Monthly Archives: January 2008

O you strong man… who me?

Recently I have been asked: How’s the book coming? 

Answer: I am on an unintentional indefinite hiatus. 

Life is more busy than I thought possible.  Churchplanting proposals are more complicated and real than I thought likely. (It was all supposed to be fun ministry-thinking-stuff, right?  Wrong.  There’s a little more to it than that.)  Cornerstone’s almost-live new website has been time consuming, though I have learned much.   I am reading more and more books that I might learn how to write just one.  Actually, the more I have read, the more I experience God’s reading to me about my heart even as he seems to be writing his new story on it.   Most importantly, I have been too busy learning about my weaknesses to write about them.  That is an understatement.

Most of you know that I am working on Why I don’t want to be a strong Christian: living the gospel in weakness.  Two months ago I gave the first 80 pages to some readers.  I haven’t written a word since. 

But I may pick it up again, and here’s why:  I was reading from the Book of Isaiah yesterday morning, ch. 22.   It is a ghastly chapter about God’s vindictive righteousness toward his own people… in the valley of vision (of all places).  In 22:17, he speaks of his people in the same way he has spoken about the nations from the first word of the book. 

A people of arrogance.  “Behold, the Lord will hurl you away violently, O you strong man.”

I wonder if the past 2 months have been for me the recognition that (though I claim to relate to God in my weakness, and though I constantly angle my gospel-preaching and teaching and counsel toward weakness) I, in reality, have been the condemnable strong man.   I have been the proverbial member of the people of God who finds arrogance in others… so I intentionally angle my ministry toward their latent weaknesses for the sake of gospel self-discovery.  But I failed to notice that I viewed myself as “too weak to be arrogant.”  I failed to realize that my transparent philosophy of ministry was about me the strong man helping others discover Christ in weakness.  No wonder I stopped writing.  No wonder my stomach has hurt due to stress (I have pretended I was strong enough to hold myself together, no matter what I said about weakness).

So yesterday the question was posed to me through Isaiah: 

Am I the strong man whom the Lord could hurl away (22:17) or am I the bruised reed who rests gently in Christ’s perfect grasp (42:2-3)? 

Obviously, I have been both.  I hate becoming weak and dependent (it requires addressing arrogance), but I like being here.  Yeah… that’s how I feel.  I don’t want to be a strong Christian.  I mean that today.

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update time:

I put the application in for the West Valley church plant office (per my Jan 10 post)… You know, the one on Emmaus’ main street, right on the Triangle.  The beauty of it is this: 7 guys joined me last Thursday night for a walkthrough and to assess location-location-location.  Is it really as intriguing as I think?  Is said office spot really advantageous to being a gospel-kingdom blessing to the people who hang out in the coffee shops and developing retail marketplace of the Triangle?

Yes, so it seems.  After walking through – we hung out next door, chatting and listening to the live music at Mas Cafe.  Not bad.  Quite mellow actually.  To a man, we agreed that the space is ideally suited for the plant, well-priced, and even more, that timing (we will not be worshiping as a new body until the Fall) should not deter our acting on it.   The next step, then, is to formally address the CPC elders about their backing.

But is it a blessing to the West Valley, particularly Emmaus?  (it is nice to consider this question before we even exist)

One of us asked the realtor if he thought we would be a blessing or if we were taking a prime spot for retail that would benefit Emmaus’ economy in a way that we simply couldn’t.  He made the point that the space is zoned commercial, not retail… The owner of the building does not want to make the changes to rezone it.  He indicated that most small commercial offices don’t bring people to the downtown (i.e. the previous lessee didn’t, as he ran an internet book store).  In contrast, he thought our church’s office most likely would.  He thought the blessing would be apparent.  Thanks be to God.

There are details yet to be worked out.  It is not done by any stretch, but the possibility is more than a thought now… and I thought some of you might like to know-pray.

This is just the beginning of re-routing where we (I) walk and talk for the glory and extension of Christ’s kingdom of grace and justice and mercy.  Just the beginning.

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Nothing goes with dinner like Vision

This Saturday night, Cornerstone (where I serve on staff) will be holding our annual Vision Dinner.  Much like last year – due to all the planning and administeratering – I am, in part, just looking forward to the dinner being over!  But even more, it’s exciting to anticipate a formal declaration to the congregation that we are moving forward with the West Valley church plant in 2008.  Yep-indeedy. 

My prayers are for my pastor and mentor who will be addressing a church that has no building; that has one extra pastoral staff in addition to himself (me); that has no current youth minister (etc.) why the session of elders sees God calling Cornerstone to have a church-planting vision and why that vision is set in action even now. 

I guess what I am most excited about is the declaration that my role will be changing.  I love my job.  I am learning things I never knew I needed to learn.  I am weak and dependent on Christ more now than when I came to CPC.  But God called us up here for the sake of planting a gospel-centered kindgom-incarnating culturally-apropos church in the West Valley.  Much has already been done in preparation, but it has all been behind the scenes so as not to be a divurgent direction for Cornerstone people to think about (as their life and church IS at Cornerstone).  But now, following Saturday night, it is time to let the cat out of the bag – to more directly inquire of people who sense that God may be calling them to be missional by committing to an embryonic church plant.  It is soon time to gather…

Of course – and I love John Kinyon – my pastor and mentor is excited about the thought of calling Cornerstone to a new gospel-centered missional focus as well.  The Vision night will emphasize how Cornerstone is not just releasing some people to be on mission through a church plant.  Rather, Cornerstone – mother ship herself – is embarking on a new kindgom mission as well. 

2008 will hopefully be about two churches.  Two parts of the Valley.  Two missional callings that hopefully will subsume every gospel-dependent believer who currently attends Cornerstone.

O God, with the announcement and vision declaration on Saturday night (along with the good food/community) would you give us a glimpse of your kingdom spreading through this Valley in ways that we could neither ask or imagine (Eph. 3:14-21).

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learning curve

There’s a learning curve in every are of life.  Family.  Occupation.  Marriage.  Ministry.

I was recently soberly confronted with a lesson I have yet to learn.  Simply put, in the pastoral life – one knows a lot about people and their lives and struggles and needs.  I understand the reality to put a ‘hedge’ around my family so that I can go home at night and play with 3 kids (or go home with an honest intentionality to deal with my own life and struggles and needs).  I have been taught to distance myself, in a sense, from what I know about people so that I don’t absorb what they know in life as my own life.  I understand that.

BUT – I am learning that it is one thing to KNOW life-facts about hurting people… it is another thing altogether to break with them.  To hurt with them.  To fully empathize.  I have often thought I was doing that… but maybe (today atleast) I have been simply knowing about people’s lives – then speaking the gospel into it – then knowing that I had done what was required.

Maybe that’s not what is required.  Twice, recently, I have failed to break alongside someone and to plead God’s mercy with them.  I was satisfied to know their need.  There’s privilege to “be in the know” (you know). 

The beauty of learning is that it alerts me to who I really am and softens me in what I think I know.  I guess I actually learn more when I realize how far down on the curve I am.  And that’s a good thing (kinda fits a weakness theology).

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DO church, or DO kingdom?

I have been doing some reading about the kingdom of God.  Of course, it’s always easier to read about the kingdom than to incarnate the kingdom.  That’s what I was reading about.  The book I was reading pushed me to consider whether, as God’s community, we DO church as a means of doing God’s kingdom… or whether we do church in place of doing the kingdom.  Simply put:

How well do our churches DO the kingdom of God?  BE the kingdom of God?  Have we gotten to the point of doing church (in the Western institutional sense) more than we DO kingdom (in the Acts 2:42-47; Jeremiah 29:4-7; Amos 5:14-15) sense? 

I don’t know the answer… but I know my mind is a muddy mess about the nature of the kindgom-communiy that I hope our church plant will be. 

Not knowing the answer, I pose the question to you: What things would we DO, or not DO, or keep or change… if we sought to DO the kingdom as a church, rather than just do church the way most churches today DO church? 

(By the way, I love the church… so I don’t think that DOing Kingdom and Doing church are mutually exclusive!)

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planting a neighborhood church in our neighborhoods

Yesterday I attended a day-conference with multiple church planters from the Philly region.  Our Church Planter Community gathers monthly to discuss issues germane to Northeast gospel-driven culturally apropos church plants, to pray, and to have round-table discussions with planters about particular struggles they may be facing.  It is a highlight of my time here in PA, to be sure. 

At the community, Rob Burns – Pastor of Realife Church in Philly (SBC) spoke to us about his neighborhood church plant in the Bridesburg neighborhood of the city.  Much I could say about his presentation/case study… but I pass on to you only my renewed passion to have a West Valley church plant that sees the west side of the Lehigh Valley as our Jerusalem wherein we are called to contextualize the gospel AND live our lives.  In fact, who knows what the Lord has in store… but the day before Rob’s presentation, I became aware of an office space in our town of Emmaus that is on the mainstreet drag.  Right on the triangle.  Walking distance from my house!  It is in the ideal spot in our neighborhood to have a church presence.  I’ve even spoken with Ray, the owner of the sweet new coffee shop, Mas Cafe, about how we might try to settle an office two doors down and then bring him an insane amount of business.  Are there any church meetings any more that aren’t in good coffee shops?  Kidding but serious. 

I can’t get out of my mind where I should walk and talk all the days of my life here in the West Valley.  I know that God has called us to a target area of 40,000 people (East Penn).  I know that he has already dropped people throughout that region that we might have a multiple-neighborhood presence.  I hope and pray we will have a worship location more in the heart of Lower Macungie (have to know our geography to understand).  But I am going nuts thinking about the life change and accountability increase (surreal really) that would come if we had a church office in an old mainstreet retail space next to the coffee shops, across the street from the pub and on the very route that hosts community parades and Christmas tree lightings, etc.  In fact, yesterday while in the “two door down” Mas cafe, I studied amongst 5 high school kids working on a project, 2 college students studying, and about a dozen other people in and out.  That alone means nothing… except that there is a spot in our target where people just hang out.  Why not have a presence there!  If God has put it in his story for us to lease that office space for the church plant – it would most certainly heighten our/my responsibility to be a neighborhood pastor of a church committed to bring the gospel to the people among whom I walk and talk every day (ahem, as I would walk back and forth from my house to the office).

O God, your plan alone.  Fog my dreams if I am not praying for neighborhood engagement with your life-transforming gospel more than I am hoping for a hip office next door to nice-smelling coffee beans. 

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laying it all out there

I recently met a new friend, a PCA gospel friend, who started out our conversation by saying: “I’ve read your blog and you really lay it all out there.”  Do I?  Or maybe I’m holding back much more, and my heart – like yours – is darker and more corrupt than could ever be shown?  Perhaps I do do lay it all out there. 

Then a church attendee told me last night that if I ever stop sharing the struggles of my own life when I preach that she will stop listening. She said the same: “Thanks for not holding back.”  To which I said, “Well I do hold back some things.  I don’t tell people how often I beat my wife.”  JOKE.

I don’t even know what  it is to lay it all out there.  But I know that this blog is my place to honestly divulge that I am the worst of sinners with the most need for dependence on Christ.  I really do feel that way. 

Last week was horrible.  Scary thing was – I started the week with multiple announcements to my family that it was going to be the best week ever.  Work on Monday.  Then New Year’s Eve.  Bowl games on Tuesday.  Fiesta Bowl on Wednesday night (atta boy Papa).  Les Miserables on Broadway on Thursday.  Day off on Friday.  Wedding party on Saturday.  The best week ever.

Not really.  See, I have always known that, even on the good days, I have isolated moments of selfishness.  Just moments so I thought – until last week.  Then last week I realized why my life is often a string of selfish moments (you know, with the good life being the links on the chain)… it is a string of selfish moments because I am as self-absorbed as Satan was before he his Fall.  Maybe an exaggeration.  Could be.

I’ll leave the actual selfish tantrums for you to imagine… but I say this to those who know me.  I am a sinner.  I am a husband who fails to love his wife.  I am a dad who is often interrupted by his kids – not because they do a lot of interruptions – but because I am constantly preoccupied with my life that I don’t want to have interrupted!  I am a wrecking ball of dispassion and myopic vision (I am so nearsided I see only me).  Last week, rather than mending the broken or being broken with the broken – I tended to tell the broken to get over it and quit messing up my good week.  O, and then I would go and preach or lead a Bible study or pray with people at the office… 

I am weak.  I need the gospel.  I hurt.  I hurt others.  I am not even laying it all out there… nor do I care if I have laid out too much.  Praise be to God that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.  Praise be to God that when we are weak, he is strong.  Praise be to God that he will finish the work that he has begun in us. 

O, and I’m glad its a new week.  Nothing to hide.  Nothing to fear.  Nothing lie about.  I am the worst of sinners, but he gives more grace. 

O to plant a church where people as unilaterally messed up as me gather to worship and depend on the God of glorious grace for the weak. 

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nice new year – fiesta bowl and les miserables

Apologies for limited posts.  Limited time and memory and pizzaz at the turn of the New Year.

Just want to convey my joy due to two unrelated New Year events. 

Congrats to my father-in-law who worked last night’s Fiesta Bowl as an umpire.  His on the field authority ended last night.  What an honor to work a BCS bowl in his last game!   Hopefully he’ll be a replay official in the years to come – he certainly has the expertise and experience needed.  No more 300 pound college boys… now he just gets to officiate his grandkids and be a mentor to his referee son-in-law (me) who wants to humbly enjoy the college soccer scene.

Secondly, tonight I am taking Kori to Broadway in NYC to enjoy Les Miserables.  I mean, to enjoy hearing yet again the message of the gospel in Les Miz.  If anyone wants to talk for hours about the power of grace-centered redemption as it can be displayed in the secular arts… just bring up Les Miz to Kori and me.  Wow.  One of our first dates some 10 years ago was to Les Miz in Knoxville.  I think she wanted to marry me after that.  Now, when I see her tear up at the power of the gospel (when it is put on display in anything from our kids to Les Miz to my desperate sin being covered by her forgiveness) – I want to be married to her.  I can’t believe I am.

 Happy New Year… enjoy les fiesta!

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