Category Archives: grace

It is because it is.

It is.

What is?  Where? When?

Here, now, it is.

It is visible and obvious.

It is painful and present and powerful.

It is purposeful and poignant, and pauseworthy and praiseworthy.

It is a King and a kingdom conquering…

It is light exposing darkness…

That is all too austere.  Not clear enough.  Nothing to sink my teeth into.  Not unambiguous.  Not ambiguous.

What I mean is… there is something visibly present that I am experiencing as the planter/pastor of west valley pca, which is as invisible as it is concretely present.

I can see that we see it, and yet we all know that we haven’t even begun to see it all.

Yes.  I mean what I am saying and am unsure of what I don’t mean.

God is renewing people.  The King is kingdoming.  I mean that.  I depend on that.

In the past  48  hours I have experienced a window into the soul of wounded, addicted, scared, skeptical, converted, longing, ravaged, curious, afraid, thrilled and worshiping… people.

I have tasted and labeled and trusted in the efficacious call of God on impossible hearts.

In the past 48 hours I have experienced the Word of God by the Spirit of God draw people into the gospel of God.

I have listened to people recount that they want it… because they see that it is.  That is kingdoming.  It is.

I have watched  women who are longing… and men who are breaking… that is kingdoming.  It is.

I have enjoyed the thought of people resting in the freedom of righteousness and regretlessness and rescue of their past… suburban sinners sensing the impossible…. that is kingdoming.  It is.

It is here because it just is.

Kingdom.

King.

It is.

Come Lord Jesus Come.

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mumford & sons, awake my soul

I was intending just now to post something leadershipy… well, about gospel centered leadership and how God is renewing and re-engaging me through his servant Nehemiah.  More on that later.  I need to meditate and listen more first anyway.

But, have to pass on a song – lyrics – especially from an English band that has been ruminating in my head, my phone, my office, my computer, my bosedoc.  I am preaching this Sunday on Luke 12.34-48, which is all about WAKING UP, my sleepy, often stewardless soul!!!  And then while running yesterday, this new tune from Mumford & Sons 2010 Sigh No More album popped up on my Pandora station.  Crazy apropos.  Crazy calling to ME as I prepare to preach a text.

So, enjoy.  Below I quote the Word of God first.  Luke 12.34-48.  Then you have the lyrics of “Awake, my Soul”  Search for it online.  Use www.grooveshark.com or something free and easy.  Worth your time and your earergy.

35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

41 Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”

42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Mumford & Sons, “Awake, My Soul”

album: Sigh No More, 2010 (Glass Note)

Awake, my soul

Awake, my soul

 

How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes

I struggle to find any truth in your lies

And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know

My weakness I feel I must finally show

 

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die

Where you invest your love, you invest your life

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die

Where you invest your love, you invest your life

 

Awake my soul, awake my soul

Awake my soul

You were made to meet your maker

Awake my soul, awake my soul

Awake my soul

You were made to meet your maker

You were made to meet your maker


 

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listening well

I am sitting in a hotel in Philadelphia, ruminating on the calling of God to be a preacher.  Annually, I attend the Workshop on Biblical Exposition, put on by the Charles Simeon Trust.

This is a come-and-wrestle-and-do-the-hard-work-of-text-preparation workshop  more than it is a come-and-see conference.  There is nothing like it… for my soul, for my sanity, for my sense of purpose.  To declare the immeasurable riches of God from his Word – what does THAT necessitate in my prayer life, in my preparations, in my pastoring a growing churchplant?

I delight to know that God is working through his Word at West Valley PCA, more than through our creativity, our ministries, our vision.  His Word, clearly given, communally received.  And yet, OOOHHH to be a more faithful, more intentional handler of the Word of God!

O, to be a man who “stands in the council of the Lord to see and hear his word, who has paid attention to his word and LISTENED”(Jeremiah 23.18).

Simon Manchester, the primary speaker of the workshop and senior pastor of St. Thomas’Anglican Church in North Sydney Australia – has met me in my spiritual exhaustion and struggle.  Thank you God.  His handling and humble care of the hard task of preaching has encouraged and exhorted me in a much needed way.  I have simply been too busy.  Too spent.  Too scattered.  And today,  I saw the beauty of the Word again.  The joy of plumbings its depths and pondering its questions, and prying its parts.   I pass on to you some notes scribbled in my journal:

A dissatisfied preacher (wrestling and churning and grappling with questions and textual understanding) makes for satisfied people.  A satisfied preacher (that was simple and easy and I know what to say) makes for dissatisfied people.

I beg you: SHUT UP and LISTEN to the Word.  An expository sermon is a “listening sermon” – which is quite different from a non-listening sermon (the preacher has not stopped, struggled and listened before speaking).

I must not be confused at WHAT I am to be doing.  I am preaching the kingdom!

An expository preacher and an equipped congregation “spiral upward” together in a glorious, healthy way.  In other words, the preacher studies hard and delivers a healthy feast from the Word… thus the people of God are equipped to live and sacrifice and to BE the church of God for the glory of God… so they protect and ask their preacher to continue to work hard and study and deliver healthy feasts from the Word (as opposed to pulling him in every direction)… so he does, and they are fed and fulfill the ministry… and so he prepares and preaches all the more… and so they are more equipped and expanding their ministry, through the Word… and so it SPIRALS UPWARD!

Thank you Simon Manchester.  Thank you God for this respite.  Thank you West Valley for caring with me about expository preaching.  May we spiral upward together.

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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…

_____

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…

 

The weak, the strong, the right, the wrong

Kori and I are being discipled by the gospel (through Sonship, with one of our wvpc elders and his wife).

Todays glorious reminder:

The great paradox of the kingdom concerns the weak, strong, right, and wrong.  The paradox is this: Those who are strong and right are weak and wrong.  And those who are weak and wrong are right and strong.  What does this mean?  There are two great drives in our hearts: the one to be strong, the other to be right…

Nevertheless, as we place ourselves in the position of strength and righteousness, we are actually distancing ourselves from grace and from the Spirit’s power in our lives – for Jesus tells us that his power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).  By taking the position of being right and strong, we also distance ourselves from other people, especially those close to us.

O so true.  O so much struggle I experience and see in others precisely due to family, interpersonal power-struggles and self-righteous defenses. God make us pliable and soft and aware of how Jesus’ righteousness is given us in the gospel!  Why do I have to be right in any argument, as regards any issue or conviction?  God make us pliable and soft and aware of how Jesus’ resurrection power is promised us in the gospel!  Why do I scratch and claw through a difficult world on my own strength?

Thankful for Jesus!

Hebrews 10:14 – [my translation] In Christ and by his single, perfect sacrifice, God is perfecting forever those whom he is now making holy.

In other words, those who are forever righteous in Christ GET to see and savor and believe it  through the struggle of denying our own deceitful and nonexistent righteousness and strength which propels us to look to him.  Beautiful gospel.

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two posts, two days… what’s going on!

I wanted to drop another post in the post-box.  Not that I have time to be doing this, but…

In working on my exposition (sermon) this week, I have wrestled with Colossians 1:24-2:5.  It has been exactly  that… a laborious, agonizing prep time.  Some weeks are like this.  I am thankful for the struggle, especially when the text from which I am preaching is about the struggle!  Agonizing to get the fulness of the Word right so as to present people mature in Christ!  So… this week, as I was exposed to the Word – then exposed to myself – then to the gospel for myself… I got a bit poetic.  This never happens.  I am a prose guy who writes with two many fragments and not sentences.  Really.  Oh, and I don’t know how to write poetry.  Apparently there are no rules to it (sentence fragment duly noted).

Here you go – from Colossians 1:24-2:5

the Word is the mystery

the mystery is Christ

(and yet there is more)

Christ is the hope of glory

in you.

___

in the Word I rejoice

for the mystery I struggle

(yet I wish I did more)

Still this is my stewardship

for you.

___

to complete what is lacking, seriously… lacking?

to rejoice in suffering, seriously … suffering?

(I need to know more)

this is a mystery

to me.

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Death by Suburb, David Goetz

I am reading a provocative and – so far – impressionable book.  Death by Suburb: How to keep the suburbs from killing your soul, by David Goetz.

It has more than a modicum of crossroads in my life.

In his second chapter, Goetz addresses the suburban “environmental toxin” (to my soul, that is) of CONTROL… the thought that I am in control of my life.  He proposes the simple spiritual practice of SILENCE/SOLITUDE as the challenger to self-sovereignty.  This is something I struggle with.  Constant activity which churns in tandem with my delusion of constant control.  According to Goetz, it is frivolous to fight our control-addiction by trying to control it! Try solitude.  Try nothing.  Stop.

You can’t live the deeper life and the busy life.  You get one but not the other. p.25

The deeper spiritual life is never a direct route.  If it were, religion in the suburbs would be the fast track to the Godhead.  In the toxic dump of efficiency and control, the first act must be countercultural – a decision not to act.  p.26

While outdoor solitude is a premium, it is not necessary for learning to uncover eternity in the ordinary… For spiritual development and entrance into the thicker, more reflective life, solitude is more inside space than outside space.  p.31

The life practice of solitude, then, is the opposite of my expectations of escape and rest or an immediate ushering into what I think is God’s presence.  It is more a discipline of struggle than it is of serenity.  It’s no formula for controlling my outer world or how I feel.  It’s the ongoing guerrilla war to loosen my choke hold on creating and gathering to myself the life I think I need.  I don’t pursue giving up control; I pursue the practice of solitude.  p.33

Goetz quotes Henri Nouwen:

It’s not easy to sit and trust that in solitude God will speak to you – not as a magical voice but that he will let you know something gradually over the years.

To which I echo Goetz: “It’s the ‘over the years’ part that bothers me.

Believe it or not, before I posted this blog, I worked to sit in silence for 5 minutes.  5 minutes.  To stop controlling my schedule.  My to-do list.  My day.  My time.  I tried.  God’s 5 minutes.  His voice.  His Word (if he prompted me to turn to it.)  And its not that I don’t read, or study or pray as a regular spiritual discipline.  I have hours of concentrated ‘devotion’ each week.  It’s just that even in doing said things… I am rarely stopping.  Rarely still.  Rarely under the control of quiet.  There is a difference, I am finding.

I’m not much good at this solitude thing.  I guess I have control issues.

Lord, help me to know you here.  In the suburbs… at a different pace that sees you, and changes me.  You the sovereign king of the suburbs.   You put me here.  You are here.  Help me sit and see and savor and so move into this place knowing you… under your control.

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