Category Archives: transparency

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.

Advertisements
Tagged , , ,

new bible and a timeless assessment tool

I have this thing for new Bibles.  Kind of like a shoe fettish – as a man, I apparently have that too.  Well, yesterday I was in Westminster Seminary’s gargantuan book store and I found it.  The ESV has finally put out a small (smaller than the thinline) personal sized reference Bible.  One column, not two.  References in the middle.  Not excessively small print.  Fits in my computer bag without breaking my back.  Very nice. 

It is really very sad that I get excited to study from my new Bible, as if I expect to find anything new.  But I am.  I have been assessing Bibles for a time, looking for that ‘smaller computer bag-sized reference Bible.’  My assessment and patience has paid off.  OR has it? 

Interesting enough – I am not qualified as a sinner to assess Scripture.  I can assess Bible covers, but that’s about it.  What I can do is assess the world and its spiritual state with Scripture.  Even more, I am called of God to let Scripture assess me.  Daily.  All of me.  (Is this NOT a purpose for which God has effectively sent his Word – Isaiah 55:11?)

Which brings up another intersting point.  Assessment.  Most of you know that Kori and I went to the PCA Assessment Center in February.  We are still reeling and growing.  When I returned and shared with some close confidants all that God ‘assessed of me’ – many people said, “I wish I (or my marriage) could go through an honest assessment to discover much more of who I really am (not just who I think I am).”  My rersponse is – are you sure?!?!?! 

Assessment should be experienced by all of us in Christ’s body.  And, for one – Scripture is our assessment tool if we would let God, through his Spirit, convict us and show us ourselves in his Word.  But secondarily, I think it’ll work!  I have recently discovered some spiritual health assessment tools that, if combined with other things – might lend themselves to a local church personal and marriage proctology exam (I mean assessment). 

Wouldn’t that be something – for West Valley Presbyterian Church Plant to begin as a kingdom body that isn’t just the NEW and exciting thing (kind of like my new Bible) but rather a body that does something new with God’s timeless grace-centered assessment tool – his Word.  And we ACTUALLY intentionally create an environment where we help one another assess blind spots, and marital break-down points, and foundational-parenting-cracks as we all together – learning more and more of our weakness, depend more and more on the gospel that is only discovered through God’s assessment tool – his Word of LIFE.

I need to stop now.  I am not even thinking.   in,   sentences

 

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

weakness for the glory of God

I have been weak lately. 

In honesty, it has been with a measure of intentionality as I have been asking God to show me who I am…  who I really am… which is different than who I think I am or who I want to be. 

Before we launch out with the West Valley church plant, this is a timely season to secure my personal life on the foundation of God’s gracious gospel… which leads me to ask (without a preformed answer): Who am I?  What are my blind spots?  What image do I work to keep up at the expense of authenticity?  (As most of you know, I don’t hide much.  I can be authentically me – transparent and the whole bit – but who is the “me” I am being transparent about?  If it is not the real me, it is hardly authentic.)  All this has  come as a result of church planter assessment and Kori and my desire to explore each other and ourselves in new and honest ways.  I am reading a book by David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself – a timely tool to plow the depths of my being.  In sum, Benner makes the point that true experiential gospel transformation cannot occur merely by applying new gospel ideas and truths to the old self.  We must first discover and know the image-bearing gift of our real selves – the self that God has created with unique gifts and characteristics… the self that does not find its identity in social/cultural ‘attachments’ or image-conditioning and maintaining. 

Before setting aside this time to dig deep, I was afraid.  Honestly afraid at the layers of self that I don’t necessarily know are even there.  The layers of the me I don’t know because I am consumed with the me I wish I was.  But there is nothing to fear.  Why would I not want to know more about the true sinful broken self that I am – because all I will find there is more of the nature of God’s gracious love in Christ which has always been for the real me, not simply the me I wish I was? 

Perfect love drives out all fear.

It is not a frightening process, though it is quite afflicting.  I am going through a season where I question everything about myself.  This too, shall pass, but hopefully not right away.  This morning, Isaiah 48 helped me make sense of it all and why this is a very good time. 

Speaking to his people Israel, in Isaiah 48:10-11, God says: I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.  For my own sake, for my own sake I do it, for how should my name be profaned?  My glory I will not give to another.

What I hear in my whole self is this: my “not-sure-who-I-am-for-this-season-because-I-don’t-know-why-I-do-what-I-do-or-why-I-care-about-what-I-do-or-why-I-say-what-I-say” season of life is the furnace of affliction simply because, at present, I do not bear the name of my Creator and Redeemer as I should.  I know this.  I do not bear his glorious name as a husband or father or pastor or man as I should.  His glorious name deserves more than the “me” I have been putting forward. 

I need no other reason for this season of question – soli deo gloria.  Weakness in the furnace of affliction for the glory of God.  Thanks be to God for sending his own Son into the costly furnace of affliction – the real furnace that the real me in my sin deserves.  My whole self has been spared… so now I pray with Augustine: “Grant , Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.”

Tagged , , , , ,

west valley church plant update

OK, I’m not sure if I should provide you with the less-complicated or more-complicated version of this update…

Thank you to those who prayed for the Cornerstone session meeting on Saturday morning.  By God’s grace, the unity and anticipation toward planting this Fall was evident and encouraging.  Long story short, we have decided to pursue a “temporary session of elders” daughter-church model.  I won’t catalogue for you the similarities/differences with other models that we bantered about, but I can somewhat fill you in on how this will look. 

In early 2008 (yes, 2 months) –  formally at our Vision Dinner on Jan 26th – I will be veeerrryyyy slllloooowwwwlllllyyyyyy weaned off of some of my Cornerstone responsibilities to direct my attention to the “West Valley churchplant.”  Areas of attention will include (first) pursuing some ruling and teaching elders in local PCA churches to form a “temporary session” that I will moderate; a body of men called and commissioned to keep the churchplant accountable to God and his Word and to provide support and oversight from its inception.  This is integral in the early stages, so that the budgeting and gathering and vision casting can be done in the context of ecclesiastical oversight.  I am praying and consulting now about who these elders should be.  This temporary session will include some of the present Cornerstone elders.  This temporary body will remain in oversight until such time that the church-plant has trained its own session of elders (usually a year or two in) who will then take the helm under Christ the King.  It will be a large commitment for these men – so please pray that God will raise up the right “session.”  Under this model, the church that is planted will be a bonafide sister PCA church to Cornerstone.

I will also soon need to get a non-profit tax ID so that we can begin fundraising to complement the giving of momma church (Cornerstone, Center Valley).   Good thing my mentor is a former lawyer – as John will be guiding me in how to create bylaws, etc. for accomplishing the task.   Of course, to do this – a name of the church is necessary.  More on that some day.  Right now, West Valley PCA is on my heart because THAT is the target area of the Lehigh Valley in which we live and breath and experience God’s kingdom.  THAT is the place for which we (the launcher-outers) need to be regularly praying and weeping for God’s kingdom mercy on our neighbors and classmates and friends.   THAT is where we long for “thy kingdom to come to earth as it is in heaven.”   THAT is the place where we long for every biblical description of God’s people to fit (terms you often find in the name of churches): grace, mercy, Christ the Cornerstone, fellowship, kingdom, hope, truth, love etc.   I will never forget the first day when – while driving and looking out over the Valley’s lights – I felt tears on my face.  NEVER before have I cried for a people in a place…  The West Valley is my Jerusalem, and it may be yours depending on where you live.   So for now, expect to hear the church plant called as such.  

Then will come the gathering of PRAYERS.  I anticipate that in February, we will begin weekly praying kingdom prayers with one another – that God will check our hearts and motives and move in the west valley in ways we cannot imagine (Eph.3:20-21).  This time of prayer will not be vision casting…  it will be the heart-surrendering.  We will be praying that God will plant a gospel centered church that perpetually serves his kingdom purpose in that place (with or without any of us who are there in the beginning – even me).  This may or may not be in conjunction with the Cornerstone small groups already on the west side of the Valley.  Of course, I HOPE that any of you who will be with us have been and are continually praying for the target and a gospel-church.  Praying for a location to worship.  Praying for people outside of Cornerstone who are curious and gospel-driven who will perhaps be a part of our prayer times as well!  The praying together will only be as powerful as our praying has already been on our knees beside our beds.

Sometime in the Spring, the gathered prayers will (some of them) become vision dreamers. The prayer meetings will likely morph into community Bible studies.  The summer will probably bring any number of “vision barbecues or parties or whatever” to which we invite our friends.  But we don’t need to go there now.  Just pray and see the season of scattering new ecclesial seeds coming soon! 

It shouldn’t be that hard to think about what to pray:

What will the vision of the plant be?  Where will the worship be located?  How will we minister to the needs of the community?  How will it be a churchplant committed to faithfully declaring the gospel to believers and making it relevant to nonbelievers?   How will it – to the glory of God – pursue excellence to reach the “professional valleyman” without being tripped up with performance and cultural entertainment?  How BIG of a work will God do through this churchplant such that YOUR life in YOUR neighborhood in YOUR city on YOUR west side of the Valley will never be the same due to the gospel of the King of mercy and truth?  How big of a commitment is required for my family and your family?  How much do you and I believe the gospel in the first place, such that we are burdened by the need of our community for a new gospel-declaring and incarnating church?  How will we be excited and yet patient at the same time, letting Christ the King through his Spirit plant the church in his time?  How will God preserve Cornerstone PCA in its faith risk of planting a church that will undeniably shake up its gospel-community as it “releases and faithfully multiplies”?  How can we make sure it is God doing the work and not our pursuing human strategies apart from his guidance?  How will we be a church that ministers mercy and justice in sectors of our Valley that are underpoverished?  How will we be a church of the broken and the weak that lives out the power of the gospel because we NEED it so desperately?  How will God raise up people to lead new ministries from “scratch?”  How will we honor and support the gospel-work of other churches in our target area?  How will we plant a church in our community and not just in our heads?  How will we keep from becoming the “cozy Christian couch” and rather be the sacrificial cultural transformers that we ought to be?  How will we uphold a commitment to the purity of God and his kingdom without showing disdain toward the stained and broken in our world who are circumstantially poised to receive the good news?!  How will we be in the world but not of it?  How will Satan try to infiltrate a gospel-work with disunity and pride and competition and vision-distractions – because we KNOW he will?  How will you and I become shepherds of our weak community, and not just colaborers in the church who solely minister to each other in the church (as regular and important as that is)?  How do we become an authentic people of transparency without just wallowing in the reality of our fallen world?  How do we give ourselves to something and yet hold it so loosely that God can do whatever he wants with it? 

How will we do this without crying out in prayer?! 

Please pray with me!  Please tell others you know to read this post and join us in prayer.  Then open your ears for more news from the west side.

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.

Sharing the bruises…

Isaiah 42:3 – A bruised reed he will not break… 

Some bruises are directly linked to the daily blows of your and my sin. Others are clearly caused by the sin of other people.  Even still, other bruises don’t seem to be connected much at all.  But, if we would take God at his Word, ALL bruising and weakness in life is a direct result of our living in a fallen world where sin has its effect.  Even the common cold.  Why do we think it’s so common!

Maybe it would be healing for us to share (for the sake of prayer) some of those bruises we are dealing with.  I start.  You continue.  We all pray.

My mom is in the hospital recovering from pneumonia.  Bruised lungs I guess – may she know how gently she is held and that she will not break.

My dad is recovering from ankle reconstruction surgery.  A bruised limb.

Kori and I are recovering from a bruising vacation – we had a great time that was, I think, personally glorious for both of us.  But having spent the whole week chasing kids in the opposite direction and, when there was time, conversing with other family members and not each other… we are now trying to run toward each other for the grace of community in our home (O, and it’s always hard for her to come back from family in TN… truly hard).  Some emotional bruises I guess.

There you have it.  Thanks be to God that we are held in the hands of him who will not break us by his grace.

The Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes

I recently picked up a copy of the Puritan classic by Richard Sibbes – The Bruised Reed (1630).  

In fact, when I was in line to purchase the book (at a CCEF conference bookstore), the guy next to me leaned over and said – THAT is a comforting, incredible, gospel book.  I had grabbed it in the first place because in my devotional/reading life I am aiming to alternate between modern and historic works – and I was set for turning the clock back for my next read.  The Bruised Reed jumped out at me because it is ALL about the gospel and our self-awareness of our being weak “bruised reeds” whom Christ will not break (Isaiah 42:3).  So maybe it is research for this weakness project —- or, as I have come to find the past few mornings – it is a devotional well with fresh biblical water!

D Martin Lloyd-Jones said this of the book: I shall never cease to be greatful to Richard Sibbes who was balm to my soul at a period in my life when I was overworked and badly overtired, and therefore subject in an unusual manner tothe onslaughts of the devil… I found at that time that Richard Sibbes was an unfailing remedy.

Sibbes was apparently known among his contemporaries as “the sweet dropper.”  Give yourself 2-3 pages of his work, and you’ll feel the puritanical effect!  SO, I pass on to you a sweet drop or two… or five.

We see that the condition of those with whom [Christ] was to deal was that they were bruised reeds… not trees; but reeds; and not whole, but bruised reeds.  The church is compared to weak things: to a dove amidst the fowls; to a vine amongst the plants; to sheep amongst the beasts; to a woman, which is the weaker vessel.

WHAT IT IS TO BE A BRUISED REED:  The bruised reed is the man that for the most part is in some misery, as those were that came to Christ for help, and by misery he is brought to see sin as the cause of it, for, whatever pretences sin makes, they come to an end when we are bruised and broken.  He is sensible of sin and misery, even unto bruising; and, seeing no help in himself, is carried with restless desire to have supply from another, with some hope, which a little raises him out of himself to Christ, though he dare not claim any present interest of mercy.  This spark of hope being opposed by doubtings and fears rising from corruption makes him as smoking flax [a faintly burning wick – ESV]; so that both these together, a bruised reed and smoking flax, make up the state of a poor distressed man.  This is such an one as our Saviour Christ terms ‘poor in spirit’ (Mt. 5:3).

God’s children are bruised reeds before their conversion and oftentimes after…  After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks.  Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy…  The heroic deeds of the great worthies do not comfort the church so much as their falls and bruises do.

Hence we learn that we must not pass too harsh judgment upon ourselves or others when God exercises us with bruising upon bruising.  There must be conformity to our head, Christ, who was ‘bruised for us’ (Isaiah 53:5)…  Ungodly spirits, ignorant of God’s ways in bringing his children to heaven, censure broken-hearted [weak] Christians as miserable persons, whereas God is doing a gracious work with them.

As a mother is  tenderest to the most diseased and weakest child, so does Christ most mercifully incline to the weakest.  Likewise he puts an instinct into the weakest things to rely upon something stronger than themselves for support.  The vine stays itself upon the elm, and the weakest creatures often have the strongest shelters.  The consciousness of the church’s weakness makes her willing to lean on her beloved, and to hide herself in his wing.

More sweet drops to come.  Grace today.

prayer of confession

Just in case you need a little gospel-balm for your sick and sinful soul…

I know, not a nice intro to a post – but then again, “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). 

Below is a historic prayer of confession that this morning enabled me to experience the steady hand of my Soul-Physician.  Sometimes old-school is soothing and powerful in a way that the here and now can’t muster.

O, I post this prayer of confession not because I think you are necessarily going through specific and visible sin-weakness struggles that warrant repentence… I post this confession because I KNOW you are.  Aren’t we all broken and daily in need of a gospel righteousness to heal our sinful weak selves? 

Take some time away.  Repent.  Pray.  And feel the eternal healing of the righteousness from God through Christ himself.

Forgive my sins, O Lord – forgive me the sins of my present and the sins of my past, the sins of my soul and the sins of my body; the sins which I have done to please myself, and the sins which I have done to please others.  Forgive me my wanton and idle sins, forgive me my serious and deliberate sins, forgive me those sins which I know and those sins which I know not, the sins which I have labored so hard to hide from others that I have hid them from my own memory.  Forgive them, O Lord, forgive them all.  Of thy great mercy let me be absolved, and of Thy bountiful goodness let me be delivered from the bonds of all that by my fraily I have committed.  Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Saviour.  Amen.

Now re-pray it and consider the depth of the weakness that would destroy us save the mercy of God!

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