The Definition of Insanity

Nov 12, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

charles-simeonPastor, every Sunday, over and over again, without fail, stubborn and convicted, you take to that pulpit and pin all your hopes on the gospel in your preached text. You aren’t trusting your rhetoric, your well-turned phrases, your homespun stories, your hokey jokes. You aren’t trusting your emotional appeals, your special pleadings, your creative context, your fog and lasers or your eighteen verses of “Just As I Am.” You leave all the good news out on the field, praying the seed will find purchase in softer soil than the week before.

You look up from your closing prayer and see, yet again, blank faces, arms crossed, pursed lips, feet itching to beat the Catholics out to the all-you-can-eat buffet at the local people-trough. You sigh.

Then you get studied up and prayed up all week and do it again. And again. And again.

Sometimes response comes in trickles, sometimes not at all. You start feeling quite hamsterian, and the preaching calendar is one giant wheel.

Pray, study, pray, preach.
Pray, study, pray, preach.
Pray, study, pray, preach.
Wash, rinse, repeat.

Somebody comes along at some point and suggests “This gospel stuff is nice” — this is a true story, by the way — “and you do it very well” — flattery will get you nowhere, or everywhere, depending on how my day is going — “but sometimes we need to hear other things.”

You want to say “Get behind me, Satan,” but you just smile and nod and inside your heart collapses like those outdated hotel-casinos they blow up in Las Vegas, with a great plume of dust that makes the sky look dirty. You feel old. It does feel like it’s getting old.

But you keep going. It’s giving you wrinkles, headaches, heartburn. You push on, press on, preach on.

Pray, study, pray, preach.
Gospel all day, erryday.

“If you think you need to hear other things,” you telepathically say to the valley of dry bones scattered across the pews, “it’s proof you need a double helping of the gospel.”

So you keep going. Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.
What’s the definition of insanity again?

If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God . . . – 2 Corinthians 5:13

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. - Galatians 6:9

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How Should Church Members Relate to Their Pastors?

Nov 12, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

9marksFrom Jonathan Leeman’s excellent little book, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus:

Every church member will stand before God’s throne and give an account for how he or she worked to protect the gospel in the lives of his or her fellow members (see Galatians 1). That said, the Holy Spirit has made pastors and elders the overseers of the church (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:2). That means pastors or elders represent the church’s work of oversight in the day-to-day life of the congregation. Submitting to the church often means submitting to them. Broadly speaking, how should members relate to pastors?

1. Members should formally affirm their pastors.

Different traditions disagree on this, but I believe that since Christians are ultimately responsible before God for what they are taught (see Galatians 1), church members are responsible for choosing their leaders. Congregations should let elders lead in this process, but the final affirmations is the church’s. (it may also be the case that the church’s authority to affirm its leaders is an apostolic authority, which it inherits through the apostolic keys. See Acts 14:23; see also the congregation’s role in Acts 1 an Acts 6).

2. Members should honor their pastors.

Our culture’s ability to understand honoring seems to be diminishing continually. But just as the Bible calls children to honor their parents, so Christians should honor their pastors. The Bible even says to give them “double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17). And this includes paying them (5:18).

3. Members should submit to their pastors.

These two verses in Hebrews need to be incorporated into our understanding of Christian life: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Heb. 13:17).

4. Members should pray for their pastors.

These men are the ones whose lives and teaching help to sustain the church. Will it not benefit us to pray for them?

5. Members should bring charges against disqualified pastors.

Since they are out front, Paul protects leaders by requiring two or three witnesses to level a charge against them (1 Tim. 5: 19). That said, the congregation should not allow an elder who has disqualified himself to continue serving.

6. Members should fire gospel-denying pastors.

When false teachers entered the Galatian church, Paul did not correct the elders. He corrected the church. When pastors begin to deny the gospel or teach other heresies, God calls church members to fire them.

(pp. 104-106)

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40 Thoughts For My 40th Birthday

Nov 01, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

jwToday’s my 40th birthday. As a way of reflecting on my long, unbroken track record of unsurpassed mediocrity, here is a list of things I’ve learned, discovered, and experienced, and that I now think — one for each year of living.


1. Being married might be the most sanctifying thing in your life, if you’re doing it right. It definitely is the most sanctifying thing in your life if you’re doing it wrong.

2. Luther’s first thesis was “All of life is repentance.” So is all of marriage.

3. It’s good to have standards and expectations. It’s better to have grace.

4. The key to having grace is remembering that you fall much shorter from God’s standard than your spouse does yours, but God is laying out fresh mercies for you every morning anyway. We act more strictly than God when we presume to be in his position.

5. It is much harder to love your spouse when you’re constantly focused on how they are not as you-centered as you are.

6. It gets worse before it gets better. Don’t give up.

7. Having someone who knows just how messed up you are, how dumb and foolish, how forgetful and stubborn, just how versatile your stupidity is, who sees how awful you look naked, who hears your chewing and snoring and burping and your bathroom sounds, who sees your waxy Q-tips and your dirty underwear and yet still says, “I love you,” is amazing for your soul.

8. My wife’s laugh is my favorite sound in the world.


9. A close second is my girls’ laughter.

10. Just some good general rhythms: dinner together every night, church every Sunday, bedtime routines when they’re little, taking them to school and picking them up. These little things add up to be greater than the sum of their parts in your kids’ hearts, I think.

11. I think we tend to always mess up the first one a little bit.

12. I only lose my temper with my kids when they’re not acting like I’m the center of the universe.

13. It goes by really fast. It’s a cliché because it’s true.

14. I’m convinced the best way to make your kids feel secure is to be passionately in love with your spouse.

15. I don’t think I should say any more. My kids are still under revision. I don’t think I will ever write a parenting book, but if I do, it won’t be until after my kids are grown and I can see how much (or how little?) I screwed them up.


16. If you’re doing it right, you will probably be hyper-aware of almost everything you’re doing wrong.

17. You will lose a lot of sleep.

18. If you’re actively engaged with your flock, ministry will often feel incredibly Sisyphean.

19. I spent way too much time as if ministry was one big employee performance review. It made me timid, paranoid, and ineffective.

20. There will be people in your church who just straight-up don’t like you. For no real apparent reason. And many of them will not be content to simply sit on these feelings. It’s the strangest thing, but if you read the pastoral epistles you will see it’s not new.

21. The greatest joys are usually found with new believers growing in the faith.

22. The least invested and least encouraging tend to take up most of your time. This is one of ministry’s greatest tragedies.

23. I wish I had spent much more time with all the low-maintenance church folks.

24. Problems ignored don’t go away. (Apply directly to the forehead.) Nearly all of my regrets in almost 20 years of ministry are related to my passivity and fear of conflict.

25. It is a precious thing to hold the hand of a dying saint.

26. I always thought pastoral ministry was about helping people live. Turns out it’s more about helping people die.


27. Most people who say “I’ve always wanted to write” really just want to have written. If you have always wanted to write, you would already have been writing.

28. It took me ten years trying to write for publication before I landed an agent and a few years after that before I actually got published. It takes some people much longer. If it happens for you quickly, God bless ya. But you should be prepared to put some time in.

29. Everybody wants to know about the routine. The deadline drives the routine. Other than that, it just comes out in a million different ways: in sermons, in tweets, in little jottings in the notebook, in mental etchings in the imagination. A routine doesn’t produce the urge to write; it only channels it.

30. “I want to write a book, but I don’t know how.” I hear this a fair amount, and I confess it confuses me. You’ve seen books, right? You know what they look like. Write one that looks like that.

31. The best thing you can do for your writing is read. A lot.

The Little Things

32. The best and deepest thoughts happen while sitting outside.

33. That moment at the end of Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, when Emma Thompson finds out Hugh Grant isn’t married? Gets me every time. (Also the scene in Casablanca when they drown out the Nazis with “La Marsellaise.”)

34. Boiled crawfish (rightly seasoned) is the greatest food on God’s dirty earth. (Tex-Mex is a very close second.) And that he would pack something so delicious into something so ugly is just like him. A picture of the gospel. “The glory of the mudbug is foolishness” and all that.

35. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who appreciate Al Green and those who are wrong.

36. Tom Brady, y’all. Hashtag GOAT

Dealing With Being Me

37. 40 years of living and I’m basically still that same little kid who wants to know he’s okay. Except now fat.

38. There is always a new battle to face. I do not struggle with lust as badly as I did when I was a younger man—praise God!—but this gluttony thing wins more days than I do.

39. I grew up under a heavy cloud of felt disapproval and general fear. I was a pretty neurotic kid and I masked this by trying to look spiritual, which only compounded the problem. Since my moment of gospel wakefulness (see below), I have a come a long way into the security of union with Christ, but that cloud is never far from me.

40. About ten years ago, I was depressed and suicidal and wallowing in the ruins of my life and myself, and the Lord reached into the little guest bedroom where I was spending my nights and woke me up to his glorious gospel. It did not change my circumstances, but it changed me. By his grace, I have not lost this sense of wonder and the conviction that came out of it – that the gospel is the secret of the universe. When the fad’s long over, I plan to keep beating that drum, even if it’s just for me and Jesus.

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The Perfect Storm for Gospel-Driven Sanctification

Oct 27, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

stormsDoing 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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Love Like A Dam Break

Oct 23, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

damMan 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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He Who Resigns is Nothing

Oct 22, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

churchI planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
– 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

One year ago this month — October 3, to be specific — I took to the pulpit of Middletown Springs Community Church and announced my resignation. Over the last 12 months, have shared some reflections on that time, primarily in a well-received post I titled The Gospel for Ministry Quitters, which resonated with folks far more than I anticipated, but I’ve never shared my actual resignation letter. I know there are readers who are interested in such things — I’d be one of them, honestly — so I thought I’d share it with you. Below is the announcement I read — or, rather, sobbed through — before preaching a long-beforehand-scheduled sermon on 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. The Lord has a very remarkable sense of humor.

Sharing this information with you is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I ask that you will listen carefully and seek to hear my heart despite what I am sure will be shocking and disappointing to perhaps a great number of you.

For over a little more than a year, I have felt a great discontentment in my role as pastor. It has taken me a very long time to discern what the cause is. I have felt overwhelmed and exhausted for a while now, and early on I simply assumed that it was due to the difficult season we have been walking through as a church. Most of you who have been here for at least a year know that we have undergone more than our fair share of suffering. When I first began to feel over-burdened and dissatisfied with my ministry here, I assumed it was just that I was tired, that this was simply a hard season, and I ought to just wait it out.

The longer I wrestled with this uneasiness, however, and the more our church has grown, I have come to realize that my problems are not really about the difficulty in this season or ministry, but more about my own deficiencies as a leader. I hope you will understand that this was a very hard thing to realize and even harder to admit. I have always dealt with a sense of inadequacy but I have also always idolized approval, so it has been my operating mode most of my life to put up a good front and try not to disappoint people.

Additionally, I did not come here looking beyond Middletown but planning to dig in and put down roots and to be here until you got sick of me or I died. I really meant that; I really believed that. Having made that commitment publicly numerous times, here and elsewhere, I have been dealing a lot over the last few weeks with fear of what others might say about me.

I don’t think I realized how much my identity has been wrapped up in being the “rural church guy” or the “New England guy.” There is a good pride to take in that, but also a bad kind. My identity needs to be in Christ alone, so I need to find my approval and validation there. I am sorry if you have felt misled or even lied to. This turn of events has surprised me as well. I never wanted to go anywhere else.

But it has occurred to me that both trying to fake what I don’t have the gifts to do and not rocking the boat because of fear of man isn’t only spiritually unhealthy for me, it is spiritually unhealthy for the church.

I know this will be very confusing to some of you, especially to those who may only see me on Sundays when I am operating in my primary area of giftedness and strength. I love preaching. I love Jesus and I love the gospel and I love this church, so I have loved every week plunging the depths of God’s word with you and showing you Jesus and helping you enjoy his grace in new, fresh, and deep ways. I have also been privileged to help some of our precious saints suffer well, and die well. That has been the profoundest part of my time as your shepherd. But these are not the only functions of a good pastor – especially a solo pastor, who must be more versatile in his giftedness and stronger in areas of leadership when a church grows in numbers and mission at the quick rate ours has.

It is also confusing, I know, for me to express discouragement in the ministry here, since we have seen such growth. We have almost tripled in numbers in the last five years, but more importantly we have seen such beautifully wrought spiritual fruit. People have come to Christ. We have baptized and discipled new believers, we have welcomed new members, we have begun the planting of a missional church in downtown Rutland. By all exterior marks, the ministry at Middletown Springs Church has been a great success.

I just want it to continue being a great success. I do not believe I am a leader with the capacity to lead us into it.

When I came to the dawning realization that I don’t think I have the right gifts to continue leading the church into the right kind of growth for our future, into the next season, I wasn’t sure what to do with that realization. I prayed about it and chewed on it. Becky and I prayed and talked. About two months ago the two of us went to the elders to simply tell them I was struggling and needed help. They were very encouraging and helpful and began putting in place different boundaries and strategies for me that might help shore up some of my deficiencies. I left that meeting feeling deeply loved and very much supported.

But my new conviction about my uncertain future here returned. I began to feel more unsure and more disoriented and overwhelmed about all the needs we face as a church, about the kind of leadership we need from a pastor, and about the high capacity the next season would require.

I asked God to help me. I asked God to show me what I ought to do. I was not looking to leave. I was just looking for an answer. About a month ago, I received a call from Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. They offered me a position on the communications team there as the Director of Content Strategy. I have received numerous job inquiries over the last five years and turned them all down flatly. But this one was different. It felt extremely providential. The more I talked with the team there, the more Becky and I prayed and discussed this opportunity, the more we believed it was the call of God for our family.

Prayerfully and carefully, I have decided to accept that call, and so I am announcing my resignation to you today and will be moving to Kansas City the first week of March 2015.

When I first visited Vermont in view of the call to pastor the church, you hosted a Q&A after the service where I was asked a lot of questions. Afterwards, I was asked if I had any questions for you. I considered all that I had witnessed, all I had learned. You had then the mature, hardworking, godly core of believers that you have now. Pastor Roland had been retired for almost a year by then, but you had capable teachers and spiritual officers. You were in community with each other and you served each other gladly and humbly. So it seemed natural for me to ask: “Why do you want a pastor?” I was told, “We like who we are and where we are, but we feel like we need someone to take us to the next level.”

By God’s grace, over the last five years, I believe I have led you to that next level. We have reached it together. You have done an eternity’s worth of kindnesses to me and my family. You have been the church family we didn’t know existed – sweet, loving, gracious, full of spirit and truth. Leaving you will be like leaving home, not going home.

But it has been my prayer for several years now that God would hijack our agenda – hijack MY agenda – and replace it with his own. You have heard me pray this numerous times. It was not just me blowing smoke. I have come too far with the Lord and trusted him with too much and found him way too faithful to deny his call now. Ten years ago when I was depressed and suicidal and had nothing I could trust in or cling to, he woke me from my spiritual coma and showed me that his grace is delicious. I was willing then to have lost everything in order to have him. And though I am a great sinner, I am willing now to give up whatever he asks.

But it is extremely hard. This is not easy for me to say or do. The church is growing and multiplying. You love Jesus and you love me and you love my family. There is no great conflict that I’m running from. There is no great sin disqualifying me. I know a few of you may think there is much more to this story, and while I could say a thousand things more about it, this is the truth. I love you with all my heart. But I love my God more, and I would not be a good pastor to you in this moment if I did not go where I believed he was leading – if I did not make way for the man whom he has appointed to lead you into the next season.

You are great. I cannot overstate it. When I read Paul saying to the church at Thessalonica, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” – I know what he means. He is not saying this in a prideful or arrogant or Christless way. He’s just saying “I’m so proud of you. You are the proof my ministry is true. You are proof that the gospel I have preached is real and powerful.”

Who is my crown of boasting before the Lord at his coming? It is you. You are, as Paul calls the Thessalonians in chapter 2, verse 20, “my joy and my glory.”

And you have become so by enjoying and glorying in Christ with me.
I know you have many questions to ask me and many thoughts and I would even assume corrections too share with me, and there will be plenty of time for them, beginning today. You will have some after church and I can talk as I’m able. The church planting team will have some tonight, and we will spend our time together at 6 pm having our family meeting. Men’s discipleship group is tomorrow night, and I would be glad to answer questions then too. The time until March is short but it will be long enough to sort some things out and begin moving forward.

And over the next five months, beginning this morning, I want to continue doing what I have always sought to do for you and with you – point you to Jesus Christ and then get out of the way. I hope you will partner with me in this work, as we just keep savoring God’s glory, week after week, day after day.

We are all very sad right now but the joy of the Lord will be our strength, so I ask that you would please turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians, chapter 3 . . .

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Advice on Hosting and/or Accepting Speaking Engagements

Sep 24, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

psI’m not a long-time veteran of traveling ministry or a guy who sells out conferences, so there are plenty more people more qualified than me to speak to these things, but I’ve noticed that very few do. I’m not sure why. But when I first started receiving invitations to speak at churches and events, I would’ve loved to have a post like this for some guidance. If you’re interested in hosting a conference or otherwise hosting a speaking engagement, or if your ministry platform is allowing you to begin pursuing God’s call into that option, I hope this advice (from the perspective of a frequent speaker, if not a big one) will serve you well in considering how to honor God and your neighbors.


1. Clarity is really important. Make sure you clearly and consistently communicate with your speaker or with his designated point person on itineraries and expectations. If you are new to event hosting, it makes sense that you may not have everything logistically figured out, but here are some key bits of info to get to your guest speaker as soon as you are able:

a. Is someone picking him or her up from the airport? What is their phone number? Is someone hosting them, driving them, escorting them? Ditto.

b. Where is your guest speaker staying? What is the address of this place? If hotel, confirmation number for reservation?

c. Do you expect your guest to be at meals or other meetings during the event? When, where, and what for?

d. Can your guest submit receipts for travel reimbursement? Who do they send them to?

2. Be sensitive to a speaker’s temperament/personality. Your guest may be an extrovert who loves spending all the margin at the event hanging out and talking. Or he may be an introvert who needs to recharge between teaching sessions. Likely, he or she is somewhere in between. This is another place where clarity is important. Ask your guest about their preference — when and how often would they like some privacy? Do they mind spending some time at meals or meeting people in the foyer, etc.? Don’t assume that every guest speaker is like your gregarious, glad-handing pastor or like last year’s painfully shy conference speaker.

3. Try not to throw any curve balls. Sometimes things come up that require rearrangements of schedule or content. That’s understandable. To the best you’re able, however, don’t improvise. Changing things on the fly may frustrate what your speaker has prepared for. Also: If you’ve communicated to your speaker that you’d like a set number of speaking sessions, don’t start adding new obligations at the last minute or — even worse — during the event. “Since we’ve got you here, do you mind…?”

4. Pay promptly. This is the awkward one, I know. Acknowledging that there are people who travel to speak who don’t need the money or who are overpaid or whatever, most folks traveling to speak have included their speaking engagement income in their family budget planning. It may seem like “extra” to you, but it is not often “extra” to them. If you cannot provide their speaking payment until weeks after the event, please let them know. (Again, clarity is important.) Interestingly enough, this is the piece of the speaking engagement organization that most often falls through the cracks — “Oh, I thought so-and-so gave it to you…” — which puts your speaker in a very weird and awkward position, especially if he’s sensitive to the money issue. When I first began accepting speaking invitations, I lost money on a few engagements because I didn’t get paid — and in a couple of cases, was surprised to learn I needed to pay for my own accommodations and travel — and I was too afraid of looking like a money-grubber for asking about it. Looking back, I realize this isn’t money-grubbing. It’s just wanting to be paid for your work, just like you would want if payday at your job came and your employer “forgot” to give you your paycheck. So let’s avoid all the weirdness and just pay our guests what we’ve previously and clearly agreed to pay them.


1. You are not a big deal. Don’t act like one. This is the most important piece of advice. In the last 6 years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak at a few places where the reputation of the previous year’s speaker still hung around like the b.o. in that “Seinfeld” valet parking episode. I’ve got some stories, let me tell you. Brothers and sisters, if you travel to speak, you may be long gone from each engagement, but your reputation will hang around. Some of you are setting the bar really low for those of us who follow you. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be a diva.

2. Honor the event hosts/organizers or church pastor(s). Make note of them in your talks, thanking them for the invite, commending their ministry, or otherwise reflecting on some time you’ve spent with them. It’s a little gesture that can mean a lot.

3. Fraternize as much as possible. I’m one of those weird introverts who enjoys being with people. Also, one of my favorite parts of traveling to speak is meeting brothers and sisters all over the place, learning what God is doing in their lives and in their churches, and hearing about the different missional contexts they minister in. So I try to spend as much time out of the hotel rooms and green rooms as I can. But because I’m an introvert, I often need some recharging after meeting people, especially if meeting them involves a lot of personal storytelling and ministry. And because I’m not a very dispassionate speaker, I often need a little recovery time after I speak. (I’m much more personable before I speak, which I’m beginning to learn is somewhat uncommon.) I say all that to say that I totally understand the speaker’s desire to retreat. It’s not sinful to do that; it’s often the best thing for someone who wants to give their teaching sessions their best. But if you are spending quite a bit of time at an event or church, spend a good amount of it hanging out, not hiding out. Ask questions. Get to know people. It won’t hurt you. And it will often communicate as well as any sermon you give. It will even make your sermons more listenable.

4. Look out for the little guys. Many speakers try to make their speaking ministry more “efficient” by minimizing the number of small events they participate in. I think this often misses the biggest blessings. No, smaller events cannot pay as much. No, smaller events cannot offer you the same level of accommodations or boost your profile or help you sell as many books or whatever. But there are faithful brothers and sisters laboring in obscure places who would be incredibly blessed by your ministry if you could spare them some time. And I think if you go into these smaller venues with heart open, you will see you are often blessed much more than they. Don’t get too big. (See, again, #1.) If you’re just starting out speaking, smaller venues will probably be your only option. But if your platform starts to grow, you will be tempted to leave your roots behind. Don’t do that.

Well, that’s what I’ve got. Your mileage may vary.
If anyone has questions about these or related matters, I will do my best to answer them in the comments.

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The Truth and Shepherding

Sep 03, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

I had the great privilege of preaching at the For The Church Conference held at Midwestern Seminary earlier this week. Here is video of my plenary session on Isaiah 40:9-11, titled “The Truth and Shepherding.” If you are a pastor who is tired, hurting, or fresh out of (or currently in) the thick of a difficult ministry, I especially hope it blesses you.

All conference video can be accessed at the For The Church website here.

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The Marriage Vows Exist for Sin

Aug 27, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

wedding_rings“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
— Ephesians 5:31-32

Among the many riches and depths of Paul’s words on marriage in Ephesians 5 are these two:
1) Marriage is meant to make us holy more than happy (all apologies to Gary Thomas),
2) Happiness and romance are byproducts of a healthy marriage, but the ultimate purpose of marriage is the magnification of Christ.

Therefore, if we want a gospeled marriage, we will take to heart what God is saying here about husbands and wives and one-fleshedness and sacrifice and submission and respect and cherishing. Because God knows what he’s talking about. He designed the thing. And it’s not like he didn’t anticipate all the reasons we’d come up with to explain why these admonitions don’t exactly apply to our situations. Like, we all know we’re married to sinners, but couldn’t have God given us a, you know, less sinny sinner to be married to?

But this is exactly what marriage is for. This is what the marriage vows are for. You don’t really even need that “for better” stuff in there, that “in richness” and “in health” stuff. Nobody in their right mind is bailing during the good times. No, the vows are for the other stuff. The vows are for the “for worse.” “In poverty.” “In sickness.” The vows exist because sin is real. Sure, we may not know what sins will become real in our relationships, putting stress on the covenant, but the vows exist because sin does.

The vow of the gospel exists because sin does.

See, the story of Christ and his bride is very messy. Very difficult. It is a sordid history, to be sure. One of the most vivid illustrations we get is that of the prophet Hosea who was commanded by God to take a prostitute for a wife. And she keeps cheating on him and prostituting herself, Hosea stays faithful through all the pain, the heartache, the dishonor, the confusion. He stays faithful. Why? Because God had joined them together. And because God in his astounding wisdom and artistry was showing Hosea – and us – what it is like for Christ to love his church.

When we stand at the altars making our vows, we really don’t think the bad will be that bad. We expect sin but not that kind. But our holy bridegroom Jesus Christ makes his vow knowing full well what he’s forgiving. He knows us inside and out. He knows what we’re guilty of and what we will be guilty of. He knows just how awful it’s going to get.

Every day, you and I reject the holiness of Jesus in a million different ways, only a fraction of which are we conscious of. If Jesus were keeping a list of our wrongs, none of us would stand a chance. At any second of any day, even on our best days, Jesus could have the legal grounds to say, “Enough of this. I can’t do it any more. You’ve violated my love for the last time. This is unfixable.” The truth is, you’ve never met a wronged spouse like Jesus. You’ve never met a disrespected spouse like Jesus. You’ve never met a spouse who more than carried their weight like Jesus. He’s carrying the entire relationship on his back. This thing is totally one-sided.

And yet: He loves. And he gives. And he serves. And he approves. And he washes. And he delights. And he romances. And he doesn’t just tolerate us; he lavishes his affection on us. He justifies and sanctifies and glorifies.

I don’t know what you come away from Ephesians 5:22-33 thinking. Maybe you read it and think, “Sacrifice? Submit? No way. I can’t do this.”
Husbands are thinking, “I cannot sacrifice for her.”
Wives are thinking, “I cannot submit to him.”
And we can’t — at least, not the way God wants us to.

God knows this. He knows we are terrible obeyers. He knows we are self-interested sacrificers and stubborn submitters. And he gave up his life for us anyway. He died to forgive all our sins and rose again that we might never have them held against us.

Be still our beating hearts. Here’s a groom worth swooning over.

And because his gospel is true, you can never, ever, ever give up.

“I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.”
— Ezekiel 16:62-63

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The All-Surpassing Preciousness of Jesus

Aug 25, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

unnamed-womanWhat is the one thing you cannot live without?

I think there are two stark realities shown in the passage of the woman who anointed Jesus’ head — a deadly devaluing and a saving adoration. See if you don’t agree:

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
— Mark 14:3-9

The logic of those scolding is understandable, clear. What the woman has done is wasteful.

And what Jesus says in reply is provocative. He is not denying the importance of caring for the poor. Indeed, how could he, since he has taught so much on caring for the poor and needy already! But he is suggesting that there is something more important.

There is something more important than helping the poor. What could that be?

It is Jesus himself.

To devalue Jesus as the indignant have done is eternally deadly. To devalue the nard as the woman has done is eternally saving.

A few gospel notes on the text:

1. Crushing is the way to blessing.

“Whomever God uses greatly he must wound deeply,” Oswald Chambers has said. The breaking open of the nard is a beautiful picture of that. It complements Paul’s illustration about we ourselves carrying treasures in jars of clay in 2 Corinthians 4.

Maybe Jesus’ friend Mary, whom John’s Gospel has identified as the woman in this scene, learned this precious lesson from the death and resurrection of her brother Lazarus. The way to the blessing is through brokenness. Perhaps Mary understands that now, perhaps she is showing Jesus in this act of tender care and extravagant worship that she “gets it.”

And God is not above keeping his own rules, for he committed to the crushing of his own son in order to cover his children with grace. Think of the lavishing of grace this is! (Some would call it a waste…)


2. God loves us so much, he will do whatever it takes to help his children be satisfied in Jesus alone.

Our Lord knows we need to be startled to see his beauty. He knows we struggle in our flesh to naturally see Christ as glorious and all-satisfying. We need to be shaken awake. We need the smelling salts of the gospel waved under our noses.

He knows that a life of comfort and ease is spiritually speaking very dangerous for us.

So: What needs to break in your life so you see the preciousness of Jesus? What needs to be taken away from you?

In his fantastic little book on Romans 8, Supernatural Living for Natural People, Ray Ortlund writes:

Paul discovered in Jesus a treasure so rich that he took all his hard-won lifetime achievement awards and junked them in order to have Jesus. And then he looked at that pile of earthly prizes there in the dumpster, threw his head back and laughed: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8, RSV). If you are a Christian, but bored, maybe you need to lose something. You cannot just add Jesus to an already crowded life. So what do you need to off-load, so that your heart can feel the surpassing worth of knowing Christ? And do not stop off-loading until that sense of privilege in Jesus really starts to percolate. When our hearts thrill to his surpassing worth, the world loses its appeal.

Speaking personally, I can say that it wasn’t until I lost everything that I found out I had everything in Christ.


3. Christ is most precious.

The breaking of the expensive gift, its pouring out all over the Teacher, was not a waste because he was more valuable than it. All gifts are wasted if they don’t adorn the Giver.

All precious gifts must adorn the most precious gift of the precious Giver himself or they cease to have value.

Here is Spurgeon, from a sermon on 1 Peter 2:7:

Go and see some of our sick and dying friends; go and talk to them about the Reform Bill, and they will look you in the face and say, “Oh, I am going from this time-state: it is a very small matter to me whether the Reform Bill will be carried or not.” You will not find them much interested in that matter. Well, then, sit down and talk to them about the weather, and how the crops are getting on—“Well, it is a good prospect for wheat this year.” They will say, “Ah, my harvest is ripening in glory.” Introduce the most interesting topic you can, and a believer, who is lying on the verge of eternity, will find nothing precious in it; but sit down by the bedside of this man, and he may be very near gone, almost unconscious, and begin to talk about Jesus—mention that precious soul-reviving, soul-strengthening name Jesus, and you will see his eye glisten, and the blanched cheek will be flushed once more—“Ah,” he will say, “Precious Jesus, that is the name which calms my fears, and bids my sorrows cease.” You will see that you have given the man a strong tonic, and that his whole frame is braced up for the moment. Even when he dies, the thought of Jesus Christ and the prospect of seeing him shall make him living in the midst of death, strong in the midst of weakness, and fearless in the midst of trembling. And this proves, by the experience of God’s people, that with those who believe in him, Christ is and ever must be a precious Christ.

If you have Christ, when you are breaking open in suffering or death, you will find you have a precious Christ!

His preciousness is total and complete:
Romans 10:12 says he has riches to bestow and Psalm 50:10 says the cattle on a thousand hills are his, so you know Jesus is unrivaled in his resources.
Proverbs 3:19 says “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens” so you know Jesus is unparalleled in wisdom.
Ecclesiastes 8:4 says “For the word of the king is supreme,” so certainly King Jesus’ supremacy is undoubtable.
In Isaiah 6, the cherubim cry out, “”Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” so you know Jesus’ glory is boundless.
Ephesians 1:7-8 says “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight,” so you know the grace in Jesus is invaluable, incomparable, gratuitous, and infinitely precious.

Our Christ’s preciousness is more than deserving to be adorned with the drink offering of our very lives. And it is our willingness to adore him in and through our breaking open that shows we believe this.

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