Calvin on Communion Frequency

“If we have careful regard to the end for which our Lord intended it, we should realize that the use of it ought to be more frequent that many make it…Therefore the custom ought to be well established, in all churches, of celebrating the Supper as frequently as the capacity of the people will allow…Though we have no express command defining the time and the day, it should be enough for us to know that the intention of our Lord is that we use it often; otherwise we shall not know well the benefits which it offers us.”

John Calvin as found in The Lord’s Supper

5 things I learned at General Assembly

Last Week Jo Gus, and I traveled to Nashville so that I could participate in our church’s national leaders convention (know to us as the General Assembly) For me this time of meeting is incredibly encouraging and incredibly draining.

In the last few days I’ve heard things said by church leaders that have made me cringe, but I’ve also interacted with folks that get me so excited about what can happen when people are honest about their need for God, and live out of that need. I even heard from a old white guy who planted a black church in Georgia in 1954. Think about that–White Dude, Black Church, Jim Crow, Deep South. That means this guy might as well be Jack Baur’s great-grandpappy. General Assembly embodies the best and the worst parts of being connectional all wrapped up into one very long week, but it’s well worth it.

Here are 5 things I learned at General Assembly:

  1. Sometimes Procedural stuff is good and sometimes it gets in the way of actual discussions – I wish we spent more time talking about our actually disagreements and less time wrapped up in procedural vortexes (Dave Snoke’s handy term). I hope next year is different.
  2. World Harvest Missions is legit – first off any group that foregoes the usual free luncheon to rent out a bar and gives away good beer, good cigars and great Christian material has my vote, but I also got a chance to hang out with some of the folks planting churches in London, and they are doing some cool stuff.
  3. Southern guys can bring it – I sat it on a lecture by Brian Habig Church Planter and Pastor down in Greenville NC and that dude was great.
  4. Disagreement and Disunity are different things – Some speaks were very gracious and winsome and even when I didn’t agree with their point, I was glad they had the chance to speak, while at other times guys spoke and even though I understand where they are coming from I wish they hadn’t said anything. All young pastors need to take some notes from guys like David Coffin, Bryan Chapell,  Tim Keller, and Ligon Duncan.
  5. Face time is important – Email is great and twitter will help build connections but, nothing can replace good face-to-face conversations.

Jo – A Blogger??

I’ve thought a lot lately about blogging. Up until now, that’s all I’ve done (duh). I’ve avoided it for one reason or another – claiming that people don’t really want to know what’s going on in my head, that I’m too self-conscious to share my thoughts, fears, and dreams to strangers, that “bloggers” assume everyone actually cares about their trivial lives when no one does… the list could go on.

But… here I am. I changed my mind for various reasons. One is a little conceited. Last June we had a baby, and I’m convinced that everyone wants to know what he is doing and looks like ALL the time. Yes, sadly, I’ve become that deranged mother (grandparents rejoice!). The other big reason is that my husband and I are trying to start a new church in our town. We aren’t doing it alone of course. We had our first core group meeting a few months ago, and there are about 20 people committed or seriously considering a commitment. But I think I, as Sam’s wife, am going to have a unique view on how this whole thing goes down. I hope that this can someday be an encouragement to other families as they start down similar roads, or for anyone who wants to keep tabs on this crazy family.

The Visionary Idol

The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Life Together

10 Joys & Curses About Being Presbyterian

This morning I had the pleasure of having breakfast with the Rev. John Tweeddale, senior pastor of First Reformed Presbyterian Church (firstreformedpca.org), and Walt Turner one of the elders at FRPC. After Walt left, John and I ended up talking for about an hour. I found myself very encouraged by our discussion, and as I drove to work, I began to think of some of the reasons why I am glad I am part of a Presbyterian system. Presbyterians at their root believe in the idea of many leaders being united to each other in the local church and having courts of accountability and support between churches.

As I looked over this list, I realize that these aren’t things which are exclusive to being Presbyterian but they are found within Presbyterianism.

5 Good Things:

Connections – Being a leader in a Presbyterian church means that you have taken vows to care for other leaders in your church and denomination. The ability to leverage these relationships is one of the best parts of being Presbyterian. Presbyterianism encourages leaders to feel comfortable reaching out to other leaders for assistance. Churches in different cultural situations can see each other at deeply connected, and can request help and/or advice when they need it.

Resources – Presbyterians are committed to helping each other with time and money. This means that while a small church might never have the resources to start a new ministry alone, it is able to partner with other churches that will make new ministries possible.

Accountability – In some church systems when a problem arises at the local level it’s stuck. In Presbyterianism leaders are protected for bogus charges. At the same time the higher you go up in dealing with an issue the more people are involved. This means church members are protected from a few powerful leaders covering up inappropriate actions. Every members of a Presbyterian church has the right to ask other churches to intervene in a conflict.

Prayer – Being connected means that one church might be able to ask 10 or 15 churches to prayer for a specific issue, this means that you might have hundreds or thousands of people praying for a specific concern.

Methodical – Everyone has experienced making a mistake because you’ve rushed to make a decision. Bringing many leaders into a discussion means that there are more opportunities for reflection, and this often leads to a healthier and steady pace of action, with less regret.

5 Bad Things

Suspicion – Trust is an earned commodity. Sometimes camps form within Presbyterian denominations, and its easier to foster relationships along these lines. When this happens trust is primarily given to people who are similar to you, and sometimes suspicion is held toward people that are less known.

Jealously - Because church leaders interact on a regular basis and are sharing about how things are going, sometimes people can become jealous of other’s success.

Culturally Confined – while it isn’t a necessity, most Presbyterians exist in the context of middle class Europeans (and their descendants). I don’t think there is something peculiar to Presbyterianism that causes this other than the fact that Presbyterians haven’t been good at interacting with other cultures.

Sluggish – sometimes being methodical can lead to dragging you feet, and when that happens things slow down too much, and we unintentionally deter healthy progress.

Polity Over Personal Interactions – Sometimes we forget that our discussion at a formal level work best when they are preceded by numerous informal discussions. When we skip the informal we sometimes fall into the habit of caring more about following certain procedural rules rather than making sure we are best taking care of each other.

I know this isn’t an exhaustive list, and I hope what I’ve said makes sense. If not please drop me a note.

Remember, These aren’t things which are exclusive to being Presbyterian but they are found within Presbyterianism.

10 Books I’d Like to Read This Summer

Here is a list of 10 books that I’m hoping to read this summer.

  1. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxes – Scot McKnight made me aware of this new biography. Bonhoeffer is a very interesting historic figure and I really don’t that much about his life, his ministry or his murder.
  2. The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling by John Stott – I had seen that Stott was working on a new book, but then Scot Mcknight noted on his blog that this will by Dr. Stott’s last book. I’ve found many of his books very helpful and  some of our leaders read the Cross of Christ two years ago for Easter.
  3. Christian Apologetics Past and Present by William Edgar and K. Scott Oliphint – I really enjoy the topic of Apologetics and I think more and more Christians should become familiar with the historic ways that Christians defending their beliefs.
  4. The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christian by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger – I really enjoyed Köstenberger’s Salvation to the Ends of the Earth and I’m always interested to hear discussion about how Ancient Christian faith impacts present Christian.
  5. God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom by Graham A. Cole –  I’ve become a fan of the New Studies in Biblical Theology series (NSBT), and I try to pick up their new volumes as their are released.

  1. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davidson Hunter – I first heard of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture in Jim Belchers’s Deep Church, and it sounds like an interesting read.
  2. You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions by Tim Chester –  I hope this book is a good as Total Church.
  3. Church Planting Is for Wimps:How God Uses Messed-up People to Plant Ordinary Churches That Do Extraordinary Things by Mike McKinley – As a new church planter I figured this good might be a good read, but I have to say it’s toward the bottom of my list.
  4. The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne – Last month, in Philadelphia, Stephen Smallman recommended this book, and I’m interested in checking it out because a few years back some of the leaders in the church began using this imagery to distinguish between starting programs and building the church.
  5. Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision by N.T. Wright – There has been a lot of debate over Wright and my understanding is that this book is his response to other people’s interpretations of his work.  It’s always better to let a person explain their own views rather than have someone else do it for them.

More Reasons to Start New Churches

So some people might be asking themselves why go through all the trouble to start a new church, especially when there are other churches in an area that are struggling. Why go through all the hassle to organize, and raise support, and connect with new people, when it’s easier to stay where you are?
Here are a few more reasons:

New resources- It’s a fundraising truth that you will get more people to give to a new project than an old one, sure there are non profits who, over a number of years, have built up a steady stream of donors, but thats not a norm. For the most part people invest more in helping dreams take shape, than they do in keeping a struggling project afloat. When you start a new church it will stir up new resources than might not have been utilized before. (This includes peoples talents, their money, and even venues.)

reNewed energy – This is kind of connected to new resources, but often new churches create a pioneering spirit which causes people to be more energized about what they are doing. There might be people who are content with helping in existing ministry, but often a new project is the spark that helps reinvigorate them.

New perspective on neighborhoods challenges – Often older churches have come to understand their surrounds from a certain vantage point. Sometimes what this means is that they can be biased toward certain ideas or methods. New churches will accept new ways of dealing with the challenges of a neighborhoods because they have different biases. For example while many older churches gave away clothes and other goods, which in the long run kept people in a state of dependance. New churches began to consider the idea of subsidized sales which gave people a different sense of value associated with their goods, and allowed them to develop healthier values about money. Of course we have to realize that sometimes there are very good reasons for sticking with a certain way of doing things.

These are just a few of the many reasons why starting new churches is a good thing.
(For the record I understand that this list could probably be applied to most volunteer organization)

The PCA has Room for Rule-Makers and Law-Breakers

I wanted to share a few thoughts about some of the things Im noticing in my small part of the world wide church. I am a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America sometimes abbreviated as (PCA). In this denomination there seems to be a lot of tension mounting around a few issues, and some of the issues are not tiny ones, but what seems to be happening is that people in my denomination are beginning to talk past each other and simply discount everyone who holds different convictions.  People are deciding that our procedures for dealing with disagreements are too slow–and instead are beginning to publish (for all the world and all posterity to see) things that they would never say to someone face to face. This is happening all over the place, and its a really shamefully thing to see.

People on all sides of are forgetting that we are supposed to see each other as family, that we are supposed to love everyone the way that God loved us.
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The Privilege of Reading in the 21st Century

Q: What does Steve Jobs and Johannes Gutenberg have to do with following Jesus?

First give me a moment to explain where this question is coming from. I’m reading The Walk by Stephen Smallman, and so far its seems to be a good introduction to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.In his section of the important of reading the Bible and Prayer he make as small but very important remark:

“If you can read, don’t take for granted what a gift you have been given.”

Smallman is right reading is a gift that most of us don’t appreciate. Just imagine how different the world would be if you could never send a letter or write a note or email someone. Most people aren’t even aware of how much they read on a daily basis. We read and write all the time, just think about how so many people have moved from phones to texting as the quickest mode of communication.Yet, there does seem to be a shift in the way we do read. Christians have the opportunity to have not one but many Bibles in their home–something unheard of even 100 years ago.

Last year WIRED published an article examining the shift in literacy in our technological age, but the suprising conclusion was that people are reading and writing more than even.

“I think we’re in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization,” she says. For Lunsford, technology isn’t killing our ability to write. It’s reviving it—and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.

This weekend Apple will release the iPad, and if Walt Mossberg, and the folks at WIRED(different article) are correct it could forever change the way we read and interact with content. Tablet computing will change the way that we read and write. We have already seen small steps in this direction with things like the Kindle and even smart phones, like the iPhone, and Droid.

So what! How does any of this answer the opening question?

Specifically for Christians this means that the manor in which we read the Bible is also shifting. Of course some people will lament this shift and worry about what will happen, but we should remember that Christianity has actually undergone many similar shifts in the pasts. Early Christians began to use codexes (the ancient ancestor of todays books) instead of big and clumsy scrolls. When than happened it made it easier for books written in one area to be transported to another area, it also meant that you could reference a middle section of the text without having to unravel the whole things, and potentially damage the expensive object. For most Christians the way they read the Bible was to hear it read aloud.

When Gutenberg first perfected a movable type system which allowed for faster and cheaper publishing, it ushered in another major shift in the way Christians interacted with God’s word. This printing revolution meant that Bibles could be produced at lower cost which meant that owning a copy because feasible for a much larger section of society. Families could actually have their own copy of the Bible which they could be read at home. This meant that individuals who could read could study the Bible for themselves.

Today we are at the cusp of another great shift, digital reading is becoming untethered. Tablets(sometimes called e-readers) like the ipad (and the many more that will follow) mean that soon it will be easy for a Pastor to bring a digital copy of the Bible into the pulpit.

While I know some people will freak out–let me remind everyone: its still the word of God if it’s read from animal skin, papyrus, paper or a digital display. The tech that is involved in reading has changed before and its changing now. I think what we will discover soon that we new technologies will allow Christians to study the Bible in ways that The important part for people who consider themselves disciples of Christ is that if you have the ability to read the word you take every opportunity to do so.

Lessons From a First Century Prison

There is a story about the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts where he ends up in jail because he heals a slave women and her owner decides that she was more valuable the way she used to be.

The curious thing about the story is that Paul doesn’t flip out about being arrested, and when an apparent opportunity arises to get out of jail (an earth quake partially destroys the prison) he doesn’t take it–instead he stays in the cell!

So why does he do this?

I think there are two reason why Paul decides to stay in the jail, rather than make a run for it.

First I think Paul doesn’t flip out when he is arrested because his plans aren’t the most important think in his world. Paul had a healthy view of his importance.

While Paul was an important leader in the church, he didn’t think that he was so important that he could afford to take any detours. He doesn’t say to the civil authorities: “I’m Paul. I don’t have time for this stuff.”

Sure he probably wasn’t happy about the hassle and especially the beating they gave him,but he didn’t turn into a prima dona. Instead, he takes the time he has to pray and sing, and focus his attention of God. Paul’s attitude is so different from our attitudes most of the time. Just think of the last time you were late driving somewhere and got stuck in traffic.

Instead of freaking out Paul figures out what good things he could do right there, rather than complaining about his apparent detour.

Connected to this, is the fact that unlike many of us, Paul isn’t willing to skip necessary steps to get back to his plans. He understands that if you have the choice between the two, its better to do something right than to it fast.

Its so easy to get so focused on our goals that we think we are justified in skipping or fudging the process. We all think that we have some circumstances that justifies our rush. Paul could have walked out of the prison, but instead he waits, because he knows in the long term it will be important for him to clear up the charges against him. At the end of the story that is exactly what he does, the authorizes realize they were wrong and give them their freedom. Instead of Paul taking his freedom he waits for them to give him his freedom.

I’m not saying that its wrong to be driven, but what it comes down to is that Paul possessed a skill that most of us don’t–patience. Slow down, do things right and you might end up with opportunities you never expected.