-suspiciously and un-selfsconsciously, working together in the love of Christ and in faith that the Spirit is building us together into a suitable habitation for his eternal presence. We show trust in God when we trust each other to submit joyfully and lead humbly.

“We submit joyfully to our leaders as our leaders serve us humbly.” There is the dance of mutual love in a gospel-centered — and therefore gospel-ordered — community. Joyful submission in coordination with and simultaneous with humble, servant-hearted leadership.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
– Hebrews 13:17

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
– 1 Peter 5:1-3

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
– Romans 12:10

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Feb

02

2012

Jared C. Wilson|1:56 pm CT

Let the Word of Christ Dwell in You Richly

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
– Colossians 3:16

What does it mean that the word of Christ dwells richly?

The word of Christ is rich with Christ’s graces, according to John 1:16. To have the word of Christ is to be rich toward God, because Christ is the all-surpassing treasure.

The word of Christ is rich in substance, because his Scriptures are Spirit-breathed, a match for every need, leaving no need of man lacking (2 Timothy 3:16-17). There is “all wisdom” in the word of Christ.

The word of Christ is rich in its effects, since it results in an abundance of myriad goodnesses, from teaching to admonishing to singing to an overflow of thanksgiving, and to more not mentioned here.

The word of Christ is rich with life, since it affords us eternity.

So let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Not meagerly or momentarily. Don’t just sip; drink deep. Taste and savor.

John Gill writes:

His meaning is, that not one part of the Scripture only should be regarded and attended to but the whole of it, every truth and doctrine in it, even the whole counsel of God; which as it is to be declared and preached in its utmost compass, so all and every part of it is to be received in the love of it, and to be abode in and by; there is a fulness in the Scriptures, an abundance of truth in the Gospel, a large affluence of it; it is a rich treasure, an invaluable mine of precious truths; all which should have a place to their full extent, in both preacher and hearer: and that in all wisdom; or, “unto all wisdom”; in order to attain to all wisdom; not natural wisdom, which is not the design of the Scriptures, nor of the Gospel of Christ; but spiritual wisdom, or wisdom in spiritual things, in things relating to salvation; and which is, and may be arrived unto through attendance to the word of Christ, reading and hearing of it, meditating on it; and especially when accompanied with the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, and which is to be desired and prayed for.

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