Too Big Not To Fail

Aug 24, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

Marten_van_Valckenborch_Tower_of_babel-largeThen they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
— Genesis 11:4

If we look at Babel as the prototype for the pursuit of fame and power, we see a few interesting things by way of diagnosis. First, the pursuit of renown is really a pursuit of significance. Why do I want you to notice me, to tell me how great I am? Not because I fundamentally trust or value your opinion, but because I fundamentally distrust any notion that I’m anything in anywise special. The proof in that is that one ounce of praise from a few isn’t enough; I want more from many. Secondly, the pursuit of renown is the result of fear. “Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” We seek security in attention.

Like the Babelists, we build our towers, not knowing the great dangerous irony — that the stronger we get, the more vulnerable we become. The fall is prefaced by pride. The split second before the great collapse is the proudest we’ve ever been.

The lesson appears plain: if you really want to fall, get big.

Mary sings, “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” (Luke 1:51). By building our towers, making our name for ourselves, we are stone by stone actually contributing to the very thing we are trying to avoid: getting “scattered,” being “dispersed.”

King Uzziah is a cautionary tale. He was “marvelously helped, til he was strong” (2 Chronicles 26:15). When he was strong, he got proud (v.26). He got big. We think bigness is the way. We think bigness solves lots of problems. We think bigness is safety. We think we can get too big to fail. But it’s the other way around. We see over and over — outside of ourselves, of course — that it’s possible to get too big not to fail.

Which is why the greatest man ever to live (Matthew 11:11), aside from Jesus himself, knew the real secret to success, the real work of significance, the real strength of safety:

He must increase, but I must decrease.
— John 3:30

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The Felicity of Christ

Aug 19, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

Pride-and-Prejudice-Jane-AustenJohn Flavel writes:

Christ [is] the very essence of all delights and pleasures, the very soul and substance of them. As all the rivers are gathered into the ocean, which is the congregation or meeting-place of all the waters in the world: so Christ is that ocean in which all true delights and pleasures meet… . His excellencies are pure and unmixed; he is a sea of sweetness without one drop of gall.

The two eldest Bennet sisters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice are best friends, but their personalities are like night and day. Elizabeth is cynical, contemplative. Jane is ever-optimistic, perhaps even naive. She can think of nothing bad to say about anyone. If anyone ever wrongs her, she instinctively forgives (if she can even see the wrong to begin with). In one scene, Jane and Elizabeth are celebrating Jane’s engagement to be married. This exchange grabs me:

“I am certainly the most fortunate creature that ever existed!” cried Jane. “Oh! Lizzy, why am I thus singled from my family, and blessed above them all! If I could but see you as happy! If there were but such another man for you!”

[Elizabeth replied:] “If you were to give me forty such men, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness.”

There is Spiritual truth here! Had we forty shiny idols to buoy our affections, still these affections could not be mustered to enduring happiness. Had we forty ways into religious devotion to God, if none of those forty were Christlikeness through gospel power, we “never could be so happy.”

“Have this mind among yourselves,” Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5, speaking of Christ’s attitude. Weymouth renders the verse, “Let the same disposition be in you which was in Christ Jesus.”

There is good news. Romans 8:29 tells us that Christians are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus. We will have his disposition.

The felicity of Christ is conferred to his bride. Through the power of his Spirit, we receive the mind of Christ and the Spirit’s fruit, which may be another way to say Christ’s disposition. Even the persecuted church has cause for great joy, for unbounded happiness of soul. Because they know Christ in his suffering, they know Christ in the joy set before him. They know Christ in his gospel, which is the antidote for universal despair.

Until we have his disposition, his goodness, we can never have his happiness.

Adapted from Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus (91-92)

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The Divisive Person Is The One Who Departs From The Truth

Aug 18, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

parting_of_the_ways_by_kapanaga-d4fssmvDo two walk together,
unless they have agreed to meet?

— Amos 3:3

Christians who affirm the normative, traditional, historical, orthodox view of the Bible’s teaching on various sins are always accused of being divisive when in sticking to their affirmations they must disassociate with those who don’t.

It’s a disingenuous claim, however, since unity could have been preserved so long as the agreement did. But when one changes a mind on such matters the division has begun with them (1 Corinthians 1:10), not the one who says, “Ah, you’ve changed the rules; you’ve changed the agreement.” It would be like the adulterer crying out after his wife as she’s walking out the door in anger and shame that she’s being divisive.

The person who objects is often told they are “singling out” this particular sin as over-important, as more important than unity! But it is not those who protest who are singling out particular sins. It is those bringing the revision, the ones asking, “Did God really say…?”, the ones who suggest it should now be normal what we previously agreed was objectionable who are singling it out, elevating it above the agreement. They are the ones making it the sticking point.

We think of the historical development of credal truth. Many of the historic creeds that so many professing Christians affirm as litmus tests for doctrinal orthodoxy began as responses to introduced heresies. As unbiblical ideas took seed in church communities, those who affirmed orthodoxy thought it best to formulate and codify what had been previously assumed. But it wasn’t the drafters of the creeds who were being divisive. It was the heterodox.

And it isn’t those who believe the Bible when it says sin is sin that are being divisive; it is those who are introducing the idea that some sins aren’t. If you push a decision on something that innovates on the Bible’s testimony, you’re creating the division. Division begins with that first departure. The first step away from the agreement is the original divide. It is simply necessary, then, for Christians to walk away from a divisive person (Titus 3:10). Perhaps they may even say, “Farewell.”

They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.
— Jude 18-19

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For The Church Conference Coming Soon

Aug 13, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

We are just a couple of weeks away from the 2nd annual For The Church Conference held at Midwestern Seminary.

The conference will be held Aug. 31 – Sep. 1 and will include preaching from David Platt, Russell Moore, Darrin Patrick, H.B. Charles, Jason Allen, and myself. Time is running out and space is filling up, so if you’re interested in this affordable time of equipping and encouragement in the gospel held right in America’s heartland, register soon!

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Crooked Speech and Straight Shooting

Aug 06, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

38-GossipPut away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.
—Proverbs 4:24

What constitutes crooked speech? It is talk that isn’t straight, of course. It is bowed, off-kilter, circuitous, meandering. There are a few examples we could cite.

1. Falsehoods
Telling lies about ourselves or others is breaking covenant. Even if we’re just “stretching” the truth or “bending” the truth, entertaining distortions or investing in stereotypes, we cut a line unfit to build relationships or reputations of integrity with. You can’t be square with God and neighbor if all your lumber’s warped.

2. Gossip
Talking about someone rather than to them is slantways. We all know the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but gossips take the easy “shortcut” of the long way around. They might never get to you but they’ll certainly get after you. That’s crooked.

3. Hypocrisy
This is some of the crookedest speech. Somebody who misrepresents themselves, posturing success from a place of personal bankruptcy or feigning sincerity and sensitivity one moment while savaging others the next. Hypocrites preach “peace, peace” not only when there is no peace, but while they’re waging wars. They will preach love and respect while they secretly and sometimes openly behave oppositely. The Bible calls these folks “double minded.” They’re fork-tongued too.

There are certainly more kinds of crooked speech, but these are the most common. Proverbs 4:24 reminds us that the Lord loves a straight shooter.

… but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.—James 5:12

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The Gospel is No Piddlin’ Thing

Aug 05, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

LUCYAnd he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.” — Mark 4:24

Here is a parallel of Christ’s words in Matthew 6:33 on seeking first the kingdom. The prosperity gospelists pervert these promises, turning them into the lamest of proverbs, into legalistic voodoo, as if God can be manipulated like the gods of the pagans and as if his kingdom is some kind of vending machine you just need the passwords for. The prosperity gospelists misread the “more added to you” like the kid happy you’ve brought more dirt for his mud pies.

No, the more we get is more of Christ and his multitudinous riches. Our God is no miser. He graciously gives us the best gifts, the ones that last. God is not stingy! Through Christ come a universe of blessings that our hearts might be filled to overflowing!

A sampling of where this thinking comes from:

2 Peter 1:4 – “he has granted to us his precious and very great promises [plural]”
John 1:16 – “from his fullness we receive grace upon grace”
Isaiah 55:7 – we have been “abundantly” pardoned
2 Corinthians 3:18 – we are transformed from one degree of glory to another
John 10:10 – “I have come that they may have life abundant” [emphasis added]
Ephesians 1:7-8 – he has lavished the riches of his grace upon us

Here is what William Hendriksen writes in his commentary on Mark 4:21-25:

God’s gifts are always most generous. He is forever adding gift to gift, favor to favor, blessing to blessing. He gives not only “of” his riches – as a billionaire might do when he gives a dollar to charity – but “according to” the riches of his grace. He imparts grace upon grace. He not only pardons but pardons abundantly. He delights in lovingkindness (Mic. 7:18)… Truly he giveth and giveth and giveth again.

“More besides shall be given to you.” When Abraham’s servant asks Rebekah for a drink, she not only quenches his thirst but in addition also that of the camels. This is only a faint reflection of what God in Christ is doing constantly:

He not only grants Solomon’s wish for wisdom, but in addition promises him riches and lengths of days.
He not only accedes to the centurion’s request to heal the latter’s servant, but in addition pronounces a blessing upon the centurion.
He not only answers the plea of Jairus, restoring to life his daughter, but in addition sees to it that the child gets something to eat.
He the resurrected Christ not only fulfills his promise to meet the disciples in Galilee but in addition meets and blesses them even earlier in Jerusalem.
He not only pardons the sinner—as a governor might grant pardon – but in addition adopts him and grants him peace, holiness, joy, assurance, freedom of access, super-invincibility.

I can’t help but picture the scene of the lost son returning, demoralized and broken. Is his father standing on the porch, arms crossed, tapping his foot? No, he runs to him. Does he hand his son work clothes and make him start at the bottom rung? No, he covers him in fine dress. Does he show him where the refrigerator is? No, he throws him a feast. All the boy wanted was a chance to pay back his debt, to earn his father’s respect again and perhaps a place in the business. His dad gave him back everything and more.

And here we come with our battered, feeble, tattered faith. It isn’t much to look at. But the Father receives it warmly and in exchange gives us the fullness of the riches of the eternal Christ. We are no more secure in Christ in a strong faith than a small faith, so long as that small faith is true faith. Into our empty hand is placed the infinite blessings of our sovereign Savior.

When you have Christ, you have everything. You have him and therefore all: the eternal riches of his glory. So we receive not just that hell insurance and ticket to heaven, but union with Christ by which we are seated with him in the heavenly places and hidden with him in God forever. We receive the adoption as sons and daughters. We receive the indwelling Spirit. We are totally justified. We are cleansed, declared holy, set apart, and we receive in addition the promise of the fruit of the Spirit and more holiness to come. We receive the promise of the blessed hope, the glorification we will share with Christ, and the resurrection of the body to everlasting bliss in the new heavens and new earth.

“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

So let’s pay attention to what we hear in the gospel If we lend God our ears, he will fill our eyes with the transforming vision of his glorious Son. When he fills our eyes with that vision, he fills our hearts. When he fills our hearts, he fills our souls, till we are overflowing in praise and love and moving out on mission to shine the light of Christ far and wide, that the knowledge of his glory might cover the earth like the waters cover the sea.

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Win “Gospel Shaped Worship”: Giveaway 5

Aug 04, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

gscworshipkit_medium.w5ieh3xp7f2wdu5omi3kd2456imy6c4cI’m giving away 5 copies of the Leader’s Kit for my new study Gospel Shaped Worship, published by The Good Book Co. in conjunction with The Gospel Coalition.

For our final free copy, tell me how and why you’d use this study in your church. I’ll pick an answer from the comments by tomorrow (8/5).

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Away With Utilitarian Arguments Against Abortion

Aug 04, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

unborn_babyYou have likely heard this line of reasoning from earnest pro-lifers before. even has an example listed as “glurge”.) The logic goes something like this: You should be pro-life because you never know if you’ve aborted the next Einstein, the next Beethoven, the next Martin Luther King, Jr., the next Pasteur or Salk, etc. What if you aborted the curer of cancer or AIDS?

The motivation is understandable and the underlying reasoning is sound: abortion, which does immediate harm to unborn children and many of their mothers, does unseen future harm to families, communities, and the world.

But I don’t think Christians should use this argument against abortion, and here’s why: It assigns value based on (presumed) accomplishments. It is a utilitarian argument — assigning intrinsic value based on one’s “utility” (usefulness) — and it is utilitarian arguments that are best suited for pro-choice arguments, not for pro-life. In any event, those contemplating abortion are already employing utilitarianism in their thinking. e.g. “This child will have a poor life, so it is best to prevent him from experiencing it.” “This child will interfere with my plans for the future, so it is best to terminate my pregnancy until I am really ready.”

The reasoning also fails to consider that we are actually right now perilously close to abortion based on predictive value. In America, it is dangerous to be an unborn African American. In China, it is dangerous to be an unborn girl. As fertility treatments become more advanced, parents have potential some day of “custom designing” their babies, right down to hair and eye color. What would be done, then, with “error” babies? They are thrown away like garbage. And of course abortions of unborn children with Down syndrome and other conditions disagreeable to their parents are commonplace already.

What happens in the day, rapidly approaching, when technology can show us that a child will be mentally advanced? What happens to the mentally “just average” fetuses then? Some are asking gay rights advocates if they would remain pro-choice if in the future that elusive “gay gene” they keep searching for could be found? What if moms wanted to abort fetuses who test positive for this gay gene?

No, the utilitarian view of human life has no place in the Christian worldview, and we should give it no place in our efforts against abortion, as powerful or convicting as we think those arguments are.

The biblical grounds for the pro-life argument have nothing to do with a person’s “usefulness” to a family or society. The Bible calls us to the pro-life position based on the reality that all persons are made in the image of God, that God has created us equal, and that therefore all life is precious, whether a person cures cancer or gets cancer, wins an Olympic medal or a Special Olympics medal, can compose like Mozart or sings like Roseanne Barr.

Suppose we could save the future Einsteins and Beethovens from the abortionist. It would still be as tragic and sinful to have otherwise commenced with the offing of future stay-at-home moms, truck mechanics, and janitors. You know, all the “ordinary people” of which there are many more than the so-called extraordinary people. More boldly put: abortion is wrong, whether you happen to be aborting the next Mother Theresa or the next Adolf Hitler.

Pro-lifers, let’s not play that game. Leave utilitarian arguments to the self-appointed engineers of utopia. Let’s be Christians living in the kingdom of God instead.

“If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant,
when they brought a complaint against me,
what then shall I do when God rises up?
When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him?
Did not he who made me in the womb make him?
And did not one fashion us in the womb?”—Job 31:13-15

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Win “Gospel Shaped Worship”: Giveaway 4

Aug 03, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

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Wormtongue at the Listless Wheel

Aug 03, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

gatabrainmorans“Did God actually say… ?”
- Genesis 3:1

In Tolkien’s The Two Towers we are introduced to Grima Wormtongue who, under the pretense of caring for Theoden the King, has wickedly ingratiated himself and usurped his moral authority. Indeed, as Wormtongue’s influence over Thedoen grows, the king’s power dissipates. In the Peter Jackson film, we see this vividly in the way Theoden is depicted as a mere shell of a man, somewhat skeletal with a gray pallor and dull, glazed eyes. His counselor has a parasitic effect.

It’s a dramatic link, to be sure, but I think of this relationship when I ponder the ambitions of the emergents, the neo-evangelicals, or whatever they’re calling themselves now (or not calling themselves) in seeking to commandeer the conversation of the evangelical movement. “Christianity must change or die,” a satanic bishop wrote a few years back. His spiritual progeny are catching up to agree with new books and new publishing houses, new conferences, blogs, and talk shows. But we’ve seen the trajectory for years. They can take us no place worth going. Talking out of both sides of their mouths, we ought not be surprised when the forked tongues become more evident.

Professing to be wise, they reveal themselves to be fools. “Did God actually say?” they begin. Then they’ll tell you the answer: “No.” Before long, they insist the gospel cannot expand in this brave new world without a brave new faith that coddles disbelief and calls sin virtue.

When you get right down to it, the whole enterprise is nonsensical and self-defeating. Cultural rebukes from a relativistic reading of the Scriptures and of historic orthodoxy guts any presumed authority in the rebuke from the outset. In a comment thread at one of these wormtongue-y blogs I read someone’s defense of the use of p()rnography in a marriage, arguing the need to respect differing values. The commenter also maintained that complementarian marriages were evil. “Get a brain, morans,” indeed.

The wizard Gandalf’s rebuke of the parasitic Wormtongue is fitting. In Tolkien’s book:

“Down snake!” he said suddenly in a terrible voice. “Down on your belly! How long is it since Saruman bought you? What was the promised price?”

Well, the expected reward is the same stuff they accuse prominent evangelicals of greed for: money, power, prestige. Here is the rebuke as depicted in Jackson’s film adaptation:

Be silent. Keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crude words with a witless worm.

Church, only let us hold true to what we have attained (Philipians 3:16). In the days coming, a regular re-reading of the book of Jude might be in order. The talking faces of the post-evangelical Jello salad want to help evangelicals navigate the uncharted waters of post-Christendom. But Jesus gave us plenty of words about unfaithful stewards and hired hands. We can learn nothing from the heterodox about navigating “the future of evangelicalism” except how to shut the engines off and drift.

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