Christmas is a great time for book junkies.  Not to mention, it’s also a great time for those who buy presents for book junkies.  It’s a win-win situation.  I’m happy because I got a book I wanted and they are happy because they got me something I wanted, and hopefully will prove helpful.   Yes, in this case it was a win-win.  [Thank you Mom and Dad Shivers!]

I’ve also never read any books by Jared Wilson, which for such a gospel-centered dude such as myself seems somewhat shocking. I mean I know who he is, of course,  I’ve read plenty of his online stuff and Tweets, but never a whole book.  Once I got knee deep in this book, I could quickly see what all the fuss has been about.  Wilson is an extraordinary writer – he is sharp, eloquent, witty and just the right mix of cranky. [I guess that means he is cranky about most of the things I’m cranky about.]

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The Imperfect Disciple, as the subtitle tell us, is about “Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together” and right away, Wilson comes out swinging against all the stuff I like people to swing at.  He is transparent and vulnerable and even tackles the obvious question up front that I was asking – “How is this book going to be different than the 84 other books on discipleship?”  Welp.  I found out quickly.  Wilson pulls the curtain back on the truth that we all know deep in our hearts – we don’t all have it all together. This then is a book writing for people who want to “follow Jesus even though their feelings speak more loudly.” Or those who “deny themselves in order to do what’s right although I don’t really want to.”  It’s NOT a book for those who give the Sunday School answers all the time and never get down into a cage match and wrestle with sin and self until someone’s dead.  THAT to me is really following Jesus.  Dealing with sin and self every stinking day and growing and changing into the image of Jesus in his overwhelming, jaw-dropping grace.

Maybe it’s because I too grew up on the 80’s, and can relate to much of the youth group era hijinks that contributed to my gospel comprehension not getting off the launch pad.  For guys like us, the pressure to live out the good works of the gospel [“witnessing,” anyone?] without fully appropriating the truths of the gospel didn’t make sense.  It felt like we were moving on to doing stuff when we clearly hadn’t grasped why we were doing it in the first place.  The reality of what wasn’t mentioned so much back then, was that we live our lives in Romans 7, while not realizing that Romans 8 is the blast of air we desperately need.  As Wilson writes, “you bring Romans 7 into Romans 8 and say ‘Look what I found everybody!'”[26]

Wilson is also transparent with the complexities of pastoral ministry, and how in the muck and the mire we still cling to the gospel alone as we help others follow Jesus.  “Plenty of times, though, if it weren’t for the gospel, I simply wouldn’t have words at all.”  I’ve seen that look, just this week actually, when people are in the midst of a huge tragedy and you show up on the scene and it feels like 100 million eyes just landed on you and they all want you to say the magic thing to make it all better.   As I looked into the eyes of a young woman holding her stillborn 25 week old baby, all I could say was that “Jesus came for this very reason, to put an end to death.”

While this is true and good, this is hard and Wilson totally gets that.  It’s flat our hard to trust, to deny your feelings, to think of God’s glory above our selfish lusts – and that’s why we are all imperfect disciples.  Good thing we follow the one who is perfect, and the reality is that this perfect God uses those hard times to grow us, it’s his plan, and we have to get that thru our thick skulls.  “What if Jesus actually brings us to the very moment of those no-more-rope situations in order that we might actually, finally trust him?” [48] What Wilson didn’t say, and I wrote in the margin was “But what if that is your whole life?”  I think the truth is many do spend their whole lives with no more rope, and Jesus is right there with them. We should redefine “normal” – it’s not the absence of trials, but the ugly, sweaty, bloody quest to glorify God when you’ve got next to nothing left in the tank.

We miss this glory because as imperfect people, we are side-tracked by the glory of a million other, less glorious things.  Our phones, our ‘perfect’ lives, our whatevers have dulled our appreciation of the glorious.  Wilson quotes Ray Ortlund, in encouraging us how to regain what we have lost – “stare at the glory of God until you see it.”  [65]  Amen.  The theme of the book hangs on the fact that the power to change, doesn’t come from the law, but rather it can only come from the glory of Christ. [67]  Growing disciples, even though they may be imperfect, must be guided and directed by one thing – bringing God glory, over and above and especially in the middle of our mess.

In our mess it can seem like God isn’t listening, isn’t there.  As a Pastor I hear this all the time, and I was encouraged to see that Wilson would answer it the same.  “…so long as we have the Bible, this is simply not true. In fact, because we have the Bible, it is an incredibly selfish and sinful thing to say.” [93] See, I told you this guy gets me.

Yes, and AMEN!  Scripture must be in the center of the daily cage match with sin and self for the imperfect disciple! We must read it and chew on it and in those moments where things feel as imperfect as they really are, we need to bring it to bear like a fire extinguisher of truth.

This spills out into the life and the culture of the church.  I love the chapter title “The Revolution Will Not Be Instagrammed.”  Our perfectly lit and clever hash tagged images all make our discipleship lives look a heck of a lot more together than they really are.  “The church has got to be a place where it is OK to not be OK. 98% of family life is simply Not Ready for Instagram.  Is it any wonder so many f us struggle with church community” [121-2] People, we need each other, and we need our churches to be a “culture of grace” that will cause people to stick around when things get imperfect.  “You cannot grow in holiness and holier-than-thou-ness at the same time.” [136] #MicDrop

This sets up nicely how to follow Jesus in community, Wilson gives nine irrefutable laws of ‘followship.’

  1. Be ye loving
  2. Be ye joyful
  3. Be ye peaceful
  4. Be ye patient
  5. Be ye kind
  6. Be ye good
  7. Be ye faithful
  8. Be ye gentle
  9. Be ye self-controlled

If you recognize those as the fruits of the Spirit you are correct! But what Wilson points out is that “against these things there is no law” [Gal 5:23] is saying that while there is law against drunkenness, immorality, coveting – there is no law against any of these things so that we are free in the gospel to grow more into the image of Christ by using the law to sanctify us! “The law can tell us what to do, but it can’t help us do it.”  To grow in these 9 areas as an imperfect disciple, we need the limitless grace of the gospel.

This has everything to do with the battlefield, not of the mind, but of the hearts in the arena of idolatry.  This is the true self – indeed there is nothing more true than what we truly struggle to give over to Jesus in our hearts.  And he is right there with you.  “The real you, the you inside that you hide, the you that you try to protect, the you that you hope nobody sees or knows – that’s the you that God loves.” [188]

This is the beauty of the growth of the imperfect disciple – “over time we each become more and more like Jesus while at the same time becoming more and more our true selves.” [191]

This once again, is all in the power of Christ, and that is where we rest.

“This is how you boast in your weakness and suffering too. This is how you boast in your sorry little devotional life. This is how you boast in your constant inability to get your act together No, not by seeing a physical revelation of the heaven that awaits you. But by beholding a vision of the glorious Christ, whose power rests on you if you’re a believer.” [225]

May we all rest in this power as we imperfectly follow our perfect Savior.

 

 

 

 

 

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