Monthly Archives: October 2007

fed by my child

Yesterday I was fed an adult sized dose of the gospel from my child.  I was angry, inappropriately so (at a messy house with grandparents coming over for the first time!). 

Lina (5) hardly knows how to drive through this complicated life, and yet she put the brakes on for me.  I pass her gospel application on to you:

After she had hurriedly cleaned the play table due to my tantrum, she said, “Sometimes I want a new daddy.”  (Shocked, I said: “I know Lina, it would be nice sometimes wouldn’t it.”)

“No, daddy.  I am not saying that I want a new or different daddy.”  (Then she walked and stood toe to toe with me.  She grabbed my hands and looked up at me the way I often hold her hands and parentally look down at her.)  “Daddy, I love you.  I am not saying I want a new daddy, I am saying that I don’t want you to be so angry.  I want you as my daddy.  I love you.  But when you get angry, you overwhelm mommy.”

In one comment, she showed me my sin, broke my heart over it, called me to repent and then showed me her unconditional love.  The gospel incarnate in a 5 year old gift from God. 

God what did I do to deserve these blessings?  Thank you for letting me try to be a daddy to my 3 gifts, weak as I am.  Thank you for the forgiveness of their overwhelmed mommy.

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the gospel sings

The gospel sings, we just have to add the music.  And it doesn’t matter when or for whom it was written – it just sings.  Below are two of my favorites.

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Grace, words and lyrics by U2 (All That You Can’t Leave Behind)

Grace
She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

Grace
It’s a name for a girl
It’s also a thought that
Changed the world

And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness
In everything

Grace
She’s got the walk
Not on a wrapper on chalk
She’s got the time to talk

She travels outside
Of karma, karma
She travels outside
Of karma

When she goes to work
You can hear the strings
Grace finds beauty
In everything

Grace
She carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips
Between her fingertips

She carries a pearl
In perfect condition
What once was hers
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stains

Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

Grace finds beauty
In everything

Grace finds goodness
In everything
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Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing 

Text: Robert Robinson, 1735-1790
Music: Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second
Tune: NETTLETON, Meter: 87.87 D

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

passing on the wisdom…

This post is less for people reading and more for the one writing (me). 

Kyle Strobel briefly attended TEDS (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) while I was there.  Yep, his dad is Lee Strobel.  His book, Metamorpha is challenging me – not just in the sense that I think the worldview of the church needs to be challenged (I do, continually…), but how my own worldview is often calcified and solidified and I have my own presuppositions about everything.  Yes, I’ll say it – even this weakness thing.  So here are some of his words from Metamorpha by which God engaged me in a devotional way (O, and for me, it helps that Kyle and I are the same age, writing from a similar demographic in the same generation).

 It may sound strange, but I believe much of Jesus’ ministry was about worldview development.  The disciples had a very solidified understanding of what the kingdom would be like (political, military, religious)…  [Jesus helped them deconstruct their worldview.]

We should have some beliefs that we hold strong against critique.  But we must not allow our way of looking at reality to permanently set, and this is just what many of us have been taught to do…  Our worldview can become so inflexible that we see our personal views about the Bible as authoritarian and certain, and we regard any new or different information as dangerous and wrong.  Sadly, what we call “faith” is more like self-trust because it is rooted in our ability to wrap our minds around the things of Christianity and is not oriented toward God himself. 

The longer we live as Christains, the easier it becomes to have rigor mortis of the eyes – to solidify our presuppositions about the Christian life so that we only see the text through our worldview.  In this way, to a very real degree, we fail to see the text at all.

We need an entirely new way to engage reality – one that refrains from arrogance and seeks God’s redemption.  The Christian life is a journey of redemption, a developmental process of growth.  Our visions of life [worldview] should constantly be changing and re-forming [via the Word, Spirit and community];  the enemy of a healthy faith is a worldview that is static and “complete.”

May Kyle’s words not just be used by the younger evangelical generation to critique our spiritual parents’ worldview… but as a critique and challenge for ourselves as God would transform us anew (metamorphosis) through his gospel.  May the weaknesses of our inexperienced-yet-often-dogmatic-worldview be exposed and redeemed.

If interested, Kyle is a cofounder of an online Christian community for transformation: www.Metamorpha.com

redeeming our worldview before redeeming the world

“Our Christianity can often look more North American and modern than distinctively Christian.  Our churches often take their priorities and values directly from the society in which they exist and simply Christianize them.  The story we are telling has everything to do with the worldview we have, and redeeming this worldview should be central to our lives as disciples.”   – Kyle Strobel, Metamorpha: Jesus as a way of life

He says better than me what I am trying to say.  Maybe this whole weak Christian bit is about redeeming a worldview of strength that is so commonplace in our churches.

a hospital not a museum

My dad recently had surgery – though he’s not in the hospital… so this is not about him.  But get better dad. 

I recently had a conversation with a fellow-pastor.  In our banter, he referenced the adage, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”   Kinda goes with the “strong faith is for weak people.”  In fact, he had been told to use the word “strong” as many times as he could in our conversation just to see if he could tick ole weakchristian off.

Most of us have heard the statement before.  A nice saying.  Catchy and memorable.  But actually, it’s a harsh saying that won’t win many points among “strong Christians” if pastors/teachers/believers actually believe and declare such a thing.  It is one thing to say it (it sounds great to the strong and the weak) it is another thing to BE it.  It is anything but normal and expected and politically correct in the church.   Yet it is biblical – “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”(Mark 2:17). 

Imagine the mess if the church were truly a hospital for sick sinners with no place (but the waiting room, I guess) for self-declared healthy people!

Think about it.  This kind of a church has to be oozing and gross and urgent.  It calls all of us to look BOTH at our wounds/weaknesses and those of others (not just our closest friends – would never work in a hospital).  It calls for that kind of self-discovery and divulgence!  We only know a wound if it is visible (external authenticity) and we only know an illness if it has manifestations (internal tranparency).  That is the description of the church.  Kinda like in Patch Adams, all patients are doctors, because no doctor is exempt from being a patient. 

The church is a gospel hospital where the balm is always the gospel and the patients are the doctors who are the patients. 

OK, so that was one conversation last week (about the church being a hospital).  Then this week, Kori (my wife) said to me – “I think I have it figured out.”  Figured what out, I asked.  She said, “Why life and relationships (etc.) often seem harder for believers than unbelievers.”  She went on: “Because if Jesus came to call the sick, not the healthy…  and those who are in Christ’s church are the ones he has called… then we’re all the messed up really sick ones who need his grace the most.”  And I think she’s not funny.  Nice.  (Not implying that those outside the church are healthy and don’t need the gospel – my wife is orhodox.)

So 2 recent conversations, both without Scripture reference, yet both pointing me to Mark 2:17.  THEN, I got up this morning and studied for my sick soul what I’ll be preaching in 2 weeks.  Go figure, Mark 2:13ff.    p-r-o-v-i-d-e-n-c-e.  These conversations will reappear from a pulpit near you.

worship from a posture of poverty

Today I am reminded that I have been created as a worshiping being.  I have been created to worship the God who has revealed himself as worthy of praise and glory.  Isaiah 43:7 speaks of the you and me, those among God’s people – as being “created for his glory.”  And yet, here I sit – in my office, papers scattered and my brain distracted, my time already scheduled…  and I wonder how?  How can I offer worship that is acceptable to God right now?  What is prayerful worship in a moment like this in a place like this at a time like this?  It brought me to Luke 18 – Christ’s parable about acceptable worship/prayer and self-understanding.  It hits me like a brick – I can always worship when I don’t know how to worship… when I don’t know what to say… when I am weak and tired and worn out… when my life looks like anything but an organized church servicee (or pastor for that matter)!  I can always worship from a posture of poverty.  So, today I worship God not by bringing the riches of my unproductive life… I worship by bringing my awareness of my spiritual poverty to his throne.  And for a second, I might actually be grasping grace-dependent gospel-centered worship from my posture of poverty (even from my office of messy papers, messy stories, messy situations, and messy me).   

May your worship be beautiful right now in your place… from your position of weakness.  May you enjoy the posture of poverty that begs us to worship God only through Christ.

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

gospel preaching

Yesterday I went to a church planting seminar that focused on gospel centered preaching.  If you read weakchristian regularly, you’ll recall that a few weeks ago, I posted about my philosophy of preaching.  Surprisingly – I received many comments evidencing your intrigue and/or thanksgiving for the post (even though preaching is not something most of you are passionate about).  So, that being the case, I figured I would pass on some ‘sermonic’ gospel-preaching quotes I received yesterday.  It helps me to type them out – go figure, my fingers help my memory.  Enjoy.

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From a sermon by C. H. Spurgeon: 

” A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done  he went to the old minister, and said, ‘What did you think of my sermon?’ 

‘A very poor sermon indeed,’ said he.

‘A poor sermon?’ said the young man, ‘ it took me a long time to study it.’

‘Ay, no doubt of it.’

‘Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?’

‘Oh yes,’ said the old preacher, ‘very good indeed.’

‘Well, then, why did you say it is a poor sermon?  Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?’

‘Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a poor sermon.’

‘Will you tell me why it was a poor sermon?’

‘Because,’ said he, ‘there was no Christ in it.’

‘Well, said the young man, ‘Christ was not in the text’; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.’  So the old man said, ‘Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?’

‘Yes,’ said the young man.

‘Ah!’ said the old divine, ‘and so it is from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ.  And my dear brother, your business when you get to a text, is to say, ‘ Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis – Christ.    And,’ said he, ‘I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.’ 

Tim Keller: “The Bible’s purpose is not so much ot show you how to live a good life.  The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome… religion is ‘if you obey, then you will be accepted.’  But the gospel is, ‘if you are absolutely accepted [by God in Christ], only then will you ever begin to obey.’  Those are two utterly different things.  Every page of the Bible shows the difference.” 

Steve Brown:  “If I have to tell people either how to be good or how to love Jesus, I don’t even question which to say.  If they love Him and mess up everything else, it’s no great loss.  If they don’t love Him and do everything else right, they can lose eternity.” 

C. H. Spurgeon:  George Whitefield and John Wesley may have preached the gospel better than I, but they could not preach a better gospel.” 

Martin Luther:  “Preach the gospel to yourself every day, because you forget it every day.” 

Jerry Bridges: “When I understand the gospel, I understand that there is nothing I can do to make God love me less, or to obligate God to love me more.” 

D. Martin Lloyd-Jones:   “It does not matter… if you are guilty of murder as well as every other vile sin, it does not matter from the standpoint of being justified before God.  You are no more hopeless than the most respectable person in the world.  Do you believe that? 

The church in a position of cultural weakness

This is long.  But please read all of it slowly.  Chew the cud with me.   

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I was cleaning up my office last Friday, going through the papers and magazines I had set aside months ago… and I found the February/March 2007 edition of byFaith magazine.  The cover caught my eye: Finding Strength Where We’re Culturally Weak.  Interesting, I thought. 

I have wrestled, written and preached so much about weakness as a theological concept, that I inadvertently have found myself considering weakness to be the position of strength in ministering to our weak culture.  But this article took a different tact: we must not simply think about the weakness of the culture, but about the fact that in today’s culture, the church is in a culturally weak position (as regards influence compared to yesteryear). 

The article was written by Sam Wheatley, pastor of New Song Salt Lake Church (PCA).  His thesis was poignant: “In most of the United States, the Christian church is in denial.  We played such a vibrant role for so long that it’s impossible now to believe that our respected position is eroding – and that a generation is growing up around us without even a basic understanding of our faith.  The reality is that North America is now a mission field, and this is a fact we can no longer ignore.”  In other words, the church is no longer in a position of cultural influence and prominence (except maybe in the Bible belt, but even that is questionable) – we are in a position of cultural weakness.  According to the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey: 30% of all regular churchgoers are over 65, while only 11.6% are between 18-30.  Yep, cultural weakness.

So, I guess we put it together like this: The church is called to minister to a weak culture enslaved to sin and pain, and we are to do so from the reality of our being in the position of cultural weakness.  This is money, and here’s why:  How in the world are we to show the culture its weakness and need of the gospel if we deliver our message from the angle of cultural superiority or influence?!  We can’t – not effectively anyway.  Try as we may, it won’t be as effective as our humbly being the beggars at the table (the positionally weak) who serve the culture of this world to expose its weakness. 

Here’s how Wheatley puts it for all of us (not just his missionfield in Utah): 

“Utah matters because it is a preview of America’s future – where historic Christianity exists as a minority faith – where our tried and true ministry approaches are suspect; where something more solid than pragmatism is needed; and where we must determine how to salvage the essentials, retool the important, and jettison what doesn’t matter.”  (Nice writing.)

“Being an outsider, the church regains its role as servant.  When Christianity is not the dominant faith – as in Utah – when it’s forced to take the lowest seat at the table, it renews its understanding of service, and rediscovers the promise that the greatest is least (Luke 22:@3-30).  From a position of cultural weakness, the church renews her dependence on the Lord.”

This has HUGE implications!  I told someone recently that I see myself as a missionary as much as a pastor (and I need more work at being a missionary than a pastor, to be true).  He responded almost inquisitively… So you actually see yourself as a missionary.  Yes I do.  I must, because times of have changed!  I cannot presume that my neighbor or grocery clerk thinks highly of God or the gospel or the church, let alone understands such things!  And then in THAT place, where there are no presumptions about my cultural influence, there is such ministry freedom!   I no longer try to minister the gospel with a ‘tried and true’ mentality.  Rather, it is a no holdsbar mentality – just engage the weak culture through my position of weakness!  Freedom.

According to Wheatley, here are the advantages for the church that is “culturally weak.”

The church becomes a praying congregation.  “Being an outsider drives us to pray, not as a duty to be checked off the list, but as a means of survival.  The church that grasps the human impossiblity of its task will become a praying congregation.”  “Prayer is not the icing for the ministry, it is the bread.”

The church becomes a listening congregation.  “Being an outsider gives us power in evangelism because it forces us to listen.  When we are not driving the cultural agenda, we have the luxury of being able to listen, and to do so with genuine curiosity.” [Why would we ever trade the privilege of listening to individuals in a broken culture for being the aloof drivers of some cultural/political agenda? Never!]

The church has to rethink its practices in light of Scripture alone.  “Because our worship and behaviors are not like those of the normative culture, we regularly have to explain and defend our positions.  The servant church finds only one source sufficient in guiding these interactions – the Word of God.”  In other words, from a position of cultural weakness, the fact that we have “always done it this way” doesn’t gain much creedance.  (This is not to say that church history and practice doesn’t matter.  Integrating history with redemptive cultural creativity is a whole other topic.)

Thank you Pastor Sam.  What truth.  What privilege.  What preference (for me).   We (the church) should not lament being in a culturally weak position!  

Because when we are in the position of weakness, we – as persons and churches – have to rely on the gospel. 

Because when we are in the position of weakness, we get to serve those who think they are strong (culturally, anyway) while we teach them about their weakness. 

For the sake of the gospel, could it be that it is a good thing that, in today’s culture, “our respected position is eroding”?  Well, maybe it’s not a good thing.  But if we are the missionaries we are called to be in this culture of weakness, it most certainly doesn’t have to be a bad thing.    

a culture crying out for the gospel

All truth is God’s truth.  Do we believe that to the extent that we look for the truth of the gospel in all things?  One of my favorite places to look for God’s truth is in the cultural mediums of our society.  For example – music (or the whole broadway play bit is another post).  One of my joys is being free in Christ to cautiously engage the music our culture promotes… and what I often find is that the gospel is everywhere in the secular music scene.  Not so much in the words of the lyrics but in the answer to the life-questions the lyrics prompt.  It never ceases to amaze me how keenly our culture knows that it is in desparate need.  Even more, the more authentic and honest the lyrics – the more the albums sell (if its good music).  I think we could go so far as to say that the subliminal articulation of gospel-need is what sells most culturally hip tunes.  Seriously. 

Check out the lyrics of “Wreck of the Day” by Anna Nalick.

“Wreck Of The Day”

Driving away from the wreck of the day
And the light’s always red in the rear-view
Desperately close to a coffin of hope
I’d cheat destiny just to be near you
If this is giving up, then I’m giving up
If this is giving up, then I’m giving up, giving up
On love, On love

Driving away from the wreck of the day
And I’m thinking ’bout calling on Jesus
‘Cause love doesn’t hurt so I know I’m not falling in love
I’m just falling to pieces
And if this is giving up then I’m giving up
If this is giving up then I’m giving up, giving up
On love, On love
And maybe I’m not up for being a victim of love
When all my resistance will never be distance enough

Driving away from the wreck of the day
And it’s finally quiet in my head
Driving alone, finally on my way home to the comfort of my bed
And if this is giving up, then I’m giving up
If this is giving up, then I’m giving up, giving up
On love, On love

OK, so its a song about love gone bad.  But is that a weakness that connects?  Yep. In relationships gone bad, how weak do we get: “desperately close to a coffin of hope.”  In layman’s terms what does most of our world feel numerous times a day?  “If this is giving up, then I’m giving up.”

And then she penned some lyrics that overtly scream gospel.  The gospel in weakness. 

“Driving away from the wreck of the day and I’m thinking ’bout calling on Jesus.  ‘Cause love doesn’t hurt so I know I’m not falling in love I’m just falling to pieces.”  All truth is God’s truth because that is the gospel.  When we are weak and falling to pieces, we call on Jesus.  To Anna Nalick, what is it to call on Jesus?  It is not a repeat of the cycle of love… it’s not about falling in love at all – just knowing where to turn when we have fallen to pieces.   That’s the gospel, and people in our world get to hear it whenever they listen to Nalick’s album that begins with her famous song “Breathe” (which by the way, screams gospel as well).

All truth is God’s truth.  Listen for it in our culture’s cries (and in the process enjoy the music).

taking gospel naps when we are weak

Today I was reading a work by Edmond Clowney, How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments.  I am on the chapter about the fourth commandment – “Remember the Sabbath Day by Keeping it Holy.”  I found some insightful things regarding my preoccupation with weakness.

I don’t know where you are in your wilderness of weakness.  Maybe neck deep in rising floodwaters.  Maybe knee deep in quicksand.  Maybe scratched and bruised as you bushwhack through life’s jungle.   Maybe frustrated with people who write in metaphor.  I don’t know your weakness – but I KNOW this: rest is possible here and now for those who are in Christ – no matter how exhausted you feel.

Clowney makes the point that not only has God called us to rest on the Lord’s Day… he has told us something about himself through the very Sabbath command.  “The Sabbath marks the fact that God delights in the presence of his people” – enough that he would command us to stop and sit down and just be with him in the middle of the desert (or floodwaters, or jungle) of life.  Say it slowly: “My God delights in me enough that he wants me to rest from surviving this world of weakness to be with him in my weakness as I am.”  Nothing more.  Not Sabbath performance.  Not Sabbath discipline (though it requires it).  Just Sabbath rest.  Can I do that for even 5 minutes without the TV on?  Hmm…

And here’s the thing: this is all more spiritual than it is physical!  Christ fulfilled the Sabbath rest for us – see Colossians 2:16-17.  The Sabbath day (when we rest and recognize our physical weakness) is but a shadow of the rest Christ has purchased and promised to his people (a spiritual rest borne out of our recognition of spiritual weakness)!  Jesus is Lord of your rest because He is Lord of the Sabbath.  This is speaking of gospel rest! 

So I guess we could say it like this.  God has called us to take gospel naps in the midst of our weakness in anticipation of the eternal gospel rest where we will experience the pleasure of God and will pleasure in God forever – no weakness to wake up to then.  “There still remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God”(Hebrews 4:9).

So, try God on this one.  Take a gospel nap in your weakness.  Set aside time.  Preferably on the Lord’s Day before or after all of God’s people gather in corporate gospel rest time (like kindergarten, I guess).  But do it.  Rest in your weakness.  We need physical naps when we are tired.  We need spiritual gospel naps when we are weak. 

When have you let the Lord of Rest recalibrate you for the weakness of this broken world? 

“Only united to Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, can we fulfill all our Sabbath duties, finding rest in God’s presence and entering into an eternal rest that satisfies all the hope of the original Sabbath day of rest.  Not only will we find rest for our bodies, as they are transformed in resurrection, but we will find in Christ both our place of rest and our time of rest…”  – Edmund P. Clowney

There is more here… so email me/comment if a conversation would help.