When You Hear "No"

Note: I wrote this for Benjamin Vrbicek’s new book Don’t Just Send A Resume: How to Find the Right Job in a Local Church.

As I sat across the table from the lead pastor of a hiring church, I expected him to articulate how much he was looking forward to having me on the team and how dynamic my leadership would be at their church. In many ways, the interview process and expediency of it was building an expectation within my mind that I would be offered the job. Why else would they run this fast through the process with me? Surely they had found their guy.

But it was with half a bite of burger in my mouth that the undesired and fatal verdict was spoken. “Jeremy, you’re a nice guy, but honestly you are a huge risk for what we need on our leadership team right now. I don’t think you’d be a good fit here. We’re going to have to say no, but thank you for walking with us through this process.” The burger felt like lead in my stomach at that point. I had been told “no,” and the search process for my dream job was over. 

By Benjamin Vrbicek

Yes, I’ll admit that I was very disappointed to hear “no,” but over the years (and after many more “nos”) I’ve come to see that hearing a “no” is not necessarily a denial of your skill and gifting as much as it is a gift from God to keep you on the path of faith, trusting that he is the one who ordains our places and paths in ministry. While rejections can be deflating, they can also be a means of grace whereby God guides you to a season of ministry that better fits your gifting and competence in ministry. Here are three lessons I’ve found to be helpful for my heart after hearing a “no.”

Believe the gospel

First, I must believe the gospel. It’s tempting to let our identities get wrapped up in our vocations. We can build our hearts on the approval of others. Not being offered a position we sought after can chip away at our self-built identities and affirmations. This is why we need to deeply remember the gospel.

The gospel reminds us that our identity and value aren’t built on what we do or the titles we possess. Christ is our hope—not the dream job we’ve pursued. We are no less sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ because we were not hired and heard a Divine “no.” As the hymn writer Edward Mote taught us to sing, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Believe that good news!

Minister right where you are.

Remember the man in the Bible who applied for Jesus’s school of discipleship almost immediately after being healed from demon possession? He was ready to follow Jesus anywhere and do anything for him. Personally, I would have thought this man was the ideal candidate for my ministry school. The healed man was passionate, available, and loyal. Yet Jesus told him “no.”

Instead, the man was instructed to stay at home and tell his community how God had been merciful to him. In the midst of receiving a “no,” he was redirected to labor for the gospel right where he’d always been (see Mark 5:18–20). 

Hearing a “no” from one church doesn’t mean we should quit the ministry. Rather, it helps us to be active and faithful right where God has us currently

Hearing a “no” from one church doesn’t mean we should quit the ministry. Rather, it helps us to be active and faithful right where God has us currently. In the divine providence of God, the work he has placed right in front of us is more pressing than the dreams of greener pastures and more influential platforms of ministry that we might have been longing to be commissioned into. Hearing a “no” should refocus us on the task at hand.

Depend on God

The most challenging thing about hearing a “no” is trying to figure out why we were not offered a desired position. Our motivations can feel pure and our goals right in wanting to glorify God and use our gifts for the building of the kingdom, but when we hear a “no” we are often frustrated that God isn’t apparently on the same page with us. 

If we believe that God orders our steps (Ps 139:16) and that he has prepared good works ahead of time for us to do (Eph 2:10), then we can rest confident that a “no” is ultimately for our good and for his glory. If our heavenly Father only gives good gifts, then we can trust his gracious hand to send us exactly where he sees fit to glorify himself and advance his gospel. The goodness of God has not abandoned us. 

Looking for a ministry position is one of the most difficult vocational actions, but it is superintended by a loving God for our good. The “nos” are hard to hear, but it is these hard providences that cause us to look all the more for his glad smile.

Cider Saturdays: Three Cedars Farms

It's September here in the great state of Michigan and nothing could be more "Pure Michigan" in the Fall than hitting up cider mills for donuts, cider, slushes, and family time together. Last year the Writebol's ventured around to half a dozen or so cider mills on our Saturday mornings and developed an pretty airtight rating system to evaluate the local mills. This year is no different, we're back at it and we kick off the year with one of our favorites and a strong contender for "Best Cider Mill In Michigan", Three Cedars Farms.

The Scoring System

We evaluate our cider mill experiences on the basis of five categories:

  • Attractions (stuff the kids like and keep them playful and occupied)
  • Cider (it is a cider mill after all)
  • Donuts (need I say more? fluffy, cinnamon and sugar coated cake donuts)
  • Cider Slushes (another, but different form of the cider strategy)
  • 🐝 (kids hate them!)

Each member of the family gets to vote in each category on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being "awesome", 1 being "that was awful"). This year we also have a few friends joining us on the road trips so we've decided to give them a vote whereas they can assess up to 5 bonus points total based on their experience. The top score any cider mill could receive is a 105. We'll see if that happens. 

Three Cedars Farms - Salem, MI


So what was our experience at Three Cedars like in 2018? For the first day of the month, and the first showing of the year I would say it was a pretty strong experience. The Kuhner's were our first bonus point guests (and cider mill rookies). Here's what you'll find at Three Cedars


This place is the Taj Mahal of Cider Mill attractions. They have a TON of things for families to do. From hay rides, to play structures, to a corn box, to a bunch of fun animatronic farm elements, to a "train" ride, there's a lot to take in here. Our kids have never pushed back on us when going to Three Cedars. I will say, as they get older the kids seem to enjoy the attractions a bit less but at age 10 and 8 they are still having a blast. 

Cumulative Score: 18


It's early in the season, so the fresh pressed cider and the ripeness of the apples are probably still  a few weeks away. Three Cedars cider is classic stuff though. Very good and enjoyable. 

Cumulative Score: 14


We love our donuts. Okay, I love donuts. And these were a really really good start to the season. Much like coming out on Opening Day in college football and hanging 42 points on your opponent, Three Cedars gave a strong donut showing (at least to me) on day one of Cider Saturdays. They were warm, cinnamon and sugary, and just the right cake texture. 

Cumulative Score: 16

Cider Slush:

Three Cedars was doing so well, and then the slush came. It was less ice-appley mixture and more cider with some watery cold bits in it. Today was a bit warm at testing time, but not warm enough that the slush consistency shouldn't be up to par. We were a bit bummed on that account.

Cumulative Score: 13


Almost a perfect score. We never, ever, ever see or get pestered by bees at Three Cedars. Allison must of seen one because she gave them a four on that account, but the rest of us love being able not to be attacked mercilessly by the Cider Foe. 

Cumulative Score: 19

Overall Experience:

Three Cedars is great. For a family-oriented experience that gives you lots to do and really captures the essence of Fall well, Three Cedars is your cider mill of choice. It was a great day weather-wise, the crowds were not overwhelming, and the food and drink were good starts to our cider-season. Our guests assessed +3 bonus points to the cumulative score which lands Three Cedars with a total score of 83. That's not shabby to start the season. 


That One Time I Went To the Capitol

The capitol of Michigan that is.

Last week I was invited to give the invocation at the opening of the House of Representatives session for the day. I was profoundly honored to be there among our state government officials and to see firsthand the work they are doing. I was also encouraged, at least in Michigan, to discover so many faithful Christian representatives in our government. The district representative for Plymouth happens to be a pastor as well. 

Here are a few takeaways that I have from my day in Lansing.

  • Representatives are ordinary people. Many of them have full-time jobs outside of their legislative work. They have families, hobbies, and ordinary lives. I think we far too often vilify elected officials as being out of touch.
  • Representatives work hard. Really hard. Between committees, session meetings, meeting with their constituents, and a myriad of other things, they work hard. 
  • We should pray all the more for our elected officials, at every level. The responsibility they carry, the constant criticism they face, the uncertainty of the next election cycle, all of it carries immense burdens. Most are trying to do what is best and good for their constituents, even if others don’t see it the same way. 

I was encouraged by my time at the state capitol and encourage you, wherever you are to be more involved in your state-level government, pray for your representatives, and seek the good of your city. In it we may find our own good (Jeremiah 29:7). 

Getting the Most Out of the Gospels

This week I’ve had the opportunity to teach at the Woodside Leadership Institute on the topic of reading and interpreting the Gospels. Often though it seems like teaching Biblical interpretation is like a biologist teaching a class on dissecting a frog. Get over the smell of the formaldehyde, poke and pick apart a passage, push the guts to the side and look for the “nugget of truth” that sits at the center of the whole thing. That kind of approach is boring and smelly. 

I want people to be, as my friend Aaron put it, “enchanted by the story.” I want them to love reading the Gospels and more than anything to love the Jesus of the Gospels. So this outline (along with a few exercises) was my attempt to help teach everyday people how to engage and enjoy the Gospel books well. 

Read “Supernaturally”

I owe this term to John Piper’s book Reading the Bible Supernaturally. What I mean by it is that we are incapable of reading and percieving the glory of God in Christ by our own natural means. Paul states, “The person without the Spirit does not receive what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually” (1 Cor 2:14). The reason is that “the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). 

All this to say that apart from a miracle of God, in opening our eyes and hearts to perceive the glory of God in Christ told in the Gospels, we will utterly miss the point. Jesus often asks religious leaders—the so-called “experts” of the Bible in his day—“have you not read?” Sure they had. Yet they were blind and didn’t see the glory of God in Christ. The same peril is in front of us unless God by his Spirit regenerates our hearts to delight in his glory in Christ. 

To read supernaturally then is to come to the Bible with a dependence and hunger asking for God to show us the treasures of Christ. We pray and say “Open my eyes” and “help my unbelief” and “show me your glory.” Reading in this way is a prayer the Lord loves to answer and meet us in. “Sir, we would see Jesus!” 

Read Distinctly

By this I mean, read the Gospels as the unique pieces of literature that they are. Too often I find Bible scholars and teachers mashing the Gospels (particularly the Synoptic Gospels) together to form some sort of “harmony” of Jesus’ life. The problem, to me, is that this misses the particular point and emphasis that each Gospel writer has in his presentation of Jesus. Luke didn’t write so you would cut up his story and glue it together with bits of Mark and Matthew. He wrote with style, emphasis, color, and purpose! Read Luke for Luke’s perspective. The same goes for Mark and Matthew and John. 

That does not mean however that we should never compare and contrast parallel accounts in each of the Gospels. That’s in many ways where the particular emphases show up. But let Mark speak for Mark, Luke for Luke, and so forth. Mashing the Gospels together misses the mark in terms of what the specific author is communicating, and the beauty of Jesus he presents that is unique from the other Gospel books.

Read with Curiosity

Ask questions. Lots of questions. Whenever you are reading the Gospels you should be asking good questions. Who is the main character? What are they doing? Why is this story told here? Where is Jesus at in this specific part of the narrative? Be a good detective and ask piles of questions about the text. 

When you ask questions, its good to have a few study resources alongside you to help you answer those questions too. I think having a solid study Bible on hand can be very helpful in answering those questions. The CSB Study Bible is one exceptional resource to help answer those questions. Get a notepad, your Biblical text, and a study bible and ask away. The person who doesn’t ask questions never learns or grows (and they won’t see glory!). 

Read Communally

I mean this in three ways. First, read with friends. Read the Gospels with others and ask your questions together. Think, pray, explore, challenge, and grow in community as you read the text together. I don’t believe the Bible was meant to be read in isolation or solidarity. The Gospel writers themselves wrote these accounts to be read in community. Reading them in that fashion brings light to everyone’s eyes and helps us see the things we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. 

Second, read with dead friends. By that I mean read the Gospels with a trusted navigator who has gone on before and laid down a helpful account interpreting the Gospels that has stood the test of time. My favorite (and one that always helps me love Jesus more) is JC Ryle. He wrote an entire set of “expository thoughts” on all four Gospel books that were meant to be read around a dinner table with a family. They are engaging enough for children to listen to and understand, and warm and deep enough to help the oldest Christian continue to grow. This set by Banner of Truth is the best modern printing available. 

Finally, read the Gospels with non-Christians. The Bible is a missional book. It sends us out to make disciples of Jesus. Reading with non-Christians gives them the opportunity to hear the word of Christ and believe. The best evangelism class and technique is to read the verbally inspired Word of God with non-Christians. Go for Mark. Check out Christianity Explored for a means to read the Gospel with unbelievers in 7 weeks. 

Read Humbly

Finally, read with humility. Critics who come to the Gospels seek to destroy and pick apart and pillage. They want to refute God. They won’t see His glory. 

Yet if you come to the Gospels with humility and say, “I don’t know if I will understanding everything, or even why everything here is right and true and good but I want to see,” I believe you will find great things. We are worlds, cultures, and ages apart from Jesus’ life in the first century. We shouldn’t think that everything the writers of the Gospels communicate will look or act like what we believe it should in the twenty-first century. However, if we come with humility (or what has been called “faith seeking understanding”), we will be able to overcome our modern objections and sensibilities and see better the glory of God in the face of Jesus.

Get to Reading!

This list is in no way exhaustive, but I have found these approaches to reading the Gospels to be formative for in reading and seeing my heart warm in its love for Jesus. The biggest challenge is to read, read, read. Read the Gospels. Let them be part of your regular Bible reading diet. You will never exhaust the stories and glory of Jesus in reading the Gospels in this life. Take up and read!


On Sickness, Sports, and Preaching

Photo by  Martin Reisch  on  Unsplash

Photo by Martin Reisch on Unsplash

I’m not sure that those three things have any particular correlation to one another, except to say that this present sickness has made me watch and do things that my normally healthy self would avoid. I watched the NFL Pro Bowl. 

I will admit that I was in and out of a conscious state on Sunday afternoon mainly out of pure exhaustion from preaching two services and having either the flu or the cold. I can’t say for sure because the CDC continues to alter the definitions of what is a cold and what is the flu. I have both. Or neither one. I don’t know. 

Anyway as I lay in a semi-comatose state on my couch on Sunday the only thing that sounded remotely therapeutic was the sound of helmet-on-helmet collisions and the soothing monochrome voice of Sean McDonough. Even though it was absolutely the most boring and worthless game of the whole season I allowed it to venture into my psyche as I drifted in and out of sleep. 

In some way that is what preaching on Sunday morning was for me. I crawled in sick because I loved the passage I was to preach so much, and the topic of the glory of Christ was one that I would literally have to be dead not to try and communicate. I remember my introduction — the clever email I found about the Nigerian astronaut that was still stuck on a Soviet space-station after 28 years and all that was needed was my assistance in the form of a bank account to transfer the 15 million dollars to safely get him home. I remember pointing out our need to see the real Christ, not some cultured counterfeit, and I remember very little else. I did this twice. 

I don’t know if it was a good sermon. I suspect that it was a slow roller up the third base line. Good enough. Serviceable. Not great. I don’t know if it helped anyone, or if I should put away some pride next time I’m sick and make the call to the bullpen and let a healthier, better-rested man bring the power of the gospel to bear on the church. 

What I do know, and cherish, is after the first service a kind and humble gentleman came up to pray for me. That meant all the world. I don’t remember much else. I don’t need to. 

I may not endeavor to preach feeling that poorly ever again. But to proclaim Christ was worth it. And if I ever do, perhaps it’ll be on Pro Bowl Sunday and a drug-induced coma will quickly take me away after the church services to soft touch hits and the sons of Brees fighting on the sidelines.