Monthly Archives: January 2011

the sound of renewal

What is the sound of renewal?

What should we be listening for when God’s people gather as a collection of individuals all uniquely exposed to the renewal of the gospel in their lives? Or, what should I be listening for when I sit across a table at Starbucks, or Perk on Main (our local coffee shop), talking to a broken person whom God is redeeming in the present through the past work of Christ and the continual work of the Spirit?

I have been thinking about this.

I have been wrestling.

As regards West Valley PCA… we are a church that is growing.  Every Sunday when we gather, the critical mass is expanding such that the SOUND of our gathering should crescendo just the same.  But what is that sound?  What is the sound of a people gathered by God, whom he has been renewing daily, personally, and thus corporately?  How does renewal sound when we call to God in worship, or sing in celebration, or collectively repent in liturgical prayers?  How does renewal sound in small groups and coffee shop meetings?

I want to know the sound of renewal that grumbles within people.

We should know the sound of renewal that the gathered of God should be known for.

While pondering all this, I happened upon Ezra 3.  Immediately, I knew I was being informed by the Word of God about the SOUND of RENEWAL.  This is the hope of my soul… that I would pastor a church that has the acoustics of redemption.  That my family would sound this way… and be part of the sound.

It’s an honest sound, to say the least.  But let me not analyze it…I will leave the Word of God to you.  The context of Ezra 3 is simple: God’s people have been brought back from exile, and are privileged (by the decree of Cyrus) to rebuild the temple which had been destroyed.  Upon the completion of the new foundation, the people all gathered in worship.  They were back in the land promised them by God!  They were together!  They were experiencing a renewal of God’s plan and place and presence!  What was that sound???

Ezra 3.10-13 – And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord… they sang responsively, praising God and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”  And all the people SHOUTED with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.  But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, WEPT with a loud voice… so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.

Yep.  That sounds about right.  God’s people, renewed by God yet struggling because it is all still so broken, so imperfect, so not quite finished.  Yeah, to me as the pastor of West Valley PCA and as a man and husband and father… what I hear from the renewed is all so, indistinguishable.  People weeping as they long for MORE, God, please MORE!  People shouting as they taste freedom and see the glory of God in their lives for the first time.  That is the life.

Sounds like renewal to me.  Sounds like reality til Jesus returns and the weeping fades away (Revelation 21)…

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calling or quitting

I vacillate too many times a week because IT is hard.

I vacillate between calling and quitting – that is, pastoral ministry.

I don’t mind the sound of that, even for people whom I serve as their pastor.  In fact, I am beginning to wonder if my wandering thoughts toward quitting pastoral ministry (for reasons that are too familial and spiritual and personal for a public blog) is in reality, my beginning to wrestle with the reality of God’s calling over my life, in the truest sense.

So I am not saying I am quitting.  I am saying that the thought of quitting makes me wonder about having been CALLED by God in the first place.  Does that make sense?  Maybe when I never wrestled with the difficulty of how gospel-living and ministry was supposed to be a battle of spirit-vs-flesh, of Spirit-vs-world… maybe when I never wrestled within my soul and tired body about that normal reality in a world of Christ’s already-not-yet kingdom, I never really understood calling.

Hmm.

Our home has been trafficked by more spiritual upheaval than I thought possible.  Most always my sin.  But how about loneliness now.  How about exhaustion… too little sleep.  How about hospitality of a homeless person to recently BREAK me of how I don’t want to be inconvenienced… at all.  How about not pastoring my wife and kids as well as I should.  How about having the shortest leash in the world for 120 adults.

So I think “quit” when in reality I guess I am looking up to God – my Father – for help about “calling.”  Is this how things go in an inaugurated kingdom?  Is this my immaturity as a pastor of only 8 years?  Is this the collision of kingdom-v-world that will always be, whether one is a banker, a welder, an at home mom, or a pastor?

Calling or quitting… crashing makes me ask.

Sometimes I wonder what Timothy was going through in Ephesus when Paul said to him:

Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that you have, which was given you by prophecy when the elders laid their hands on you (CALLING/ORDINATION).  Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.  Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.  Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4.12-16)

That sounds so hard.  Timothy, were you vacillating?

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reposting Nouwen, wounded healer

A little known fact of my weakchristian blog is that over the few years, thousands and thousands of hits have come from people who have search-engined for “wounded healer, nouwen.”  As I re-enter blogging, I decided to re-read a post from 2007, which has garnered more clicks than anything I have posted.  It came after I had read Henri Nouwen’s 1979 book, Wounded Healer.  I am pasting it below, as it was a bit startling for me to read four years later – four years in which I have seen the awesome tumult of the Lord’s work in planting a church in the secular, postmodern, broken, excessively spiritual and busy-professional culture of the Northeast.  The crazy task of conversational pastoring. Wow how the words apply…

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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.

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ok, where have I been

Its been a long time. A year since a genuinely written post.  My reason is singular… true weakness, wherein God enables us to boast in his strength, doesn’t lend itself well to talking much, or writing.

Ironically, in the silence, I have come to believe much of what I have written about in the past – that I am not a strong Christian, but that I am a student, teacher and preacher of a strong gospel that I have only ever known or wanted to know in the depth of my weaknesses.

Now, I will write again.  I will reflect again.  It will be much shorter, much less performance.

May my writing about your/my struggles in a broken world of pain  – and the necessity of our turning to a strong gospel in the wilderness – not be a pursuit of experiencing some … err … cathartic literary strength.  No more.

Check back.  I will write more.  I needed to walk away to walk back.

I needed to walk into the weaknesses of my life, into the weaknesses of the church I pastor, into the weaknesses of my family in this materialistic, obsessive, lustful culture.  And when I did, I found that true weakness sobers.  But apparently that shouldn’t silence ones calling so much as solidify it.  Sobriety is the only angle from which to really speak about weakness and the renewing strength of the gospel.  As Paul said to Timothy:

The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

So apparently sobriety, suffering and a messy familial and pastoral ministry is the look of God’s renewal in this broken world; that is, until sobriety is replaced with shouting when all has been made new and totally RIGHT by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirt.

Yeah.  That’s a bit more honest than some winsome wordiness about weakness.

So maybe we should talk about it again…