Monthly Archives: August 2007

Lower Macungie is a needy place

What is my post titled?  Yep.  Lower Macungie Township (west of Allentown PA) is a needy place. If you’ve been to the Lehigh Valley, the word “needy” is not what you would associate with LowerMac.  But it is.  I read this morning in the paper that LowerMac is developing more athletic facilities.  It NEEDS a place for its 5400 and growing kids to play soccer (and those other sports).  I have met with township officials, and they know well the debate that LowerMac NEEDS  a new form of government (currently the township is a Class II community, and a petition drive is circulating around its citizens in favor of a Class I status – with its own police station, a difft government model, etc.)  O, and the influx of people (in 2005-06 some 25 people a day were moving to LowerMac and it was the fastest growing municipality in the state of PA) has made it so the community NEEDS better sewer drainage and better roads, etc.  O, and the High School (over in Emmaus) houses the LowerMac kids, and it is a virtual college campus with 3000 students.  It NEEDS a new high school.  Yep.  LowerMac is a needy place – though I’m not talking about inner-city poverty needs (actually, I imagine the number of resident who NEED debt release is very high). 

Even more, LowerMac NEEDS gospel declaring churches.   Numerous kindgom-churches would need to be planted for kingdom-growth to mirror the rapid societal growth.  We lived in LowerMac until a month ago when we moved to Emmaus.  Before I moved, I was privileged to meet with one of the township supervisors.  As proud of his community that he was – even he could articulate NEEDS that are more than simply societal.

To be pointed, the needs were simple:

1. Cultural change in a place that encompasses rural, suburban and city people (drive to NYC or Philly daily for work).

2. Relational stress between newbies and oldies (old timers resent the rapid influx of new-non-locals).

3. Neighbors no longer care for each other (as when it was smaller and more rural) – they care for themselves and their homes and cars…

4. There is great pressure to BE a first class community because of its first class citizens (with such a mindset – how do we expose the classless needs of the heart!?)

5.  There is growing polarity between the wealthiest (can easily afford it), the upper middle (can afford it), the middle (want to afford it for educational/lifestyle/status purposes), and the  lower class (still living there and are pounded with new taxes, etc.)

Lower Macungie is a needy place.

O, to bring the kingdom of God to the people who are comfortable and safe on their suburban back porch.  O to show them the depth of their need – beyond the soccer fields.  O God, plant a church in your timing in the precise location that will enable us to minister to Emmaus andLowerMac.

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a different kind of weakness

Nobody who rests on Christ can say they don’t know weakness.  They may (and hopefully do) know a resurrection strength that is unimaginable, but they still cannot say they don’t know weakness.  Because its in the weakness that they  find THE reason to rest only on the resurrection power of Christ and on nothing of themselves.

Today, I am broken at the thought of friends (who rest on Christ) – some of the most beloved people I know – who are very weak today.  Today I am broken for the family of Mr. Ira Luster, who passed away today… a charter member (I think) of the church I was privileged to pastor in TN.  I am broken for his wife Ida and his umpteen children and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren.  I am broken for the people of Harmony PCA in Kingsport, TN (what stories of how the man physically built the church building).  I am broken myself – I loved Ira.  I loved preaching to ‘Ira and Ida’ as they (such little and yet radiant people) sat in the back left corner of the sanctuary.  I loved my visits to his home and his WWII stories and his love of his wife of 65 years.  I loved his laugh and his life and his humility.

And yet, I am filled with hope because those very same beloved people are resting on the resurrection power of Christ to rescue them in their weakness.  Yes, they are weak, but it is a different kind of weakness.  There is real grief, but “we do not grieve as those who have no hope”(1 Thess. 4:13).  We grieve in weakness, but it is a different kind of grieving.

Anybody who knows the pastoral side of me (yes, there is one) knows that a funeral service of worship for one of God’s children is my favorite service of worship… there is no comparison.  I quickly learned in my first funeral as pastor of Harmony  that there is no other service of worship wherein people depend so intensely on the words of the gospel to be absolutely TRUE.  At a funeral service of worship, the text is read and it IS listened to, because for those who are grieving, they MUST believe it (the resurrection) to be true if they would have their weakness ministered to by God himself.   At most other services the Word comes and goes… some cling to it, others just watch the clock.  Or in a wedding, people just want the vows and reception!  But at a funeral – the depth of the weakness enables the depth of the dependence and so people listen expectantly.

This week there will be a funeral where weak worshipers gather in praise of the King of LIFE.  It will be a gathering of weakness, to be sure – but through the gospel – it will be a different kind of weakness.  O God be with the Luster family, the Harmony family, the Kingsport community, and with your servant Mark who gets the privilege of ministering the beautiful, glorious gospel to weak people.  Sure, they will be what they are (weak)… but it’ll be different.  Hallelujah!

weaker still

I just watched Kori walk out the door to take Lina to her kindergarten orientation.  My first child off to school.  This is a different kind of weakness and dependency that I have never known.  O God, she has always been yours before ours and I am weak at the thought of how dependent I am for your grace to carry her smile and laughter and beauty and joy and innocence (yeah right) into an environment that I can’t control.  Take Lina… O God… she is yours and is no less weak than I am.

my BIGGEST weakness

Just so you know… yesterday my wife corrected my blurred vision (see below) about myself.  She articulated what I know to be my biggest weakness.  She said, ‘Jim, why is it that you genuinely long to help others see Christ in their weakness, but in our own home – you won’t allow weakness.’  (Between the lines: “you demand a strong wife and strong kids because you want to have a strong home, because you THINK you’re strong.”  She’s right.  Sorry Kori.  O God, govern my response to weakness in my own home.)

Your BIGGEST weakness (at least today)?

weakness in community

I was with a group last night, corporately doing some training.  We were studying Mark 8:22-33, the incredible text in the gospel of Mark where Mark literarily (not literALLY) uses the blind man at Bethsaida as a living parable of Christ’s disciples.  In the text, Mark tells of the blind man’s 2 stage healing.  Jesus first touched his eyes, only for him to see ‘trees walking around like people.’  (How did he know what trees looked like?!)  Jesus touched his eyes again, and his 20/20 vision set in.  Why 2 stages (the only 2-stage miracle of Christ)?  Because the literary parallel is in the immediate context: the disciples.  We would think that they would be seeing straight by this point – but they are going through their own ‘stages’ of progression out of spiritual blindness.  Just before the story of the blind man, Jesus had played his version of 20 questions with his boys (only 7 Qs) to emphasize that they don’t see as well as they think they do.  The little game culminated in: “Do you not yet understand?”(8:21)  Their vision was blurry – not unlike the man who saw ‘trees walking around like people.’  Of course, just like the progressive miracle of sight restoration, so Peter in 8:29 progresses out of his blur to glimpse Christ with clarity.  Who do you say that I am?  You are THE Christ!  Throughout Mark, the denseness and blurred vision of the disciples is frustrating (or it makes us proud, thinking we could do that much better), but in an instant by grace Peter saw Christ for who he was (‘flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven’-Matt. 16:17).  Of course, Peter’s clear vision of Christ immediately gave way to what he wanted to see of Christ (he didn’t want to see Christ suffer and die – so he rebuked him).  And there we have it… the ebb and flow of spiritual blurriness among God’s people.  Like Peter, by grace we see Christ, then we see him the way we want to see him (blur).  Or, by grace we see our world according to his Word, then we see our world according to our flesh (blur)…

Anyway, the text got us talking and then got me thinking.  We talked about how imperative it is for us to discuss our blurred spiritual vision in community.  Because on our own, we assume clarity of vision.  I can’t know what I don’t quite see (because I think I KNOW what I see – of God in his Word, of myself in his Word, of my culture in his Word) apart from community.  I need others to check my spiritual prescription.  Because what I think I see may not be what is really there to be seen.  (AND no, I am not implying that we postmodernize the gospel to the point that whatever each community corporately sees is necessarily the truth to be seen.  The truth has been objectively provided for us by God in his Word – but that objective truth has been provided for his community, not just his individuals!)

OK, so here is the link to weakness.  I can’t accurately see or understand my weaknesses in the flesh apart from community.  Because I may see it, but I can only see it from my angle (which for me is usually a very self-defensive angle).  OR, I may see it and not know what to do with it (i.e. how to find Christ and his gospel in it).  OR, I might refuse to see it (i.e. I think something is my ‘strength’ when I need others to show me it is a glaring fault of prideful weakness).  I need community because I have blurry vision about my own weaknesses which leads to blurry vision about the gospel!  I need to be weak in view of others, so that they can (GENTLY) use God’s Word to help me diagnose my idols and deficiencies and poor Christ-sight, and then prescribe the gospel with particularity! 

emmaus revisited

A couple of months ago, I began doing ‘sociographic research’ on the west side of the Lehigh Valley.  Demographic research includes numbers and data, sociographic research generally entails talking with people.  So I met with the Borough Manager and Police Chief.  All I can say is that it far surpassed my expectations.  Every pastor ought to speak with township officials every 5 years simply to discern their angle on the needs and changes in the community – not to mention putting community leaders in a position of honor.  I was able to show them how thankful I was for their service and to honor their knowledge about the very city that I too feel responsible for (though spiritually and redemptively).

Here’s how it went down.  In sum, it turned into an informal counseling (or at the very least, listening) session.  Give a police chief 30 minutes to tell you what is on his heart and you will see him bleed his passions about the broken homes and kids on the streets, etc.!  It was eye opening.  I approached the meeting by promising that it would only be 30 minutes and that I had nothing to sell or even advertise.  I simply wanted to tap into the wealth of knowledge of my community leaders and to communicate to them that we desire to be a church(plant) that is a blessing to the community rather than a church that resents the cultural changes in most of our communities.  A church can’t fully bless the community if it is limited to its own perspective of what the community really needs.  I asked these 5 questions:

How has the community changed and how do you expect the community to change in the next 5 years?  What are the two or three most pressing problems of this community?  What are you afraid of regarding the future for this community?  What services are lacking?  Who else might I contact? 

The two men I met with were delighted to answer those questions.  Even more, they were encouraged that a townsperson cared enough to access them about community needs.  Here is the synopsis from my meeting that I have filed away…

First, both the police chief and borough manager felt that they weren’t giving me a good picture of Emmaus because they were sharing primarily its difficulties and needs.  They kept interrupting the conversation that “90% of the citizens are incredible.”  It almost felt like a counseling session, giving these two guys a chance to unwind about issues they deal with daily.  They were greatly appreciative of my interviewing them and treating them as experts who have invested in the community.  They were thankful for a church that desires from the beginning to be a source of renewal for the community – a blessing, not an isolated body.  They kept bringing the conversation around to the need for churches… whether they feel that way or they just didn’t know how to talk with a pastor, I couldn’t tell.  Before I left, I shared with them that we were praying for their streets and their community.  We shared excitement about my family moving to N 5th street.  An incredible feeling to believe in God’s kingdom renewal of the city/borough these men serve… knowing the gospel is powerful to transform!  Incredible to be doing this now, when there is no church yet to even solicit.  The two issues they were most passionate about were the need to engage the youth (in a broken family culture) and to enable this old PA-dutch community to deal with the influx of minorities from Allentown, etc.  Youth and multiculturalism were the two most pressing issues – are those not issues that the church can engage!  Praise God!

Citizens of the kingdom of heaven, pray for Emmaus (or your community).  Pray for its community leaders!  Do your own sociographic research on the streets and in the marketplace and in the town hall of your community!  Is your city your Jerusalem over which you weep and watch and pray and minister?  (O, and the need for this mindset is equally great in the BIG urban, small urban, suburban and rural contexts!)

“Everybody Medicates” – Ross King

I said yesterday that I would write about the needs of my city Emmaus… but now I just want to listen to a song.  Thanks Alex Burdine for the sales pitch for your friend Ross.  Ross, thanks for a song about the necessity and power of the church to be missional in her weakness (“everybody medicates unless the church becomes a place where we are safe and free to say that we’re not OK“).

Listen at

http://rosskingworldtour.blogspot.com/2007/08/as-promised.html

Everybody Medicates
Words and music by ross king

A pot of coffee starts his day off right
A cigarette at 10 and 3
A drink or two will get him thru the night
It’s simple chemistry
She is a whirlwind of activity
She rarely finds the time to rest
Never too much responsibility
That’s when she’s at her best

Everybody medicates, everybody medicates
And most of us will suffocate beneath the weight
Everybody medicates unless the church becomes a place
Where we are safe and free to say that we’re not OK

He is successful in his line of work
He’s clocking sixty hours a week
He is a leader in his local church
And everybody sees
She’s flipping thru the fashion magazines
Before she heads out to the mall
She’s searching for a new identity
Seems like she’s tried them all

Everybody medicates, everybody medicates
And most of us will suffocate beneath the weight
Everybody medicates unless the church becomes a place
Where we are safe and free to say that we’re not OK

One tree
That’s all He keeps from us
And somehow it is driving us insane
Fig leaves have never been enough
To cover up our nakedness and shame
Who are we fooling with this game?

She skips a meal or two and no one knows
It’s been this way for quite a while
She’s finally fitting into last year’s clothes
Too bad they’re out of style
He looks at pictures on the internet
He needs it much more than he should
He’s so surprised no one has caught him yet
He wishes someone would

Everybody medicates, everybody medicates
And most of us will suffocate beneath the weight
Everybody medicates unless the church becomes a place
Where we are safe and free to say that we’re not OK

©2003 ross king all rights reserved

Power in Weakness – by Andrew Murray

I ran across this quote from Andrew Murray’s article, “Power in Weakness.”  Wow.  Yeah, I don’t want to be a strong Christian.

 “There is almost no word that is so imperfectly understood in the Christian life as the word weakness. Sin and shortcoming, sluggishness and disobedience, are given as the reasons for our weakness. With this interpretation of weakness, the true feeling of guilt and the sincere endeavour after progress are impossible. How can I be guilty, when I do not do what it is not in my power to do? The Father cannot demand of His child what He can certainly do independently. That, indeed, was done by the law under the Old Covenant, but the Father, under the New Covenant, does not do that. He requires nothing more of us than what He has prepared for us to do in His Holy Spirit. The new life is a life in the power of Christ through the Spirit.

      The error of this mode of thinking is that people estimate their weakness, not too highly, but too meagrely. They would still do something by the exercise of all their powers, and with the help of God. They do not know that they must be nothing before God.1 You think that you have still a little strength, and that the Father must help you by adding something of His own power to your feeble energy. This thought is wrong. Your weakness appears in the fact that you can do nothing. It is better to speak of utter inability, for that is what the Scriptures mean by the word “weakness.”

Emmaus, PA – my city

Emmaus, PA.  I haven’t been to all the coffee shops.  I haven’t eaten in all the restaurants.  I’ve only met with a few of the pastors.  I have only met with one school Principal.  But I pay taxes, and my child enters the school district in 2 weeks (kindergarten).  And there’s the handful of neighbors whose names I actually know (many who know Christ and are active in churches – praise God!)

Emmaus, Pennsylvania is small – but it is my city.  God forgive me for never feeling that way about the places I have lived in the past.  The reason I know I have never felt this way before is because I have never known the sense of responsibility that I know now.  When the first-person possessive is linked with something, while it could connote idolatry and pride, it often brings with it the reality of responsibility.  My wife and children (privileged responsibility); my job (responsibility); my car (responsibility – even if it means paying for the 60,ooo mile excessively expensive job – when I’ve avoided it and the car now has 79k)… you get the picture.  Responsibility.

Emmaus is my city (responsibility before God).  And as I wrote a while ago, the question has stirred in me: Does my city exist for me (give me good coffee shops, pick up my trash, etc.), or do I exist for my city (engaging it, celebrating it, anticipating God’s kingdom redemption in it)?  Does the future church plant exist for the city, or does the city exist to provide people for a church?  For the first time ever, not only are the questions powerfully clear, but so is the clarity of the answers!

What must it have been like when Christ journeyed down the hill, set his eyes on his city, and wept for it?  O God, in this season, you have made it abundantly clear that Emmaus (and the East Penn /Lower Macungie west Valley region) is our Jerusalem.  How now will our life on mission develop in our city?  

There is no thrill like risky responsibility without fear.  I guess that’s what life looks like through the lens of the gospel when we know that we HAVE seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (through our salvation) and we WILL see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (through the redemption of culture and communities – even old towns). 

Psalm 27:13 -14 (ESV) – “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!  Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (O, and at the time the ‘land of the living’ for David was his Jerusalem – responsibility.)

More on the cultural/societal needs of Emmaus tomorrow… RESPONSIBILITY.

new look

I heard the other color/page was a little small in print and difficult to read the comments… let me know if this is better.