The Good Ol’ Days

There’s a sign at a business in a town near mine that asks the question: When will we get back to the good old days?

This is a question of nostalgia that doesn’t simply appreciate something old but sees an inferiority in the present and perhaps even a fear of the future. But the question always persists when we talk about the “good old days”: Good from what perspective? It never fails that when news comes out of something bad involving a school or children, the memes show up on Facebook with a student at a desk and her head bowed and eyes closed. We didn’t have this problem when prayer was allowed in school. Maybe, maybe not, but one thing is certain: Prayer and Bible reading in school in the “good ol’ days” didn’t keep us from having schools and a country that systemically oppressed racial minorities. So, to whom did these good ol’ days belong?

This might come as a surprise to some, but in the Bible we are actually told specifically to not long for the good ol’ days. In a string of proverbs in Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon wrote, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (7:10 ESV).

Why would Solomon write such? Because when we look at the past through a quasi-utopian lens, we unwisely fail to consider the evils of those days and gloss over the stain of Genesis 3. We don’t consider, such as in my example above, that though our experience may be positive in our memory it may be negative in the memory of our neighbors due to such evils.

In addition to this, we shouldn’t long for the good ol’ days because ours is a forward-looking faith.

Yes, Christianity is rooted in past events: Creation, the fall, the incarnation, the cross, and on; but we stand on these foundations to peer forward. This is what we find in Paul’s encouragement in Philippians 3:2-16. Paul did begin with a consideration of his past and all the highlights he achieved. In a way 3:4-6 reads as a good ol’ days reflection in which Paul waxes about his zeal, prestige, education, and piety.

But then what did Paul conclude about all those “good things”–at least good from a particular perspective? It’s rubbish! It wasn’t as good as it sounds, because nothing is compared to knowing Jesus. In fact, Paul gladly disowned it all for the sake of Jesus. Instead, what mattered to Paul was to know Jesus and the power of resurrection, even if that meant experiencing the misery of sufferings.

In Paul’s perspective, the sufferings of his present were better and more to be desired than the good old days of his past. And all because he was looking forward to what was coming. In 3:11, he wrote that his desire was to “attain resurrection from the dead” by “any means possible.”

The way Paul saw to do that was to press on and keep his eyes forward. He wrote of his own life:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (3:12-14 ESV)

As a follower of Jesus, he saw the future as better than the past. One reason is that the resurrection is future. On that day of Jesus’ return, the dead rising, and the present heavens and earth melting away, all things will be made new. Sin and the corruption of the fall will be a thing of the distant past. Perfection and perfect joy for those in Christ will have at last come.

Another reason came from Paul’s own self reflection: I have not already obtained this…but I press on to make it my own. Even after coming to faith in Jesus, Paul knew that the past was not better than the present or the future because he was further away from perfection in the past than he was in his present or would be in his future.

Let’s apply this to our lives. As followers of Jesus, we should avoid longing for the good ol’ days for these same reasons: 1) Even our best memories and experiences have nothing on what will come with the joys of eternity. Be thankful for the good in your past, but then press on with your eyes forward. Even if your cultural experience of the present seems more dark and dank than your cultural memories of the past, the best will come. That’s a cultural reason not to fear the future or disdain the present but to rejoice in it. Jesus is coming back. So our aim, today, should not be to make things great again, as if the past were actually that great, but to make things brighter today in a darkened-since-Genesis-3-world by loving our neighbors through serving their needs and shining the light of Jesus.

2) Your sanctification is not complete and it is a work in progress. That’s the promise of Philippians 1:6–God began a good work in you and he will see it through. Our spiritual maturity is often a bumpy path with its ups and downs, our surging forward and our sliding back. But measured across a Christian’s life, it is a progression to something greater, better, and higher. Just like Paul, 5 days ago, 5 months ago, 5 years ago, 25 years ago, whatever, you were further away from your perfection in Christ than you are at this moment. Then 5 days, 5 months, and 5 years from now you will be closer to it than you are right now. That’s a personal reason not to cling to the past but to celebrate what is and what is to come.

Good ol’ days are relative. The forward-looking faith of the Christian is sure and firm. So let’s not make a quasi-utopia out of our memories of the past but rather look forward and press on in hope and joy because our present and our future with Jesus is far better.

How about a PIE month?

Everybody likes pie, right? You might be like me and prefer cake, but if a good pie is sitting in front of you, you still have to eat a slice (and then another and then another and then another…). Pie is so good, in fact, that I think we should have a month dedicated to it.

Obviously, being Baptist, we love to eat. But the pie I’m thinking of is actually not the kind you eat off a saucer. You see, despite being Baptist and thus evangelical (in the historical-theological sense of the word), we tend to have a problem with evangelism. To remind myself of this, I keep a little chart with some stats from LifeWay Research taped to my office wall.

In their Transformational Discipleship research, they found that 80% of self-identified protestant church goers agreed that sharing their faith with non-Christians was important. But then, in practice, 61% had not shared their faith with anyone in the previous 6-months and 48% had not invited anyone to church in the same time period.

It seems that in our churches we do a great job at teaching people that sharing the gospel is important but we do a poor job at leading our people to do just that. So, I try to find simple and creative ways to remind and encourage the people in my church to share. And this is where pie comes in.

Pie, or PIE, is an acronym for Pray, Invite, and Explain. PIE month, then, goes like this: In the next month (1) Pray daily for at least one person you know who is not a follower of Jesus, (2) each week Invite at least one person to come to church with you (presumably a person not already actively involved in a church somewhere), and (3) Explain the gospel and/or your testimony of faith to at least one person (and it would make sense, even, if this were the person you were praying for).

At my church, I’m aiming for my PIE month to be April. Easter tends to be a time that people not active in church are more inclined to visit (at least for a week). So, I want to use that ingrained momentum to build a string of intentional invites.

And here’s my hope: Not only that this would encourage us to be more faithful in sharing the gospel, but that it wouldn’t stop with one month. No, I hope that the people in my church realize how delicious pie really is and each month becomes a new PIE month with new invites and more people hearing the gospel.

So, how about you? Are you in? Will you join us with a PIE month of your own? Pull up a chair and I’ll grab you a fork…

Image used with permission from

A Reflection on Love

Originally written for my church blog as a devotion on Valentine’s Day

Many of us know the passage well. People quote it, read it at weddings, hang it on plaques on the wall—Paul’s famous words on love from 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. – 1 Corinthians 13:6-8 (CSB)

When we read this passage in their context, we find that it’s not primarily about marriage or romance, but about serving one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus. Paul wrote these words right in the heart of correcting the church on how to use spiritual gifts to serve and not to show off or exalt self. Still, the application is broad. Serving others is a universal call for we who follow Jesus. So, we can apply this to marriage and friendship and how we treat our neighbors.

If we were to boil down Paul’s teachings into a single statement, it would say this: Love happily seeks the best for others. And, oh, how that should be us!

Love, in this way, is other-focused. It is like when Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. There’s an assumption here: We typically are patient with ourselves and want others to be patient toward us. We tend to be kind to ourselves and want others to be kind toward us. We tend to be… and want others… the list goes on. The Bible assumes that in normal situations, we love and want the best for ourselves. But it also knows that it is harder for us to freely extend this attitude toward others.

But that is the command here—we’re to be patient with others, kind to others, not envious of others, etc. And nowhere do we see that we are to be these things only if they reciprocate. Love is not self-serving through what we gain from others. In Christ, we are already perfectly loved by the Father. We love because he loved us. That should be enough to motivate us to love even if no one loves us back the way we would want. Love is other-focused.

Love also looks for the best. We can say this in two ways: First, love seeks to bring the best to others. True love seeks ways to better the life of another both in the present and in eternity. It seeks to show the person Jesus and meet their present needs—physical, emotional, and relational. Second, love looks for the best in others. Living in a fallen world and being repeatedly hurt in a fallen world can cause us to be jaded. We jump to conclusions, question motives, and make assumptions without the facts. Love fights against these trends. Love refused to ignore evil and will deal with it when necessary, but love is also willing to believe and hope. Love looks for the best.

Finally, love continues. Paul was making this point in light of eternity: Eventually, when Jesus comes back and we see things clearly and no longer as through a blurry mirror, the need for various gifts will drop away. But love will remain. God is love, as John the Apostle wrote. God is also eternal. So, if love will continue forever, our present moments of love should be long-lasting. The “loving feeling,” as the song says, sometimes gets lost. But love itself, as a commitment and an act to seek another’s best, should continue. If someone loves us, we continue to love them. If someone is indifferent to us, we continue to love them. If someone hurts us as an enemy, we continue to love them. Jesus, after all, loved us when we were his enemies. He loves us when our hearts turn momentarily apathetic. And he loves us all the same when we love him well. That is his example for us. Love continues.

Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs

Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, signing to God with gratitude in your hearts. – Colossians 3:16 (CSB)

A recent blog post by Mark Terry addressed the sad reality that what were once termed the “worship wars” still rage in some churches today. An animosity exists between old and new—what are the proper songs and styles with which to worship God in the 21st Century church?

I want us to consider some of the things the Bible tells us about our musical worship of God.

In Old Testament Judaism and New Testament Christianity, worship in song is a major aspect of our spiritual formation. And while the Bible does give us some commands to sing, it is more largely assumed that we will just sing. Song, after all, has been long ingrained in human history as a way to express our greatest joys and deepest sorrows and everything in between. This should not surprise us, though, as we are creatures created in the image of God and we worship a God who “will delight in you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

One of the commands we find is in Colossians 3:16, with close parallel in Ephesians 5:19. Paul had been teaching the Colossians and us how to live a heaven-focused life where we cast off sin and put on our new righteousness. One mark of this new life is letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly.

Today, in our culture, we are more hard-pressed to not have a copy of God’s word than we are to have a copy. In fact, as I sit in my office and type these words, I look around and count 18 copies of the Bible on my desk and shelves in various translations and languages, and that doesn’t include smart phone apps.

But this wasn’t so in the days that Paul wrote. There were no printing presses and greater illiteracy existed among the culture. You didn’t just break out a copy of a scroll from your shelf and have family devotions before dinner. So, how then would they let the word of Christ dwell in them richly? Through song. They would set scripture and its theological truths to music.

The singing of Scripture’s words and ideas accomplished three main things, according to Paul: First, it let followers of Jesus teach one another. In setting God’s truths to memorable music, it allowed these to be more easily kept in one’s heart and mind and it helped Christians remind one another of the greatness of God and the gospel. Second, it let followers of Jesus challenge one another. This is the idea of admonishing—not only do we share truth, but we also help press one another into living the truth by encouraging the good and warning against the bad. Third, it produces thankful worship of God. When we sing as a gathered church, we have two audiences: one another as we teach and admonish, and God as we sing corporately to him. In these ways, our singing is always both vertical and horizontal.

In the midst of detailing these accomplishments of singing, Paul also charged us to sing a variety of songs. If you read any reputable commentary, you will find that you can’t press the differences too far between the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, but you also will find a nuance intended. Paul didn’t use three terms simply to pad his letter’s word count.

Psalms was the word most often used for those 150 songs found square in the middle of our present day Bibles. These songs and prayers were not simply inspired writings of gifted persons in their praise of God, no, they were breathed out by God’s Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of those who wrote them. They are a God-written song book for us to sing.

Hymns is the vaguest of Paul’s three terms and the most all-encompassing. Today, we largely use the term for a particular style or perhaps even songs of traditions. There may be a hint of that in Paul’s usage, a reference to the songs of Moses and Hannah, of Mary and Zechariah, and of short, familiar choruses that Paul even used. But in large part, these were songs in general. Songs that the churches knew and shared.

Then we have spiritual songs or perhaps songs of the Spirit. This seems best a reference to the charismatic songs, again not in the way the term is popularly used today, but in reference to men and women in the church gifted musically and lyrically by the Holy Spirit to edify their brothers and sisters. These would be new songs introduced or spontaneous songs sung in the moment of worship.

With these three categories, Paul did not write to the church telling them to sing psalms or hymns or spiritual songs, whatever your greatest preference, but to sing all across the spectrum. The only qualification is that they teach and admonish and lead us to thankful praise of God.

The simple fact is that when we let preference, style, or taste in music rule then we are guilty of not letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly. When we engage in the so-called “worship wars” we are robbing ourselves and those around us of the chance to grow deeper in our spirituality.

This is true of those who want to cling only to the old, the “traditional.” Which is really only “old to us” since even the most traditional song was contemporary at the moment someone first wrote it. And this rejection of the contemporary based on its newness is itself a rejection of Scripture which commands us to “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful” (Psalm 149:1). Robbing ourselves of depth is also true of those who want to sing only the new, the “contemporary,” and hold an attitude of disdain for the old.

The attitude found in both sides is a symptom of spiritual immaturity, a symptom of placing personal enjoyment over the edification of others. But, oh, the richness and depth we find when we seek to embrace the old and the new, the ancient and the contemporary. What a richness of God’s word in our souls when we open ourselves to sing together as a gathered congregation the psalms and the hymns and the spiritual songs. So, let us sing and let us sing broadly!

A Postscript: What Does This Look Like Practically?

In an age where we speak about traditional or contemporary or blended services, how do we practically apply the principles of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs? Some thoughts:

First, you have to play the cards you’re dealt. That might be an odd way to put this, but it’s a reality: Not every church is going to have the same levels of musical abilities. The first church I pastored was a small country church. When I first got there, we had an average attendance of 15. That doubled in my tenure, but our gains did not include people with musical experience. Our lone instrumentalist was a largely self-taught piano player who had about 20-30 songs in her repertoire. We were occasionally graced with visiting musicians who led in a variety of other songs that the church enjoyed and sang along with, but our normal worship gathering was very “traditional” and limited. But that was how God had gifted our church at the time, and that’s okay. The people showed a willingness to sing a broader spectrum of songs when available, and that’s where we must remember to operate: The level of the heart. Do we leave out the new (or even the old) because of the giftedness and abilities of those in the church to lead music, or do we do so because of our stubborn refusal to step beyond our comforts and tastes? The former is “playing the cards you’re dealt,” and that’s alright. The latter is the attitude that I write against above.

Second, mix it up as able. This is one of my great loves about my current church. We are not clearly traditional, contemporary, or blended. The way to describe us depends on the week. I have two main musicians who rotate, in part because of the work schedule of one (four Sundays off, two at work, repeat). One is able to lead with a pianist or to play a guitar. The other is our pianist who can also sing well while playing. In a typical week, whoever is leading the upcoming Sunday will get my sermon notes on Monday, spend a few days thinking and praying about the music, and get back to me by Thursday with their song selections they think go with my notes. Some weeks it’s all songs straight out of the hymnal. Other weeks it’s all contemporary songs. Still other weeks it’s blended. Some weeks it’s just the piano. Other weeks it’s all on the guitar. Still other weeks it’s a mixture of both. Again, this is how God has presently gifted us in terms of available musicians. It allows us to mix it up across the spectrum as our musicians feel led.

Third, remember the aim should always be to love God supremely and love others deeply. This should produce two driving questions: First, does the song honor God (aka: does it present him and the truths of Scripture accurately and lead us to worship him)? Second, does it edify others through teaching and admonishing? And neither of these questions are about style. Yes, there are still some who say that certain instruments or rhythms/beats/styles shouldn’t be used in church because they’re too “worldly.” The simple reality, though, is this: God inspired lyrics to some songs in Scripture, but he didn’t give us the tunes. And nowhere in the Bible does God condemn using a particular musical style. Calling styles too “worldly” is a man-opinionated addendum to the Scriptures. If all your church has available is a piano, then use that piano to belt out songs to the glory of God! But also remember that pianos aren’t mentioned anywhere in the Bible, but trumpets and harps and tambourines and loud crashing cymbals are. So if you have those and people who can play them, then use them to belt out songs to the glory of God!