Monthly Archives: September 2007

the wilderness of relatability

Long posts tire you, I’m sure.  This will be short.

Mark 1:9-13 astounds me.  When I am in the wilderness of weakness and temptation (or just fed up with the pain and suffering and brokenness around me), I feel as though I have been allured by Satan or the secular culture or whatever…  which is why it beautifully shocked me that Christ, after his baptism (You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased), was immediately driven out into the wilderness of life by the Spirit.  God did not tempt Christ, nor does he tempt us (James 1).  BUT, God the Father drove our Savior the Son to the place of temptation – the wilderness of relatability.  Yes, we serve a High Priest who can sympathize with our weakness, because he was tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).  Where was he tempted?  The wilderness of a weak world filled with sin and pain and temporary idols.   I can relate to that wilderness.  Surely you can relate to that wilderness.  Christ has related to us.  That kind of changes the wilderness, at least for me.

Here’s a quote I got from one of your comments: You will never find Jesus so precious as when the world is one vast howling wilderness.  Then, he is like a rose blooming in the midst of the desolation, a rock rising above the storm.  – Robert Murray McCheyne

He only blooms in the desolate wilderness because he has been there – driven by the Spirit to the wilderness of relatability.  Thanks be to God.

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The pleasure of God in preaching

Kent Hughes, one of my modern day expositional heroes, wrote this preface to his commentary on Mark.  After what I posted yesterday, I pass it on to you as a worthy read.  This should be especially meaningful to any of you who preach the Word and hopefully encouraging to those of you who regularly experience the pleasure of God when you listen to the Word declared.  Thanks Kent.

A Word to those who preach the Word:

There are times when I am preaching that I have especially sensed the pleasure of God.  I usually become aware of it through the unnatural silence.  The ever-present coughing ceases and the pews stop creaking, bringing an almost physical quiet to the sanctuary… 

There is nothing quite like it – the Holy Spirit filling one’s sails, the sense of his pleasure, and the awareness that something is happening among one’s hearers…

What has happened when this takes place?  How do we account for this sense of his smile?  The first reason for his smile is the logos – in terms of preaching God’s Word.  This means that as we stand before God’s people to proclaim his Word, we have done our homework.  We have exegeted the passage, mined the significance of its words in their context, and applied sound hermeneutical principles in interpreting the text so that we understand what its words meant to its hearers.  And it means that we have labored long until we can express in a sentence what the the theme of the text is – so that our outline springs from the text.  Then our preparation will be such that as we preach, we will not be preaching our own thoughts about God’s Word, but God’s actual Word, his logosThis is fundamental to pleasing him in preaching. 

The second element in knowing God’s smile in preaching is ethos – what you are as a person.  There is a danger endemic to preaching, which is having your hands and heart cauterized by holy things…  Though we can never perfectly embody the truth we preach, we must be subject to it, long for it, and make it as much a part of our ethos as possible… When the preacher’s ethos back’s up his logos, there will be the pleasure of God.

Last, there is pathos – personal passion and conviction.  David Hume, the scottish philosopher and skeptic, was once challenged as he was seen going to hear George Whitefield peach: “I thought you do not believe in the gospel.”  Hume replied, “I don’t, but he does.”  Just so!  When a preacher believes what he preaches, there will be passion.  And this belief and requisite passion will know the smile of God. 

The pleasure of God is a matter of logos (the Word), ethos (what you are), and pathos (your passion).  As you preach the Word may you experience his smile – the Holy Spirit in your sails!

                                                                                                                                                                    – R. Kent Hughes

My philosophy of preaching

Why not a little different post?

I am preaching this Sunday at Cornerstone.  In case you’ve never thought through the philosophy of you pastor’s preaching (yep, we all take an angle or were trained in one)…  In case you attend church and just sit there wondering how peculiar it is that people weekly sit for 30 minutes to listen to someone talk (where else in our culture is that a voluntary thing anymore!?)…  In case you wonder why some churches have a series on, say, the Gospel of Mark, while other churches seem to have series after series on something like: “10 ways to have a good marriage” or the “5 greatest needs of our culture” or whatever…   

In case you wonder… I am committed to biblical expository preaching (exposing the Word of God – hopefully – with clarity in its context from the culture in which it was written into the culture in which we live and in which the Word of God still actively speaks by the Spirit).  That means that I love and am committed to preaching through Books of the Bible so that their depth and magnitude and ‘package’ can impact God’s people and so teach people how to read Scripture rather than piecemealing it with this text this week and that text next week. 

I find it releases pressure.  It’s not about my choosing what to preach every week! 

I have seen God work providentially through expositional preaching.  What I mean is, I have seen a sermon series outlined over a 6 month period, and 4 months into the series, a given text on a Sunday spoke directly to an issue in the life of the church or an individual or community that could never have been anticipated 4 months earlier at the ‘mapping out of the series.’!  And not only did the text impact that person’s moment of need – it could do so with all the background pieces of the book already having been examined and understood.

BUT all that is surface blessing and not the main reason.  The reason for preaching expositionally -“exposingly” – is that it emphasizes that we trust God at his word – that his Word is powerful and transforming and that it still matters (every bit of it) today.  Expositional preaching mandates that we preach the whole counsel of God.  When we preach topically, we tend to skip passages that don’t seem to be relevant or are difficult.  Or if we do series after series without going through a book, we find that we reference ‘favorite passages’ – aka prooftexts – and people in our church (if they aren’t reading Scripture on their own) can go years without reading from the first word to the last word of a book like Romans (which was originally meant to be read from first to last).

So, here is my quick philosophy (from the Workshop on Biblical Exposition and my training at TEDS in seminary):

ALL of Scripture is God breathed and useful…  SO, I consider Scripture as the soundtrack of God’s story of his creative and redemptive love for us in Christ for his own glory and pleasure.  Each book in the Bible is a song on the soundtrack.  We would never presume to grasp the meaning of small snippets of the lyrics (i.e. the meaning of a few verses) if we don’t know what the song is about.  SO – my goal in preaching is to preach whole songs at a time (book by book) so that people understand what the song is about as we study various lyrics (verse by verse) each week.  Then the goal of it all is to show how the lyrics of the song contribute to the story of the soundtrack (the gospel)!  And even though people link “expositional preaching” as being meat for maturing Christians and not so relevant to non-believers, I find that to tell the story in its context is exciting to nonbelievers who are discovering that their life-story can be – or perhaps is – a part of the divine metanarrative that sings like no other soundtrack! 

I long for a church plant on the West side of the Lehigh Valley filled with weak and transparent believers (and interested non-believers) who sing the song of the gospel through being ‘exposed’ to the fulness of God in his Word – even through something so foolish as expositional (not excessively flashy but authentic) preaching.   Even though I don’t preach regularly at Cornerstone right now, I am thankful to be able to preach in tandem with Pastor John expositionally.  We are going through the Gospel of Mark right now.  And as I stop blogging and prep for my sermon, here is my single goal: to preach the Word of God with its own authority in its context, getting my points from the text because I believe there is applicational power latent IN THE WORD – kingdom power that births saving faith (among the weak and dead in sin) and renews dependent faith (among the weak and progressively maturing) as the gospel is found from first to last in the Scriptures and not in the pastor’s creativity!

Charles Simeon has said it better,  My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there.  I have a great jealousy on this head – never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding. 

O God, I tremble to just let your Word speak.  But speak.  Please speak.  You and you alone through the preaching of your Word. 

weakness as smallness

Yesterday brotherjohn wrote something interesting (not that sister Sarah didn’t).  He commented (You Write… post)on his struggle to live out the strength of Christ before others when he lives a ‘put together’, not so weak life.  I can only tell those of you who don’t know my brother that I have always felt his non-weak life to be evidence of the gospel and not of his pride/performance.  But still, when we are not visibly weak, how do we show forth the strength of Christ?  What weaknesses do we have to boast in?  As brotherJ said, we know we can’t sin more (in weakness) so that grace may about more (in the strength of Christ)! 

Well, I was reading in Job this morning.  Not for brotherJ but for my own need to consider and reconsider and reconsider and reconsider the magnitude of my Creator and Redeemer.  In so doing, I was struck by something.  First, when God responded to Job in chapters 38-41, he said nothing about Job’s righteousness or unrighteousness.  Nothing.  Interpretation: he said nothing about Job’s weakness as being a sin issue.  That’s what his friends had errantly been saying the entirety of the conversation.  So we would expect it to have been the first thing God responded to – the whole righteousness issue!  But rather than speaking to Job’s weakness in sin, God spoke to Job’s smallness!  “Where were you…  Where were you…  Where were you…” 

It hit me just as my “small” 3 year old was walking down the stairs.  My weakness (and yours brotherJ) has just as much to do with my smallness than with my sin.  Probably more.  In fact, I like Job, need to be brought to full repentance daily  about who I really am.  I am small and weak before the Almighty God.  Consider Job’s repentance:

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’  Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  Hear and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.  I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. 

Woah.  I am so used to only repenting of my sin.  I am so prone to cataloguing my weakness as only being weakness in sin.  But what a model is Job.  He was brought to full repentance of his weakness not because he looked upon his sin in a microscope, but because he saw the scope of his smallness before God.  That has always been and will always be my weakness that I can showcase before others (in a world where people are big). 

So, may my prayers change.  May I repent of smallness.  Then I repent of sin.  Throught it all I am repenting of weakness.  Thank you God for speaking through your Word.

You write…

I am teaching a study at church – Living the Gospel in Weakness.  We are primarily studying Paul in 1-2 Corinthians, with a couple of Psalms here and there…  Here are the break downs (I’ll spare you the long list of texts connected to these themes).

I.   The normalcy of weakness (for the purpose of living the gospel with normalcy)

II.  The necessity of weakness (faith as dependence)

III. Boasting in weakness (far beyond understanding weakness!)

IV.  Ministering in weakness (the angle of effective ministry to a weak world)

V.  Worshiping in weakness (worshiping from a posture of poverty not performance)

OK.  Me blog no time today. 

BUT, as I am getting quite a few readers, it might be nice to turn this on you.  It actually would help me in my teaching of this study (and in this being a virtual community of transparent gospel-dependers) if some of you would “comment” on how you have experienced the normalcy of weakness such that you are able to live in the power of Christ.  Or, how you have learned that you actually need your experiences of weakness (necessity) so that you will depend only on Christ and his righteousness to cover you before God.  Or, how you have been able to naturally minister to another person in their weakness precisely because of your gospel magnifying weakness.  Or, how you have experienced rich worship of God because you had to – in your weakness and frailty – come to him from a ‘posture of poverty’ and trust that he received you as a worthy worshiper in Christ.

Perhaps this is a blogging attempt at ‘gospel hospitality.’  This is about making room for you to share your weakness so that we recognize our common condition and so cling to Christ as our only strength.  Be brief.  Be bravado.  Be wordy.  I don’t care.  Just want to give you room to share…

Henri Nouwen – hospitality for weak people

I finally finished Nouwen’s short read, The Wounded Healer, and thought it worthy to pass on to you some of Nouwen’s parting thoughts about pastoral ministry from weak people to weak people.   While Nouwen’s conclusion certainly emphasizes the way that Christ habitually ministered to the wounded – the weak and broken and poor and blind and downtrodden – and that we are called to minister in the same way but out of our woundedness, I found it surprising that he didn’t emphasize the woundedness of Christ for our sin.  He was wounded for our transgressions…

Even so, Nouwen nails the “necessary mindset” of the minister (at least this one).  He calls us to minister not so much with authority as with hospitality to the wounded that leads to community among the wounded.  I was introduced to this thought of ‘gospel hospitality’ at the GCA churchplanting conference in July (Martin Ban, planter of Christ Church in Santa Fe).  If you are interested, while I haven’t listened to all of it, Drew Goodmanson of Kaleo Church (Acts 29 network) in San Diego recently preached a sermon on how the gospel mandates that we make room (hospitality) for people who are different than us so that we might engage them with the gospel – because making room for ‘the different’ is what God did for us in Christ!  The gospel is divine hospitality, if you will. Go to http://www.kaleochurch.com/sermon/gospel-hospitality-making-room.

Anyway, this is good stuff that has everything to do with being weak and ministering the powerful transforming gospel of Christ to a weak world.   Nouwen writes it like this:

Many people in this life suffer because they are anxiously searching for the man or woman, the event or encounter, which will take their loneliness away.  But when they enter a house with real hospitality they soon see that their own wounds must be understood not as sources of despair and bitterness, but as signs that they have to travel on in obedience to teh calling sounds of their own wounds…

From this we get the idea of the kind of help a minister [believer] may offer.  A minister is not a doctor whose primary task is to take away pain.  Rather, he deepens the pain to a level where it can be shared.  When someone comes with his loneliness to the minister, he can only expect that his loneliness will be understood and felt, so that he no longer has to run away from it but can accept it as an expression of his basic human condition [WEAKNESS/WOUNDEDNESS… CALL IT WHAT YOU WILL]…

When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.  Through this common search, hospitality becomes community.  Hospitality becomes community as it creates a unity based on the shared confession of our basic brokenness and on a shared hope.  This hope in turn leads us far beyond the boundaries of human togetherness to Him who calls people away from the land of slavery to the land of freedom [IN CHRIST THE ONE WHO WAS WOUNDED FOR THE WOUNDED!].

A Christian community is therefore a healing community not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains [WEAKNESSES] become openings or occasions for a new vision [of Christ in the gospel!].  Mutual confession then becomes mutual deepening of hope, and sharing weakness becomes a reminder to one and all of the coming strength.

A long quote.  But at least re-read the last paragraph.  Thank you Nouwen (who surrendured his life not just to articulating, but living ‘hospitality’).  May we give ourselves to gospel hospitality so that “the sharing of weakness becomes a reminder to one and all of the coming strength” in the final and full redemption of weak people by The Wounded Healer! 

“family plant” before “church plant”

Kori and the kids and I were walking a few days ago and we found a quaint street with detached old homes (attached to good-sized lots).  Then came the deceivingly disastrous thought: “wouldn’t it be nice if we had found a house on this street.”  You have to understand something.  We have never lived in a “city.”  Some would laugh at the thought of Emmaus as a city, but to me, it is.  Any place where up-to-date zoning regulations are absent you have city life.  (In a 2 block radius from our house there are homes, a mom-pop store, an elementary school, a church, a corporation’s warehouse/offices, an apartment building, a playground, a mechanic’s shop, and a Post Office.  In a 3 block radius – add restraurants and coffee shops and retail stores…) Any place where cars are parallel parked in front of your house 24/7, you have city life.  We have never lived in such place!  So, on our walk, it took a nanosecond to observe a street without parallel-parked cars, without “back alley corporation traffic”… to begin the wishful thinking of a less cityish street.  What a bummer of a thought. 

Because, we love our home and neighborhood street.  We love that we live on a street with KIDS…  with neighbors who are from all walks and ages and interests… We have a lively “city block.”  So WHY the momentary yearning for the quasi-city/quasi-suburban, bigger lots, spread out houses, no-parked-cars kind of set up?  Because we are going through the emotions of a family plant that must precede the church plant!

Where does LIFE happen?  We are committed that it happens at our home.  Where does church happen?  We are committed that it does not just happen in a building on a Sunday, but that it happens at our home on our city block.  Why do most of us (me, me, me) get so easily derailed from a kingdom mindset among our neighbors and communities?  It happens slowly and gradually… we begin to wish for this and that, to live on that street with the less congested feel… to the point that we don’t actually live on our street anymore.  We live only IN our house, not AT our house which is attached to the neighborhood.  And when LIFE happens in such an isolated internal place, the thought goes that we can take it anywhere (even two streets over).  But LIFE happens where God has planted us (at a house in a neighborhood).  So we can’t even dream of taking LIFE a few streets over, or a few communties over, or states even… you get the picture.  When God plants the family, he plants LIFE in a place, surrounded by people that need exposure to His-kind-of gospel family!

All this is to journal the thought that, right now, after living in the Lehigh Valley for a year and now living in our new (old) house for a couple months – we are feeling the effect of a family plant (the thoughts of loneliness, being far from family, how’d we get here, etc. etc.) that we know must precede (and supercede) the church plant that will be coming over the next year. 

Water the plant Jim, you’re the father and lover and caretaker of the plant in the soil in which it’s been planted.

a fine line

By now, most of you know my passion for the church’s engagement of the culture.  I long for our church plant to exist for the gospel-transformation of the city/culture where God has called us to live – but to do so requires listening, living among, and appreciating the unique culture around us.  It requires that the people in my neighborhood and soccer referee culture (world) know that I genuinely count them as my friend.  As my blog name makes clear (and also creates many interesting conversations with churched people), the angle by which I view the journey into cultural engagement for the sake of gospel transformation is weakness.  I reveal my weakness and need in hopes that my friends (outside of the church in the world) will in time reveal their weakness and need to the point that we unitedly trip over the gospel together.

But that brings with it a correlated weakness for which we (I) must continually pray for clarity and boldness and purity.  Consider James 4:4-5Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  Or do you suppose it is for no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell within us.”

I offer no commentary here.  I just bring it to the fore.  This is one of my struggles.  I believe with all my heart that the people in our world’s communities and cultures need gospel-loving friends like you and me.  It is our responsibility to initiate such friendship.  God has put me here, and you wherever you are for such kingdom relationships!  But then… welcome tension!  Our friendships have the power to affect what we love.  And if we befriend people who love the things of the world… beware: in time our commitment to gospel-purposed friendship deceivingly can become a disquised friendship with the world.  Some days I wonder where the line is.  Other days I know I am standing on it.  Other days I know I am so concerned about that “worldly friendship line” (especially in the eyes of other Christians) that I am a churchified friendless pastor who is making no impact on my community. 

O God who yearns jealously over my soul which you have redeemed – thank you for being the Friend of sinners and may you guide me by your Word and Spirit when I befriend people in this world.  May I not look like a drunken fool trying to walk the fine line of kingdom ministry and cultural engagement.

The Wounded Healer – Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen, the renown and reflective catholic priest, wrote a classic in 1979 called The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society.  His thesis is simple: “In our own woundedness [weakness!!] we can become a source of life for others.”  If you have never read Nouwen – it will stretch you.  Theologically – OK, he is not protestant nor committed to covenantal reformed theology – BUT he had a passion to enable catholic priests and ministers to think differently about their ministry and the people/culture to whom they minister.  Thus, there is much we can learn from him. 

In Wounded Healer Nouwen writes in 1979(!) about the cultural shift we are living in TODAY.  He writes about how the minister of tomorrow must have a different angle of ministry from ministers in the past if he would engage the “nuclear man” (his term for “postmodern man”) in today’s disjointed, pluralistic, internal, tribal society.  Just thought I would share one part of the book.  So here you have it: a catholic priest wrote something the year after I was born about the kind of weakness-ministry that I am trembling before God about today as I contemplate gospel ministry in our needy and weak world.  The backdrop of Nouwen’s words is a discussion about how, for the “nuclear man,” culture has shifted.  The culture of traditional and authoritarian spirituality has become a culture of internal spirituality.  Does that not sound post-modern and accurate?!

Since the God “out there” or “up there” is more or less dissolved in the many secular structures, the God within asks attention as never before… The first and most basic task required of the minister of tomorrow therefore is to clarify the immense confusion which can arise when people enter this new internal world.  It is a painful fact indeed to realize how poorly prepared most Christian leaders prove to be when they are invited to be spiritual leaders in the true sense.  Most of them are used to thinking in terms of large-scale organization, getting people together in churches, schools and hospitals, and running the show as a circus director.  They have become unfamiliar with, and even somewhat afraid of, the deep and significant movements of the spirit.

In this context pastoral conversation is not merely a skillful use of conversational techniques to manipulate people into the Kingdom of God, but a deep human encounter in which a man is willing to put his own faith and doubt, his own hope and despair, his own light and darkness at the disposal of others who want to find a way through their confusion and touch the solid core of life.  In this context preaching means more than handing over a tradition; it is rather the careful and sensitive articulation of what is happening in the community so that those who listen can say: “You say what I suspected, you express what I vaguely felt, you bring to the fore what I fearfully kept in the back of my mind.  Yes, yes – you say who we are, you recognize our condition…”

When listening man is able to say this, then the ground is broken for others to receive the Word of God.  And no minister need doubt that the Word will be received!  The young especially do not have to run away from their fears and hopes but can see themselves in the face of the man who leads them; he will make them understand the words of salvation which in the past often sounded to them like words from a strange and unfamiliar world.

Thank you Nouwen.  When I was 1, you were calling for pastoral ministry from the angle of ‘weakness transparency.’  What a calling.  What a risk.  What a thrill.  Sign me up.

meditation

Today I went to the top of the Tower at Lehigh University and tried to meditate and pray in a focused way over and for the Lehigh Valley.  I am humbled by my inability to focus and meditate even for 30 minutes.  Apparently I am (to a fault) a doer of the kingdom.  Apparently I don’t recognize how (in)dependent I am until I try for a measly 30 minutes to be totally dependent on God in prayer for the work he would do to fill every Valley with his fulness through the gospel.  Apparently I am so busy thinking and talking and hoping for the gospel to be revealed in weakness that I don’t stop to feel as weak as I am for the Spirit to intercede with groanings before God (even as Christ intercedes with his righteousness) when I pray.  Thank you God for showing me that I am even too weak to meditate on my own… I am too much a lover of my own thoughts and ideas and actions. 

30 minutes on top of a mountain with a view of the churchplant target area and I didn’t know how to meditate and pray.  I guess I know what to pray for…