Category Archives: churches

prayerless words – weak fool

I have spoken many prayerless words in the past 24 hours.  Words matter.  Hard reminder when I see the effect of my mouth on my family.  God have mercy.

When I consider that my words can wound as they do… I am suddenly struck by the words of the Ecclesiastes passage I am working through – “What is crooked cannot be made straight.”  Sometimes that’s how I feel about the parts of myself that don’t add up.   When I am angry, why do I speak.  I know not to.  I do anyways.  What a crooked part of this fallen world.  The things I don’t want to do I do…

Crooked words point to a crooked heart in a crooked world that I can’t make straight.  Once again, weakness as the catalyst for a gospel prayer, hope, dependence and love. 

Today I feel like a crooked pastor because I can’t make things straight in my home… and yet, somehow by grace (in spite of all I said last night) there was a familial experience of peace this morning.  Could it be the peace that God, in his time, will straighten what is crooked.  Will bend my words into obedience and blessing for his glory?  Please do O God.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Ecclesiastes – the treadmill of existence

Can’t wait.  I, a preacher wrestling with my scary dependence on God to cover my inadequacy and weakness and sin… get to preach from Ecclesiastes – where “the Preacher/Teacher (Qohelet)” gives a solid dose of worldly realism… about the spiritual depression that should befall us all apart from the mercy and grace of God in Christ! 

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” – or vapor or mist or meaningless or fleeting or pointless or dissatisfying or broken… call it what you will.  We need the grace of God to crash into our world because simply put, apart from God and his eternal mercy, “Life is full of trouble, and then you die” (Tremper Longman on the message of Ecclesiastes).

I will be blogging through Ecclesiastes as it is a book about weakness.  For those who are weak, it is thankfully confirming to their predicament… it affirms their desperate cry for the gospel.  For those who do not feel weak, it clearly shows us why we may be blind – the vanity of life under the sun is weakening, debilitating, deathly frustrating.  THAT is why we cry out for the gospel.

So pray for West  Valley PCA, as we publicly launch this Sunday, and as we (during Advent of all times) turn to this refreshingly depressing book about life in a broken and weak world where we NEED outside gracious redemption from God which he provided in Christ!  I look forward to combing through the Scriptures and cultural mouthpieces like music and art and literature to show how our world inherently KNOWS that Qohelet is right… it speaks the same language of spiritual depression that only finds its answer in fearing God who will set things right and has done so in Christ (12:7).

thanks be to God for his relevant revealing Word.

Tagged , , ,

West Valley church planter(s)

At our initial West Valley PCA church plant gathering on Sunday night, I tried to be intentionally vague about most things while annoyingly clear about other things.  For example: where will we worship?  vague shrug.  When exactly will we begin? vague shrug (with clearly stated ‘launch indicators’)  What kind of music?  vague shrug.  Frequency of the Lord’s Table?  vague shrug.  Interestingly, I have my hopes and convictions about each of those things… but they are not for now… nor is this church plant enterprise about my hopes.

One of the things that I hope to make excitably clear is that the West Valley PCA project will NOT be about one church planter who (by God’s grace) ministers among core group, out of which a launch team is formed.  Rather, the kingdom prayer is that God would CALL church planters (plural) to engage our neighborhoods with the gospel and Christ incarnate through the body of the church.  I failed, in the midst of the details, to share a text that invigorates me in this regard.

Isaiah 32 speaks of the King.  God’s King.  The King whose kingdom we are to be praying would come to earth in justice and mercy and extravagant unconditional gospel-love. 

32:1 – Behold, a king will reign in righteousness.

But as the text moves on to describe his rule… it includes his people!  … and princes will rule in justice.  EACH will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like strams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.

Notice, it is not merely the King who is the hiding place from the wind.  His kingdom is made up of princes (plural) who shelter others from life’s storm and brokenness, who are like streams of water bringing satisfaction to the people in our dry and despairing world; our weary land!  The picture, for me, is one of Christ being the King of a kingdom made up of princes who PLANT the benefits of his glorious kingdom in our weary context (wherever that might be).

The translation into church planting is simply in the plurality of planters, much the same as the plurality of princes!  O God, would you call out churchplanters, such that “EACH will be like a hiding place from the wind (for their neighbors being blown like tumbleweed), a shelter from the storm (for their family and friends who are sick and tired of being beaten be the storms of guilt and family distress, etc), like streams of water in a dry and weary land (in Emmaus and Lower Macungie and all of the West Valley).  May your work be so ‘pluralized’ among church planter(s) that we embody one unified Christ-centered community!

Tagged , , , , , , ,

prayer of confession

The following is a prayer of confession that we will be using at Cornerstone PCA this weekend.  If you are an attendee, prepare your heart for communal confession by devouring this prayer through the rest of the week.  If you are not… may God richly move your broken heart to cry to him in confession – both individually and corporately (wherever he has called you).   What a God.  What an honest prayer.  What help for weak prayers like me.

Father, teach us not to sin with such abandon. 

We do it all so easily:
pretend, lie,
envy, lust,
criticize, brood,
ignore, deny,
consume, hoard,
defame, distort,
make excuses,
and then expect an easy forgiveness for the asking.

God, forgive us for our deep and utter disregard for your holy character. Keep us from presuming upon your patience with us in our sin. Loving Father, work in us a godly fear that drives us, not to despair, but to you. And teach us the shortness of our days, that we may learn to live them for your glory, and gain from you a heart of wisdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

covet your prayers

I covet your prayers.  Though shalt not covet, except for things that God himself is zealous for. 

This Saturday, the session of Cornerstone PCA (elders) will be meeting for the express purpose of seeking clarity from God in regards to our specific strategy for launching out to plant a west valley church in the Fall of 2008 (Emmaus, Lower Macungie… East Penn School District and beyond).  We all covet your prayers.  Kingdom prayers.  Gospel prayers.  Unity prayers.  Fervent prayers.  Maybe, if any of you would be so able, some of you could simultaneously gather in community and pray together that we would sense God’s picture of a church plant in his place in his time with his gospel for his glory.   Yes, this has been in the works and discussed for some time (it is why we were called to PA in 2006).  But, this meeting is about specific structure and strategy and timing and vision.

Here’s the thing.  Cornerstone has never done this before – the whole ‘release a limb’ kind of a thing.  So pray not only for this church plant in embryo, but for the entire model by which we approach this plant – as it could be reduplicated time and again (probably tweaked time and again).  Pray for a church that is 6 years old, has no building, has only 200ish people and is still compelled by God to plant other gospel-centered churches in our Lehigh Valley even now.   I praise God to be a part of a church that does not want to be a big church, but wants to promote a BIG saturation of the Lehigh Valley with the gospel through numerous healthy and strategically placed church plants.

The gospel-need is great.  The gospel’s power is greater.  The Lehigh Valley cultural church-need is great.  The local church’s missional power in Christ is even greater.  So please PRAY!

please pass this on.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  Thy Kingdom come ON EARTH [through your church] as it is in heaven.

When my soul blows smoke rather than burns with fire…

A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.  – Isaiah 42:2-3 

Still reading the puritan Richard Sibbes, A Bruised Reed. 

Isaiah 42:3 makes the point that Christ will not blow out a faintly burning wick.  In other words, as we have been re-created to burn with a gospel light that evidences Christ’s transforming work through his righteousness and mercy, yet all of our soul-fires are attended with the smoke of corruption.  You and I blow smoke all the time, but if we would be in Christ (by grace through faith), we WILL NOT blow out.  And yet, we have days when the fire is wanting; when no heat seems to emanate.  We simply puff smoke.  That is the reality of our weakness. 

How does it enable us to live the gospel all the more?!  Let me just give you a puff or two from the puritanical pipe I have been smoking…

Some think, when they become more troubled with the smoke of corruption than they were before, therefore they are worse than they were [before].  It is true that corruptions appear more now than before, but they are less. 

For first, the more sin is seen, the more it is hated, and therefore it is less.  Dust particles are in a room before the sun shines, but they only appear then. 

Secondly, the nearer the contraries are one to another, the sharper is the conflict between them.  Now, of all the enemies the spirit and the flesh are the nearest one to another, being both in the soul of the regenerate man… and therefore it is no marvel that the soul, the seat of this battle, thus divided within itself, is as smoking flax (a faintly burning wick)… Therefore, none are so aware of corruption as those whose souls are most alive. 

Let such know that if the smoke be offensive to them, it is a sign that there is light.  It is better to enjoy the benefit of light, though with smoke, than to be altogether in the dark. 

It should encourage us to duty [obedience, worship, awe] that Christ will not quench the smoking flax, but blow on it till it flames. 

And so this day I pray the gospel with my new friend Sibbes:

‘Lord, I believe’ with a weak faith, yet with faith; love thee with a weak love, yet with love; endeavor in a feeble manner, yet endeavor.  A little fire is fire, though it smokes.   Amen.

church plant update

Some of you who have started reading recently may think that weakness and the gospel are what this blog is all about.  True and yet incomplete.  It will pick up in the months to come, but this is also the place where I update YOU on progress toward the Lower Macungie/Emmaus (East Penn School District target area) church plant. 

So here’s the catch up with a few add-ons:

The timing for launching actual worship services (the church is birthed) is still hoped for in Fall 2008.  Sounds like a long way off – but that’s just when the life of the churchplant goes public.  Conception has already occurred.  What I mean is that the picking of a target area to pray over (East Penn SD of the Lehigh Valley) has already occurred.  Meetings with other pastors in the area to share in a bigger kingdom dream with Christ-centered unity has already begun.  Meetings with Lower Mac and Emmaus township managers has already begun to learn of germane community needs that we as  a non-existent church can hope to address with the gospel when God forms us in his time.  (Of course, due to last week’s local elections and the change in the Lower Mac city governement, I guess I need to start those meetings over).

In the months to come, here’s what’s up: 

First, the session of Cornerstone PCA (the sending body) is seeking God’s face over the model of churchplant that we will be.  Will we be a daughter church that some day becomes a sister church with no formal connection except a belly botton (sorry)?  Will we be a multi-congregational church where we are actually (according to the PCA) one church with two functional congregations – where John Kinyon pastors the Center Valley congregation and I pastor the West Valley congregation?  Please pray for the elders and John and me as we are in this key conversation/prayer stage.

Second, fundraising!!!  We are not sure how much fundraising will be needed (because we are unsure who will be with us and what our vision will be for the early years), but surely there will be some.  In order to help with the fundraising, Kori and I will be going to the PCA Churchplanting Assessment in Atlanta in February to be hopefully “assessed and approved” as called (though still weak and needy) church planters in the  PCA.  Then I will begin fundraising.

In the early Spring, I will begin looking for places to potentially worship come Fall 2008.  Also, I (given the sessions approval) will begin seeking a “launch team” made up of those who have a common kingdom-affinity and who long to be committed to the plant.  As the Spring progresses, that group will gather in prayer and vision consideration for the nature of the new church! 

Come summer, we will probably have some “vision barbeque” or whatever you want to call them to introduce the ‘yet to publicly worship’ church to the community and our friends. 

Then, come Fall, Lord willing we will be gathering on Sundays for worship!!!

So, what is far off is not so far away.  It most certainly shouldn’t be far from the center of your and my hearts, if we would be a part of it together.  If you are excited or interested – let me guide your actions and prayer:

1. Pray for a church plant that WILL fail unless God is the one driving it!

2. Pray for the Valley, specifically for God’s work in the hearts of west-siders.

3. Pray for other churches that are already declaring the kingdom-gospel – that they would be creatively faithful and fruitful!

4. Pray for the Cornerstone elders and John and Jim in this early ‘conception’ phase.

5. Pray for your family’s desire to be in a gospel-declaring church where we likewise live the gospel for the onlooking world by being a community that is transparent about our weakness and daily need for the gospel that has saved and sustains us.

6.  Get in a small group on the West Side right now (via Cornerstone PCA, Center Valley PA), as we are already experiencing unity and excitement and a common vision for where God has called our families!

7. Pray for a church that is culturally relevant even as it is biblically faithful – a missional body in a broken world where the gospel alone is our ‘relevant tool’ for ministry!

8. Finally, pray that a church most certainly WOULD be formed in the building God wants it at the time he wants it with the kind of gospel DNA that he wants for it – even if it ends up being a church that you wouldn’t want to stay at due to any number of your personal preferences (I have to pray this  prayer to!).

O God plant your church in your time in our place of life.

community of weakness

“Community” is not just a loaded postmodern word.  It is biblical and should be life for believers – “for we are members of one another”(Eph. 4:25).  Thought I’d share a quote or two once again.  Challenging to be sure, and right up the weakness alley for good reason.

  

   

“Community is the place where our limitations, our fears and our egoism are revealed to us.  We discover our poverty and our weaknesses, our mental and emotional blocks, our affective or sexual disturbances, our seemingly insatiable desires, our frustrations and jealousies, our hatred and our wish to destroy…  An experience in prayer and the experience of being loved in community, which has become a safe place for us, allows us gradually to accept ourselves as we are, with our wounds and all the monsters.  We are broken, but we are loved.  We can grow to greater openness and compassion; we have a mission.  Community becomes the place of liberation and growth.”Jean Vanier

   

  

“We grow as we commune.  Because information has been the sacred cow of the Protestant tradition, we have minimized the importance of community growth out of fear that the information will be compromised.  Sadly, in doing so, the church has allowed the greatest stumbling block to be put in the path of the believer – the demand for growth without the support of community.”  – Kyle Strobel

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.