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Why I’m Loving Midwestern Seminary

Dec 23, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

chapelA little over a year ago, I resigned my pastorate in Vermont and announced my transition to the communications staff of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. I had begun doing some part-time work for the seminary remotely in the fall of 2014 but began serving full-time on-site in March of this year. Since then, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on this transition, both its blessings and its challenges (which are a different kind of blessing). Stepping down from my previous role was incredibly difficult, and I stepped into this new role not really aware of all I was entering into. The Lord has been exceedingly gracious to me and my family, however, and I thought I’d share some of the highlights for me, specific to my new occupation in this new place. Here’s why I’m loving life at Midwestern:

1. The vision is compelling.

I love the church. I love the local church. So I confess I struggled at first to reconcile this heart of mine for the church (and my calling to it) with an opportunity to work in an institution. (Say that last word like you’ve got a battery on your tongue.) But then I caught the vision being cast by MBTS president Jason Allen, a desire that this academic institution re-embrace the original purpose of the seminary project — that the Church would be strengthened and served by Bible-rich pastors and leaders. This is the heartbeat of Midwestern, and from my vantage point on the inside now, I know For The Church is not just a slogan (or a website); it’s actually the daily concern and purpose of the faculty, staff and students. The people here eat, sleep, and breathe the local church. Being able to contribute to this big vision with people who actually own it has been hugely encouraging to my heart.

2. The team is a blast.

I get to work with some incredible people. I get to serve on the communications team with some talented folks who work hard while making daily life in the office fun. The larger department within which we serve is staffed with kind, full-hearted, Christ-pursuing men and women, as well. I have to tell you, it is frequently exhilarating to experience this sense of “serving in the trenches,” in what really amounts to a seminary re-plant of sorts, with so many awesome people all chasing the same thing — getting ministers trained and getting the gospel out. I love who I work with.

3. The students are a joy.

The culture of Midwestern Seminary is very much like a family, and the students we’ve been attracting more and more are intelligent enough to be scholars but wise enough to be pastors. I know millennials get a bad rap — and deservedly so, generally speaking — but the young adults I encounter at Midwestern are sharp, godly, and passionate about the local church. If you fear for the future of the evangelical church, I encourage you to spend some time with the current crop of seminary students here and elsewhere. They are much farther along than my generation was at their age, and for this, I am optimistic about the state of the church. These kids love the gospel and, because of it, want to give themselves to the congregations.

4. I am where the Lord wants me.

I plan to craft a follow-up post of sorts very soon in which I attempt to answer this question I keep getting: “Do you miss being a pastor?” For now, though, let me reiterate something I tried to explain to my church last fall upon my resignation. It is not safe to disobey the Lord, no matter how illogical or nonsensical we find his leading. I tried to communicate that if God had determined my time serving them should be up, it would not be good for them or for me to keep on keepin’ on. Like most everyone else, I was very confused by a call away from the pastorate — more confused, I promise you. I don’t know how long this season is meant be — or even if it’s a season at all. (One thing I’ve learned over the last 8 years or so is to get out of the “This is what I’m going to do” business.) I only know that he asked me to give up what I loved doing to go do this other thing. And, as it turns out, if you go where God wants you, he is likely to confirm in big ways and small that you’ve made the right decision. He has been very good to confirm that this is where he wants us.

For these reasons and more, I am glad to be serving at Midwestern Seminary. For those of you who wondered.

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An Attempt at a Gospel-Centered Canon

Dec 17, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

canonIt’s been almost 10 years since Collin Hansen’s “Young, Restless, Reformed” article hit the pages of Christianity Today, almost 8 years since the publication of his book about same. I remember when I first saw that article in my friends copy of CT lying on his coffee table. I was at his house leading a young adult Bible study that would become a church plant, and I had no previous interest in joining whatever the “young, restless, and Reformed” movement was, but the burgeoning movement Hansen described in the piece resonated with me as something I identified as already unwittingly being a part of! I was just a few years out of a complete renaissance of my life, out of an experience I like to call gospel wakefulness, and I found myself smack-dab in this “gospel-centered” thing not because I wanted to embrace the latest church fad or whatever, but because I had come to see that the gospel is oxygen and I liked breathing.

The last 10 years have been interesting, to say the least. Many have sounded the death knell of the YRR/gospel-centered movement (sometimes called the neo-Reformed or neo-Puritan or neo-Calvinist movement). Some acknowledge it’s not dead but would like it to be. I don’t think it’s dying. I don’t know if it has even slowed — I suspect not — but I do think it has settled down a bit. And this is a good thing. What I perceive, actually, is a maturing of the movement, a real growth over the last 10 years that the actual focusing on the gospel has produced.

From my vantage point now serving in a seminary and from traveling around the country meeting folks at numerous churches and conferences, I am greatly encouraged also that the youngest members of the ongoing gospel-centered recovery movement — those oft-maligned Millennials — are incredibly mature, spiritually astute, and unapologetically focused on the local church and the dignity of the pastorate. They are much further ahead at their age than my generation was. If the evangelical millennials I’m meeting regularly are any indication of the future of the movement — of the future of the evangelical church, even — we have cause for great optimism.

And I think part of the strength of the YRR/GC/neo-whatever whatchamacalit has been the reluctance from every generation involved to consume theology and ministry helps from whatever is happening right now. This was a crucial misstep of the Boomers, which feasted on church growth manuals and business/marketing books to give us the Christian Entertainment-Industrial Complex known as the attractional church, and it was the fatal mistake of Gen-X (my generation), which gave us the Emergellyfish Village and what-not. Yes, some of the whippersnappers of my gen became the celebrated darlings of the gospel-centered movement (e.g. Driscoll, Chandler, Chan, Platt), but none of those guys could rightly be said to have pioneered the movement. No, the movement was pioneered by our elder statesmen, who have been doing this “new” gospel-centered thing for several decades now.

Yes, we are enjoying today the sweet fruit of long laboring from the likes of J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper, Tim Keller et.al. I don’t think this can be overstated, really — part of the strength of the gospel-centered movement has been its affection for and attention to both its elder statesmen, as well “the old dead guys.” If I could put it bluntly, I’d say that the gospel-centered movement is (largely) healthy because (in part) it reads good books full of old wisdom. To that end, and to end a rather lengthy introduction, I am taking a stab at a gospel-centered canon below. You will note that not every book is old, of course, but these are the books that I believe have shaped and continue to shape our movement (assembled based purely on anecdotal evidence). Every carpenter has a set of trusty tools he must have in his workshop; these are the same tools for the maturing, resting, and Reformed. In any event, these are the books I think have particularly shaped the tribe.

The ESV Study Bible (Which has likely replaced the New Geneva Study Bible, now called the Reformation Study Bible, but which is perhaps itself soon to be replaced by the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible)

Desiring God by John Piper

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul

The Cross of Christ by John Stott

Confessions and The City of God by Augustine

The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin

The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther

Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

The Mortification of Sin by John Owen

The Valley of Vision: A Book of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards

Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem

The Gagging of God by D.A. Carson

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller

The Transforming Power of the Gospel by Jerry Bridges

The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones

You know, if you wanted to sniff out a neo-Calvinist in your church ranks, these are the books to look for on their shelf.

Anyways, see if you don’t agree, and feel free to suggest any additions in the comments.

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The Everythingness of the Grace of Jesus

Dec 09, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

everythingnessCome on, Eileen
Oh I swear
In this moment, you mean everything.

– Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Okay, so it’s not a Bible verse, but it kinda sums up the momentary religion of the flesh, doesn’t it? At any given moment, we are singing subconscious praises to whatever we are desiring — “In this moment, you mean everything.” We are pretty pathetic, when you think about it. One moment we are echoing Dexy’s midnight ode to a person we’re attracted to and in the next to a Five Guys bacon cheeseburger. (Any stress eaters out there? I see that hand.) There are so many things offering so many things. Can you blame us?

The Lord can. He sees our fickle, feeble hearts yearning after every tantalizing morsel put before our eyes. He hears the praise he deserves that we instead sing to work, sex, food, entertainment, family, children, church. “In this moment, you mean everything.” But only he can bear that weight. And when we put the meaning of everything on anything besides him, we abuse it. Then the weight comes back to us, deflating and crushing and condemning.

But the loving God does an amazing thing. He turns around and takes the crushing too. He puts it on his son. In that moment, his son means everything, and in every moment forever after, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Pretty much covers everything there.

And in his grace, the Lord shares his glory in exciting, satisfying ways. John tells us that “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). So our Savior who is everything, who means everything, who owns everything, takes our nothing into himself in order to actually grant us the everythingness from himself in place of the vacuous everythingness we’ve been seeking in everything else. We don’t deserve it. But we get it. And in this way, the grace of God in Jesus Christ meets all of our needs and satisfies our deepest desires.

Here’s a Bible verse:

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

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Remembering The God Who Remembers You

Dec 03, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

noah-620x420But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.
— Genesis 8:1

The chapter and verse numbers in the Scriptures are not inspired, of course, but there is something about Genesis 8:1 — specifically in the phrase “But God remembered Noah” — which is a nice correlation to Romans 8:1. In all of the apparent chaos, in the torrent, the danger, the death and destruction, there is therefore now no condemnation for those whom God is pleased to remember.

But Noah was remembering God too. How could he not? All other supports were gone, literally wiped away and overwhelmed by the earth-consuming deluge from heaven. Noah and his family weren’t steering that boat, far as we know. And as big as it was, it was nevertheless compared to the sea-covered planet a mere speck in the vast expanse of the raging torrent, like a cork bobbing about in the Pacific Ocean. God certainly becomes the believer’s only hope precisely when he has become the believer’s only hope.

When the storms are rising in your life, aren’t you closest to God then? Or do you fail to remember God even then and give in to despair and hopelessness and joylessness?

But we see in Genesis 8 that Noah remembered the God that remembered him. He remembered God primarily in 3 ways.

1. Noah remembered God’s timing.

It took him probably 98 years or so to build the ark. All along he had to be trusting in God’s timing, no? The temptation had to have arrived within hour one — “Did God really say…?” Certainly it did not abate hour after hour, day after day, year after year, decade after decade. But Noah walked each step with God, trusting in his timing. And after the thing was built, they went into the ark and were in there 7 days before the floods came! Those 7 days might’ve felt longer than 7 years.

But we also see in the flood’s aftermath, how closely Noah paid attention to God’s perfect timing. Notice this pattern seen by the keen eye over the text:

7 days of waiting for flood (Gen. 7:4)
7 days of waiting for the flood repeated (Gen. 7:10)
40 days of the flood (Gen. 7:17)
150 days of the waters prevailing (Gen. 7:24)
150 days of the waters receding (Gen. 8:3)
40 days of waiting (Gen. 8:6)
7 days of waiting (Gen. 8:10) – after the first dove
7 days of waiting (Gen. 8:12) – after the 2nd sending of the dove

There are patterns like this all over Scripture. But here in this precious palindrome, Noah’s echo and completing of the pattern shows how tuned-in he is to God’s timing.

Now, you may not be following days and hours that closely. Most of us don’t. I don’t. But as we pray and hope and struggle and fear, we have to remember that God’s timing is not our timing, that his timing is perfect. That when he says “No” to something or “Wait”, he has reasons based in his love for us, even if we don’t understand them.

The first deep acquaintance with grief came for my wife and I upon the miscarriage of our second baby. It was the Fourth of July weekend of 2002. We had both lost loved ones before then, but until then we had never been so personally affected, Becky especially.

I remember the first signs that something was wrong, causes enough to head to the doctor for answers. I remember most vividly sitting in a dim ultrasound room, while the technician ran the sonogram probe over my wife’s belly. The technician had an assistant with her, and they talked in very hush tones. They said nothing to us that I recall. They discussed what they were seeing. And what they weren’t seeing. They were keeping us in the dark until the doctor could speak to us, and that is exactly how we felt — like a darkness was overcoming us.

Of course when they finally told us the news. Miscarriage.

We named our baby Angel and we mourned for a long time. A year later we were pregnant again and due on — get this — July 4, 2003. The pregnancy had been difficult. Stress and other factors complicated our baby’s growth and caused Becky lots of discomfort and anxiety. After the miscarriage, we were pretty scared about how things might turn out, but our second daughter was carried all the way to term. I remember her birth, however, and while she came much more quickly than our first child, there was a complication. The doctor was concerned about her position, about the position of the umbilical cord. When our baby was delivered, she did not cry. The silence was unnerving.

I remember the nurse bringing our little baby over to the bassinet. The nurse looked concerned. I had been videotaping the event, but I put the camera down. I could tell something was wrong. Our baby was having trouble breathing. The more frantic the nurse looked, the more frightened I got. After multiple attempts to clear her throat and lungs, however, finally, climatically, our daughter let out the most beautiful wail I’ve ever heard.

We named her Grace. She was born on July 5th, one year plus one day from the day we first mourned Angel.

We don’t know why God decided to take Angel from us. And if we had our preference, we would have all 3 of our children here with us, alive and healthy. But God did a special thing with the timing for his own reasons, that we would come to trust him more deeply, to be refined by his Spirit in our grief. See if we were writing the story, we would have had Grace born exactly a year later, on July 4. That due date seemed just perfect. But God said, “No. One year and one day.” And so we learn that Grace has her own timing. And God’s grace has its own timing.

Secondly:

2. Noah remembered God’s priorities.

A curious thing here. Why did he send out a raven first, then a dove?
“At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made 7 and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth” (Gen. 8:6-7).

A raven, first of all, is less particular than a dove. It went to and fro over the earth even while the place was still wet. A dove on the other hand will only nest where it is dry and clean. A raven is, well, more of a slob I guess.

But commentator Kent Hughes reminds us that a raven is not a bird considered ritually clean by God. Hughes writes, “Noah released the raven first because as an unclean bird it was expendable, since it was good for neither food nor sacrifice.” (We learn this in Leviticus 11:15 and Deuteronomy 14:15.) We learn a valuable lesson in Noah’s ordering of release of the birds for testing. The first thing he was willing to give up was something God considered unclean and unsuitable.

Is there not a valuable lesson for us in that? So often we protect things in our lives that God has actually called us to let go of. They may not even be things at all — our pride, our comfort, our schedules, our dreams — anything that gets in the way of trusting God and doing what he has called us to do.

Maybe you’re caught in a habit or in a relationship that you know doesn’t honor God, and it’s a huge area of compromise for you in your spiritual life. But you’re not willing to give it up. Why? Because you’ve come to treasure this habit or this pattern of behavior or this inappropriate relationship more than you treasure God. You’ve placed your priorities over God’s.

And you only do that when you don’t trust that God wants what’s best for you. We only do that when we think, “No, God doesn’t know what will satisfy and fulfill me. I know better than he.” But Noah was ready to lose first what was lose-able in God’s eyes.

Thirdly:

3. Noah remembered God’s creative purpose.

One thing Noah had to be trusting was that God wasn’t saving him and his family for some postapocalyptic wasteland. Why would he preserve him and the animals simply to float around on the ark forever? I mean, if that’s what God called him to do, we have good reason to believe Noah would be willing to do that, but he was trusting and counting on God having a plan for restoration. He trusted that as high as the waters got, as dangerous as they seemed, as angry as God was about the sin that provoked him to such subsuming wrath, in the end, God did plan to bring him and his out unscathed, ready to resume the mandate given to his children to be fruitful and multiply.

If Genesis 8:1 predicts Romans 8;1, the subsiding of the waters in Genesis 8 also cast the shadow thrown by the great light of Romans 8:19-23:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

God’s plan for his beloved and his beloved creation is not annihilation but restoration.

Genesis 8:1, then, is a promise that as things get worse, God does not get further away, but actually more near. Brevard Childs says, “God’s remembering always implies his movement toward the object . . . The essence of God’s remembering lies in his acting toward someone because of a previous commitment.” If he takes much away, it is only because he wants us to treasure him only, and if we will treasure him only, how will he not also in the end give us all things besides? (Romans 8:32!)

When Noah was in the ark tossed to and fro on waves of destruction, God remembered him.
When Joseph was in prison, languishing away from crimes he didn’t commit, God remembered him.
When David was crying out in repentance of his horrific sins, God remembered him.
When Daniel was thrown into a den of lions to be torn to pieces, God remembered him.
When Daniel’s friends were thrown into the furnace b/c they refused to bow their knees to idols, God remembered them.
When the disciples were in the boat tossing to and fro from waves of destruction, crying out, “Remember us, lest we die!”, God remembered them.

And Christian, when you were at your moment of deepest danger — sinful and deserving of hell and eternal death — God remembered you (Rom. 5:6).

Look to the cross. It is the proof you need that God has remembered you and given you all that you need. His timing, his priorities, and his purposes are all revealed in Christ’s death and resurrection. He has not forgotten you. Remember that.

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Remembering Anne

Dec 02, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

anneToday marks two years since our friend Anne succumbed to brain cancer. We miss her. Below is a post I wrote on that terrible day, Dec. 2, 2013 —-

We lost our friend Anne this morning. I don’t have the interest right now in waxing theological about life and death and what-not. That will come later, I’m sure. I just left the hospital room about an hour ago, leaving Anne’s husband Jeff and son Mark and sister Eve, my wife Becky, Elder Dale and his wife Kim, and Barby (our church’s worship leader and wife of Elder Dave), as they prepared for the right people to come and take Anne’s body away. There were lots of tears in that room when I left it but lots of joy too, the kind only Christians can really understand. Yesterday as we kept watch with Anne’s family over her last labored breaths, I witnessed all afternoon and into the evening a steady stream of Middletown Church folks come in and out, spend time, share hugs and stories and smiles and tears. I left last night brimming with joy. What an enormous privilege it is to pastor this great church.

But I have to tell you about Anne. Just a little bit for now. Anne was a very Jesusy person. Here are just four reasons why that are very personal to me, that I just have to get out. (The first is less serious than reasons two thru four, but still important to my family.)

1. Anne and her husband Jeff introduced our family to our favorite New England vacation spot—Stonington, Maine. Three years ago in late summer, the two of them led the four of us to this sleepy little fishing village on the rocky coast. It’s not very touristy, which is why we love it. Jeff and Anne had discovered it a few years before and then had some friends move near there, so it became a regular getaway spot. The two years since, my family has taken our end-of-summer vacation week there. It’s become just the right place at just the right time for a family refresh and reboot before the hectic schedule of school and fall ministry season begin. Becky loves taking pictures all over the place. The girls love playing in the water (yes, it’s wicked cold, even in August). I love just sitting there, breathing. It’s kind of a selfish reason to be grateful for Anne, I guess, but it does remind me of Jesus because he’s always showing us new things — in his word as well as in his world — that become old treasures.

2. Anne also reminds me of Jesus because of her honesty, her directness, her passion, her forthrightness. Specifically, she was “Jesus to me” a couple of years ago when she asked if we could meet for coffee. As we sat one morning together at Cafe Terra in Rutland, I was nervous that she was nervous. It was difficult for her to do but she was letting me know that I had hurt her feelings with a careless word. Of course, I hadn’t meant to hurt her feelings, and we weren’t even in conflict. I wasn’t mad at her or anything when I hurt her, which was why it was so surprising to me. But something I said had taken her to a wounded place, whether I meant it to or not. She couldn’t let it go, so she had to let me know. Of course I wasn’t happy to know I’d hurt her. And I asked how I could make it right. (She said just listening would do it.) But I thanked her and asked her to forgive me. She had done me a great honor.

See, in my world, when someone is offended by something I’ve said or feels somewhat slighted or hurt in some way, it is more typical that I hear about it later on down the line and through a third party. Often I don’t even know who it is that’s upset. That’s understandable in one sense; I can figure out why that might happen. But Anne did me the great honor of telling me herself, to my face, as soon as she was able. She trusted me with her hurt. As saddened as I was by what she was relaying, I was also encouraged by the way she relayed it. She didn’t do it angrily or with any demands. But she was willing to risk my getting angry or my being defensive or whatever other terrible responses I could have given her in my flesh or she could have anticipated in her nervousness. She was willing to risk our relationship by telling me the truth. And our relationship grew stronger because of it. That’s like Jesus, isn’t it? Always shooting us straight, whatever it may cost.

3. Anne was a magnet for people on the margins. Do you know the people in church or other community circles that most people have difficulty talking to? There are some sweet, genuine people who seem to need more patience in conversation, more empathy, more grace in social settings, more time, less hurry. People you maybe don’t mind chatting with if only someone else will come relieve you. Well, Anne was a magnet to those people. Anne, like almost nobody else I can think of, had a heart for the people on the margins. Wounded people, people who feel unheard, people who feel misunderstood, people who we might call “emotionally needy” but are perhaps unaware of it, people like even me maybe — they were Anne’s friends. She always made time for the people that many of us selfish folks checked our watches with. Isn’t that like Jesus? Unhurried compassion with the lonely people on the outskirts of communal efficiency and social acceptability? Jeff says people have come in to pay respects in the last few days that he didn’t even know about, hurting people that Anne had regular tea appointments with to be a listening ear.

4. Anne was brilliant. Her insights in Bible study or even casual conversation often related to neurology or some intellectual thing she’d lately read. She was always answering questions by telling us some obscure thing the brain does. A recovering Catholic and a recovering flower child, she loved talking about her relatively “late” interests, conservative politics and Reformed theology. In the last few years, Anne had gone back to school. In her late 50’s she had decided she wanted to study psychology and parlay that into becoming a gospel-centered Christian counselor. (She absolutely devoured all the CCEF materials I fed her.) So this year, at age 61, when she was diagnosed with this brain tumor just a couple of months ago, we all just felt it was kind of… cruel? ironic? I don’t know. Interesting? The last meaningful conversation I was able to have with her was right after her first brain surgery. I said, “You’ve just spend three years studying the brain. And now… this?” She looked at me and said, “I know, right? God’s funny sometimes.”

Funny? I’m not sure funny is the right word here, but I know what she meant by it. And now means by it, as she’s laughing it up with her brother Jesus in glory. (Anne has a great laugh, by the way.) Just like our brother Jesus, Anne faced death with a natural amount of fear and a Spiritual amount of faith in the Father who loves her, cares for her, and secures her. Like Jesus, she had abandoned herself to the sovereign grace of God.

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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.

Marriage

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.

Parenting

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.

Ministry

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.

Writing

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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