Monthly Archives: March 2012

 

Mar

29

2012

Jared C. Wilson|8:32 am CT

Christ-Centered Accountability

This week Pete Wilson posted John Ortberg’s list of rules for friendships that matter:

1. We can ask anything, no holds barred.
2. If you answer, you must tell the truth, as much as you know it.
3. If you don’t answer, you must say why you won’t or can’t answer.
4. Everything that is said to each other will be held in absolute confidence.
5. We will make absolutely no judgments of each other.

Pete added the caveat to #5 that, while friends won’t judge each other (by which I assume they mean “condemn”), they reserve the right to speak truth into each other’s lives (by which I assume he means “make righteous judgments about unrepentance, harmful habits, or other areas needing improvement”).

Accountability is a tricky thing. B.J. Stockman recently encouraged those struggling with pornography to avoid accountability groups, writing:

[M]aybe this is a bit of an overstatement against accountability groups, but the point is that often accountability groups turn into focusing on sin rather than experiencing the gospel of grace. You don’t just want a group that kills, but gospel-driven community that gives life. Men’s groups I’ve been apart of in the past tend to focus more on the experiences of failure the week before not the event of God’s grace in the death and resurrection of Christ 2,000 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong: Christian relationships should engage in confession of sin (James 5:16), but they are also meant for encouragement in grace (1 Thessalonians 5:14). The author of the Hebrews reveals that the key to not being hardened to the deceitfulness of sin is daily encouragement not an excessive concentration on sin (Hebrews 3:13).

Stockman is on to something. I don’t think we need to jettison “accountability groups,” although we could call them a whole number of other things. (I would hope simply “friendships.”) What we need instead is that grace-encouragement.

The most life-giving “accountability group” I was ever a part of was called a “pastor’s gospel group.” There were three of us pastors and one layman who met regularly in Ray Ortlund’s study in Nashville for prayer, confession, and sharpening. Ray introduced us to an abbreviated version of John Wesley’s famous accountability questions:

1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?

2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?

3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?

4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work , or habits?

5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?

6. Did the Bible live in me today?

7. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?

8. Am I enjoying prayer?

9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?

10. Do I pray about the money I spend?

11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?

12. Do I disobey God in anything?

13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?

14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?

15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?

16. How do I spend my spare time?

17. Am I proud?

18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican?

19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?

20. Do I grumble and complain constantly?

21. Is Christ real to me?

All good questions, and they are self-directed as written, which is important I think. Also important is that very last question, and once Ray answered it in a way that changed the entire room. I can’t adequately describe what exactly happened as Ray told us about his friend Jesus, but that scene near the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring in Bilbo’s hobbit hole where Gandalf seems to grow 20 feet taller as the room itself grows sort of approximates the experience. In his beautiful devotional commentary on the book of Isaiah, Ray writes, “The remedy for our deadness to God’s grace is more grace.”

This gets at something Bonhoeffer argues for in Life Together. While telling us not to be constant takers of our fellow believers’ temperatures, he tells us to be constant givers to our fellow believers the gospel. We need the gospel in our brothers, and they need the gospel that is in us. So accountability must ask the hard questions but it must do so as if Jesus is real. Because he is.

And since Jesus is real, his personality and his judgments should shape the personality and judgments of accountability groups. Our hearts should not be shrunken after examinations, unless we are hardened to God’s grace altogether, because it ought to be abundantly clear that questions are asked that we might walk in the freedom of Christ’s accomplishments for us and the Spirit’s power in us. The more Romans 8:1 flourishes in a space, the more James 5:16 will fill it.

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Mar

23

2012

Jared C. Wilson|10:31 am CT

Real Religion

“In the fourth century Augustine advocated using the Latin word religio by highlighting its etymology re-ligare, which means ‘to join together’ or ‘to bind together’ as in a covenant bond between man and God. The word religion, rightly understood, joins together everything we believe as we live it out in all of life. Furthermore, if we consider the lexical definitions of the word religion, we observe that religion describes not only a person’s system of belief but also what a person practices, observes, and devotes himself to. As Herman Bavinck writes, ‘Religion must not just be something in one’s life, but everything. Jesus demands that we love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength’.”

– Burk Parsons, Why Do We Have Creeds? (Basics of the Faith Series: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2012), 10-11.

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Mar

21

2012

Jared C. Wilson|10:34 am CT

Waving the White Flag as Victory

“We are not just ordinary. Nothing is just ordinary. “The whole earth is full of his glory.” We keep trying to fill it with monuments to our own glory — kingdoms, businesses, hit songs, athletic victories, and other mechanisms of self-salvation. But the truth is better than all that. Created reality is a continuous explosion of the glory of God. And history is the drama of his grace awakening in us dead sinners eyes to see and taste to enjoy and courage to obey.

“Do you realize that it is God’s will to make this earth into an extension of his throne room in Heaven? Do you realize that it is God’s will for his kingdom of glory to come into your life and for his will to be done in you as it is done in Heaven? Heaven is expanding, spreading in your direction.

“That is the meaning of existence, if you will accept it and enter in.

“Heaven is taking over. Yield.”

– Ray Ortlund, Jr., Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (Preaching the Word Commentary: Crossway, 2005).

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Mar

16

2012

Jared C. Wilson|9:00 am CT

The Greatest Preachers

“Throughout the history of the church the greatest preachers have been those who have recognized that they have no authority in themselves and have seen their task as being to explain the words of Scripture and apply them clearly to the lives of their hearers. Their preaching has drawn its power not from the proclamation of their own Christian experiences or the experiences of others, nor from their own opinions, creative ideas, or rhetorical skills, but from God’s powerful word. Essentially they stood in the pulpit, pointed to the biblical text, and said in effect to the congregation, “This is what this verse means. Do you see that meaning here as well? Then you must believe it and obey it with all your heart, for God himself, your Creator and your Lord, is saying this to you today!” Only the written words of Scripture can give this kind of authority to preaching.”

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (p. 82).

HT: my better half

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Mar

15

2012

Jared C. Wilson|12:07 pm CT

Give Us Free

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
- Galatians 5:1

I don’t know what it was like for you, but I have heard from so many since I started noodling around with this gospel wakefulness stuff that I know I’m not alone in this experience: When the sunlight of Christ, the radiance of God’s glory, broke into the dungeon of my soul, I finally knew what I’d been trying to ask for all along. The all-satisfaction of Christ in his gospel. I was asking for help, for rescue, for restoration, for happiness. Suddenly, in the Spirit’s awakening of me to the gospel, I knew I had been asking for all of Jesus.

Perhaps you’ve been there too. Like Amistad‘s Cinque we find our mouths fumbling about with words previously unknown. But they must come out. The routine and rigmarole of daily life — of even church life — begins to grate. What are we doing on these Sunday mornings entertaining everything but our souls with Christ? Scratching our feet, that’s what. (Or ears, I suppose.) But there was one final Sunday morning my heart could take it no longer. I had tasted and seen that the Lord was good and couldn’t accept stones for bread any more. I ached inside. Too much to keep on keepin’ on. I turned to my wife and whispered, “I can’t do this any more.”

So, pastors, I speak as one of you to you, as one of you who was once one of them: Will you continue to preach in such a way that you are tempting your people to finally throw up their chained hands and demand freedom? Are you going on about the business of religious busywork, as dynamic and heartwarming as it may sound, and neglecting the very power that provides the freedom to run for the prize?

As we prepare not just for Sunday sermons but for the entire life of our ministry, let us plan with this heart-cry, known and unknown, foremost in our minds: “Give us free!” Don’t make your people beg you to give them free. Give them free at every opportunity.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

– Luke 4:18-19

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Mar

13

2012

Jared C. Wilson|10:36 am CT

The Welcome of Grace

[T]hey gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you — see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.
– 2 Corinthians 8:5-8

Film director Mike Nichols talks in a recent interview about fleeing Nazi Germany as a child. German Jews were not allowed to leave the country, but Nichols’s family had Russian papers so they exploited the loophole. His father, a doctor, had gone ahead and begun a medical practice in New York City. When the rest of the family arrived, Nichols says he was struck by the Jewish businesses proliferating. He was surprised to see a sign for a delicatessen, in Hebrew. “They can do that here?” he remembers asking his dad.

When people come into our churches with no church background or, like so many, with a painful church background, they are typically on guard. Their teeth are clenched, their eyes are scanning, their breath is held — perhaps not physically, but in their psyche. They are taking much more in than just the musical style and the sermon’s listenability. Those things matter a lot, but they aren’t usually dealbreakers.

I remind myself and my church often that a message of grace may attract people, but a culture of grace will keep them. They want to know — we want to know, the Lord wants to know — that what is being preached has sunk down through the hardness of our skulls and entered the bloodstream. That we are not puffed up with our spiritual knowledge but humbled by it and animated by it. Have we taken the message of the grace of God in Jesus Christ and taken it to heart?

And when they catch glimpses, the surprise is telling. Is it too good to be true? As more people testify to the kindness of God in their lives, drop the pretense of righteousness by moral turpitude, as sins are confessed and greeted with love, as pastors and laymen alike humble themselves and serve and exemplify with their hands and eyes what they preach with their mouths, the aroma of freedom wafts through the place. Messy people own their stuff. “They can do that here?” Sinners repent into the safety of the gospel. “They can do that here?” People have the freedom to question leaders, disagree with the pastor, hold opposing views with each other without distrust or rancor. “They can do that here?”

A culture of grace oxygenates the air. Watch people stand a little taller, breathe more deeply, feel free to be more themselves. My friend Ray Ortlund says, “I’ve never met a man who felt too forgiven, too free.” Grace is that kind of welcome. It’s the run-to-the-prodigal-while-he’s-still-far-off kind of welcome. It’s “The Inhabitants of Highways and Hedges are Welcome” kind of welcome. It’s the “come to Me, all you who are tired and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” kind of welcome. It’s the space to be broken kind of welcome. It’s the “we love you as you are, but we love you too much to want you to stay there” kind of welcome.

This scares people who believe God has delegated his sovereignty to them. But it honors the gospel of Jesus, in whom there is no condemnation and through whom we are being built together — as we welcome each other — as a place of welcome for the Spirit of the living God. In the kingdom to which the church is meant to bear witness, people flourish and become at the same time more like their real selves and more like Jesus Christ. Paul in the passage above is urging generosity in giving; let this be but one application of the generosity of grace.

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Mar

12

2012

Jared C. Wilson|10:56 am CT

On Constantly Taking Your Church’s Temperature

That voice in your head that keeps rehearsing the disappointments and flaws of your church is not from the Lord. It is the accuser, helping you get to the “I have no need of you” forbidden in 1 Corinthians 12:21. We may have legitimate concerns about our church’s maturity, its repentance, its effectiveness, or its “personality,” and there is certainly a place for sharing concerns and criticisms, a biblical call to honest appraisal, and plenty of space for exhortation and rebuke, but many claiming to do these things have shifted to a legal measuring none of us really has the authority for. Here is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in Life Together about looking at our churches through the lens of scrutiny:

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregations. A pastor should not complain about his congregations, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men. When a person becomes alienated from a Christian community in which he has been placed and begins to raise complaints about it, he had better examine himself first to see whether the trouble is not due to his wish dream that should be shattered by God; and if this be the case, let him thank God for leading him into this predicament.

But if not, let him nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of the congregation before God. Let him rather accuse himself for his unbelief. Let him pray to God for understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in the consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren. Let him do what he is committed to do, and thank God . . .

What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.

What is this “wish-dream” Bonhoeffer’s talking about? It is the vision we have for the church we want. In one sense, a good thing. We should all want our church to be moving forward, growing, changing — more into conformity with the image of Christ. But we shouldn’t let that image get in the way of loving our church where it is.

In 1 Peter 5:2, Peter exhorts pastors to shepherd the flock that is among them. I think we could apply this fairly reasonably to non-pastors as well. Love the church that is actually “among you,” not the one you wish was there. God in his wisdom has not placed you there to be a busybody or malcontent. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Am I disappointed my church isn’t more like Jesus, or that it isn’t more like me?
In the diversity of the body is a diversity of callings and passions. It is not fair, nor gracious, to expect the other members of a body to carry the same individual callings or passions as others. If the problem is disobedience to a clear biblical command, that is one thing. If the problem is disinterest in your interest, that is another.

2. Is the problem a matter for church discipline? Is it an issue of gospel-denial?
Rebukes are for sin, not for disappointment. If your church affirms the gospel but denies emphasis on your area of concern, don’t make a federal case out of it.

3. Can you rehearse the blessings and benefits of your local body as easily as their flaws and failings?
If you are constantly unhappy there and cannot shake envy for the wish-dream, it is better for you to leave in peace than to stay and grumble.

4. Do you see others’ faults more readily than your own?
The answer to this question, for nearly all of us, is yes. So it is with great caution and great desire for grace that we ought to make the faults of others our business. Your church has a long, long way to go, no doubt. Every church does. But so do you.

Let’s not be our church’s accuser. Someone has already taken that position. And let’s not keep constantly taking our church’s temperature. Let’s love and serve and submit and, yes, exhort and rebuke, and then let’s love and serve and submit more and more, believing that the Spirit is at work many times in ways we are blind to. God will be faithful to finish the good work he’s begun in us, and he doesn’t need you walking around with your hall monitor sash, handing out demerits.

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
– Ephesians 2:22

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Mar

08

2012

Jared C. Wilson|8:30 am CT

He is the Radiance of the Glory of God

“He is the radiance of the glory of God . . .”
– Hebrews 1:3a

All that God is — the measureless sum of his eternal and eternally rich attributes — shines forth in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son. Jesus is supremely radiant.

What does this mean? It means that this Bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16) will be the sun of the new heavens and the new earth. We won’t need this old sun, we will have the Lamb as our Lamp (Rev. 21:23). And it means that even now, the sun of righteousness who has risen with healing in his wings (Mal. 4:2) must be the center of our spiritual solar system or everything else goes out of whack. Indeed, if we were to kick our sun out from the center of our system, we wouldn’t just have chaos, but death. Life would be unsustainable. So it is with Jesus. If he is not the center, we die.

Also like the sun’s beams, the radiating lines of the Son’s glory are too numerous to count. Ever tried counting sunbeams? You can’t do it. It’s like counting airwaves in the wind. Jonathan Edwards says that in Christ we find an “admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies.” These diverse excellencies are the sunbeams of his magnificence, finding their unity in him, as they — though disparate — converge and emanate back out to reflect the imprinting of the nature of God.

He is the Lion and the Lamb. He is the Lamb and the Shepherd. He is the Shepherd and the Warrior. He is the Warrior and the Priest. He is the Priest and the Sacrifice. He is the Sacrifice and the Victor. He is the Victor and the Servant. He is the Servant and the King. He is the King and the Convicted. He is the Convicted and the Judge. He is the Judge and the Advocate. Diverse excellencies, each pair juxtaposed yet complementary, finding their admirable conjunction in him.

And there’s so much more. John says if all the things Jesus did during his earthly ministry were written down all the books on earth could not contain them all (John 21:25). Is it any wonder, then, that we will take all eternity to bask in the radiance of his glory?

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Mar

07

2012

Jared C. Wilson|12:00 pm CT

To Bid Him a Cordial Welcome Again

“In November 1816 the work began in this town. Conferences increased in number, and were much crowded. The work has been principally among youths; and even children have shared a part of those gracious influences, that have inclined them to forsake all their vanities, and seek first the kingdom of heaven. They were brought to discover their exceeding vileness and guiltiness before an holy God.

“They were generally led to see the justice of their everlasting condemnation; and that they never did, and never could do any thing to recommend themselves to the divine favour of Jehovah: that if they were ever saved, it must be altogether by grace.

“The exhortations of young converts, and those newly awakened, beyond any other means, have been owned and blessed of God, for the conviction and conversion of sinners. About fifty have joined the Baptist church, a number the Congregational, and some the Methodist society. Pawlet has received much rain from this cloud of mercy. Ira seemed to lie under the heaviest part of that shower, and almost every family in that town was awakened, and many believed; not because of the sayings of converted souls from other towns, who testified that Jesus told them all things that they had ever done; for they felt his power themselves, and knew indeed that he was the Christ, the Saviour of the world.

“Clarendon and Wallingford were some alarmed, and a few fled for refuge and found peace, through the atoning blood of the Lamb, which taketh away the sin of the world. Upon Mountholly, God was seen in glorious majesty. There, many souls who had known his power for four or five years and some for more than twenty, were waiting to receive their Lord, and bid him a cordial welcome to their hearts and families.

“When they heard that he was travelling in righteousness, upon one part of that mountain, and appearing mighty to save; they left all, and went out, to behold the ensigns of his power, and to walk in the light of his countenance.”

– Joshua Taylor, Accounts of Religious Revivals in Many Parts of the United States from 1815 to 1818 (Shropshire, England: Quinta Press, 2005), 66-67.

The “this town” in the opening line, the epicenter of the revival that spread to the surrounding towns, is Middletown Springs, Vermont (at that time simply called Middletown). I currently pastor the only evangelical church (and one of only two churches) in the town. (I actually live just over the town limit in one of the other towns mentioned.) I love this account and shared it with my church a couple of weeks back. Their enchantment and surprise was thrilling. I am praying with childlike expectation that God will do this again, in spite of us but for us.

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Mar

07

2012

Jared C. Wilson|8:30 am CT

PLNTD Conference 2012: Cultivating Gospel Communities

At the end of this month (March 30-31), the PLNTD Network is hosting a great training event in South Florida focused on cultivating gospel communities. Steve Timmis and I are scheduled to speak, and there will be breakout sessions as well as Q&A that will likely be very beneficial to discussing and applying the content to the context of your local church.

You can get all the details about the schedule, location, and hotel reservations by going to their conference website. Current registration for the conference is $49, but PLNTD has a special promotional code that can knock $10 off that price! When you register, simply put “jared” in the promotional code to take advantage of the discount.

Here’s a description of the conference from PLNTD:

God has given the church a mission. At the very heart of that mission is the call to make disciples. And at the very heart of making disciples is gospel communities on mission.

The PLNTD conference : Cultivating Gospel Communities is a training event focused on equipping God’s people to engage in the mission of the church in ordinary life with gospel intentionality. The gospel is extraordinary good news, and communities formed and fueled by the gospel are persuasive displays of how life-transforming and kingdom-advancing it really is. During these two days, we will pursue ways to communicate in word and commend in deed the gospel to our neighbors as we pray for a move of God that impacts our cities for Christ.

Who should attend this training event?
Anyone who wants to make, mature, and multiply gospel-centered disciples. Pastors, church planters, small group leaders, and ministry apprentices/interns are strongly encouraged to attend. For those in South Florida, you will also hear about new developments to collaborate for kingdom advance through the formation of a regional network. There is no better time to get in the trenches and scatter the gospel seed than now! We hope you’ll join us!

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