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This Post is Nothing New

Here I am staring at a blank screen. I have a blog post due today, but I don’t really have anything new to write. So let’s go with that: much of the Christian life and the Christian ministry isn’t new and doesn’t need to be. 

If you’ve been a Christian for a little while, maybe you haven’t learned anything new about God or faith in quite some time. This is not usually a sign of a problem. There’s no commandment that you have to be constantly finding something new. Further and thankfully, we aren’t under any compulsion to be discovering new songs for worship or unexplored realms of theology.

Because Biblical Christianity isn’t about what’s new, but what’s old. 

For the success of others

If you’ve been following this blog, you know by now that one of our dearest friends and mentors, Dave Long, recently died. Like Barry, I’ve been trying to not only grieve but to think and consider, to remember lessons Dave taught me by precept or example. In family worship over the past week, I tried to teach my kids some of the biggest lessons God taught me through my friend Dave.

I’d like to tell you one of those, too.

In Acts 9:26-30, the church in Jerusalem is, wisely, worried about the sincerity of the Saul’s conversion, who until recently had been “breathing threats” against the church. Were it not for Barnabas – who had seen the fruit of Saul’s conversion firsthand and put his own reputation on the line to speak up for Saul – the whole situation might have turned out very differently. Although Barnabas wasn’t at the heart of the story, he was instrumental in the success of Saul’s ministry.

Here’s the lesson Dave showed me: Work for the success of others, not your own. 

What Happens When We Forget The Future

It seems on almost every page the Psalms are reminding us to remember, to not forget:

“My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you…” (42:6)

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord…” (77:11)

“…they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God…” (78:7)

“Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles…” (105:5)

To remember God’s gracious and powerful acts is to honor Him; to forget is to dishonor Him. While we seem to know this intrinsically in our relationships with others – how do you feel when someone seems to forget or ignore all that you’ve done for them? – we struggle to remember all that God has done. And so we read our Bibles, we worship weekly, never tiring of reminders, so that we might honor God rightly.

But it isn’t just the past that must be remembered.

Sharper Than You Think

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Proverbs 17:27

This verse hit hard during my personal devotions this week. As a pastor, my whole life is wrapped up in words. Turns out that’s not the safe vocation every mom wants for their little boy. 

Good Reading About Refugees

As the debate around refugees continues to grow, both in popularity and intensity of tone, here are some helpful articles to aid us in understanding these difficult and complex things.

First, here is Trevin Wax’s call in the Washington Post to not allow fear to drive out compassion. But be sure to read Kevin DeYoung’s more measured response, where he reminds us that wisdom and compassion don’t have to be competitive in the end. 

A Good Day to Die

A line from a book I recently read is sticking with me. It went something like this:

Wherever there is spiritual life, someone has died.

The point is powerful and important: in God’s economy, life is brought about through death. In the smallest sense, we find ourselves physically sustained through the death of other things in this world, whether plant or animal. Jesus told us it basically works the same way with the life we have in him:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24; see also 1 Cor. 15:36)

Even Though It’s Not A Game

Let’s try out a phrase: “spectator Christians.”

The trend toward spectatorship is a culture-wide phenomenon seeping into the church. Sports used to be something we did; now it’s something we watch. Music used to be a reason to get together with neighbors and have fun; now it’s something our headphones use to keep us separate from others. Christianity is, to my eyes, similarly and increasingly becoming a spectator event. 

No King Like Him

I’ve never written a blurb for the back of a book. There’s good reason for this: I am not famous enough to help anyone sell their books and I am not really an expert on anything in particular. My understanding is that authors and publishers want those blurbs to come from people more well known than the author, people who will make readers stand up and pay attention. If we see someone we trust and respect encourage us to read a certain book, we’re much more likely to pay attention.

Which is why we ought to pay attention to the way God singles out and commends a few people in Scripture. When the Creator of the Universe calls you greater than all those born of women, like Jesus did of John (Lk. 7:28), we should take a much closer look. 

Grateful Presbyterianism

When I became a pastor in the RPCNA, one of the vows I took went like this:

Do you believe it to be the teaching of Scripture…that the permanent form of church government is presbyterian?

So, yeah, I do. And I made a vow to that effect, so fat chance getting me to turn my back on it now. I’m presbyterian by conviction, because I really do believe it’s how Scripture shows the church ought to be led. Presbyterianism strengthens the church’s ability to submit to her leaders, trusting that when things go wrong (and they do), there is a higher authority ready to right the ship. As I’ve reminded my congregationalist friends, any church government works when everything’s going well. But presbyterianism works when nothing is going well.

But this past weekend, I was reminded in a few powerful ways that the greatest benefit of being presbyterian isn’t the structure of authority existing over individual sessions and the ability to work through discipline cases effectively. The greatest benefit of being presbyterian is being loved, pursuing Christ’s kingdom-on-earth together in a community of true and mutual care.