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Presence & Absence

A couple weeks ago I wrote about a vital ministry skill, knowing how to take a punch, being able to minister to someone despite the hurt they may inflict on you in the process.

What’s on my mind this week is another ministry skill that’s sometimes hard to come by: a commitment to presence and an understanding of absence. Or, more broadly, knowing and practicing the power of presence with the hurting as well as knowing and practicing the helpfulness of absence.

But can he take a punch?

Apparently there was a big fight last weekend. You may have heard.

As I remain lacking in any true knowledge of boxing, the following supposition is pretty theoretical but, I think, also sound: if you were a boxing coach, I’m sure there would be several things you would look for in your student. You would want to see some natural speed, above-average strength and athleticism. But surely it is just as important in boxing that one be able to take a punch as well as throw one.

And so the point of this short article: if you desire to do any spiritual good in the lives of others, you must be able to take a punch. 

God Cares About Unity More Than I Do

I’m preaching through Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Great news: everything I thought was there is still there. Interesting news: something is in the book that I’ve never really noticed before, not even when I memorized much of the letter back during my college years. One of the great themes of this loving and powerful letter is simply that God cares – deeply and seriously – about the unity of His church.

Christian Joy – A Letter to Leaders

Dear fellow elders, parents and mentors,

Isn’t it amazing that God has allowed us to put our feeble hands into His eternal work? The fact that we’ve been called to lead others is itself an incredible sign of the grace and goodness of God. What a privilege it is to serve God by leading His people!

As the Bible makes clear about elders – and, I assume, about other leaders – we are to lead not just with the right words or great wisdom, but with spiritual maturity. We don’t have to be perfect, but we do have to put away sin regularly and strive for godliness. The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 is a great way to evaluate true spirituality and a helpful way to evaluate our own leadership.

So let me ask you a question which originally grows from my own spiritual immaturity: are you leading with joy? Are you leading in joy? 

Killing Sin, Simply Put

Be killing sin or it will be killing you. -John Owen

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. -Romans 8:13

I was rebuked yesterday, reminded that the repetition of Christian-sounding phrases doesn’t always communicate exactly what I think they do. In meeting with someone for counseling, I encouraged them to “kill your sin!” only to be met with questions and misunderstanding. You see, it turns out that just saying “kill your sin” doesn’t actually tell anyone what that means. It’s not as if sin is a physical thing that can be taken outside and shoved off a cliff. So what does it mean to kill sin?

Simply put…

What do mad Christians sing?

Awhile back, Carl Trueman wrote a great little article titled “What Can Miserable Christians Sing.” Here’s a summary, in the author’s own words:

“My thesis was very simple: there is nothing in the typical book of hymns or praise songs that a woman who has miscarried a baby, or a parent who has just lost a child to cancer, can sing with honesty and integrity on a Sunday.

“The desperation and heartache of such moments are things which we instinctively feel have no place in a religion where we are called on to rejoice in the Lord always.  Yet there is a praise book which taps such emotions and gives the broken-hearted honest words with which to express their deepest sorrows to God.

“It’s called the book of Psalms; and its recovery as a source of public praise in the Christian church can only help the church overcome its innate triumphalism and make room for the poor and the weak; that is the very people that Paul alludes to in 1 Corinthians which are the normal kind of church member.

Blind Expectations

Last month, NPR’s This American Life published an episode entitled “Batman.” In this case Batman was not the caped crusader of Gotham, but Daniel Kish, a blind man who learned very early in life how to find his way through the world using echolocation (like a bat…get it?), even to the point of being able to ride a bicycle. Through the hour-long show, the interviewers and participants give extraordinary insight into what it’s like to be blind in America – especially how low expectations (often based in fear) may hinder young blind people from experiencing the world more fully. The priority is usually to protect blind people from physical harm; whereas if they were set loose and pushed they may very well be able to develop skills like the Batman’s. So much so that some neuroscientists believe blind people who learn to echolocate (by repeatedly making clicking noises with their mouth and listening to how the sound changes) develop something that is very close to actual sight. They cannot see colors or read, but their brain’s visual cortex is operating at a level similar to the rest of ours when we use our peripheral vision.

The first thing that amazed me is simply […]

What We Can Learn From College Students

One of the incredible benefits of being a pastor is the opportunity to be around and learn from so many different types of people. It seems each person and every type of person can be not only a valuable member of a church family, but an important teacher in our lives. In this and future posts, I’d like to consider what we ought to be learning from the people around us. 

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This past weekend was our annual CORPS winter conference (CORPS stands for collegiate organization of reformed presbyterian students…acronym makes it easier, doesn’t it?). As it is every year, it was very blessed by God. GR’s own Rutledge Etheridge came all the way from Geneva College to teach on the subject of doubt. His lectures and sermons were wide-ranging and powerful. But, as often is the case, I left learning as much from the college students around me as from anything else. Here are some of the things they continue to teach me on a regular basis: 

A new pen pal

If you haven’t filled up your reading card for 2015, may I suggest The Letters of Samuel Rutherford? You will rarely find a pen pal so encouraging and spiritual. Even reading one or two of his letters a day is a great way to be reminded of what true, Christ-centered spirituality really looks like. C.H. Spurgeon himself said that Rutherford’s letters were the closest thing to inspiration that can be found in the writings of men!