Category Archives: weak culture

Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters is a correspondence between Uncle Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood, two demons setting about the deceit of their ‘patients’ – you and me – who they DO NOT want to be in the secure grip of their Enemy – Christ.

Last night I read something that is worth broadcasting:

Screwtape wrote to young Wormwood about you and me, his “patients”…

Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation – the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.  If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life – his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down.  As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty.  The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going are not, as fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merly a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it. 

Screwtape writes on:

To decide what the best use of it [this life of peaks and valleys] is, you must ask what use the Enemy [God the Father] wants to make of it, and then do the opposite.  Now it may suprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He [God the Father] relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else…   It is during the trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that the patient is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.  Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. 

But of course the troughs afford opportunities on our side also.  Next week I will give you some hints on how to exploit them,  Your affectionate uncle Screwtape

What an acknowledgement of the GOSPEL becoming LIFE for us when we are in the troughs of weakness.  What a warning on the necessity that we look to God alone in our times of trial – the “troughs of life” afford immense opportunity for the enemy as well.

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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!

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West Valley Presbyterian Church, PCA mission

Last night I enjoyed the presence of 33 friends and good coffee at our first West Valley PCA (mission church) gathering in Emmaus PA.  I am excitedly silent… or is it, silently excited.  (which makes you more excited?)  In sum, we hung out, went through the demographic gospel-needs of our target (East Penn area of the Lehigh Valley – specifically Lower Macungie and Emmaus) and I took the privilege to convey a bit of my philosophy of ministry – you know, that bit about being a church of weak people who depend on a strong gospel.  Otherwise said like this: Would that God create a church of the broken, for the broken in our community, before the One who binds up the broken

We talked about being a church that DOES CHRIST’S KINGDOM among our community, rather than just doing church among the churched and calling it kingdom.  What that will look like in human flesh (incarnate), we are yet to really know.   We trust these upcoming months will reveal gospel-opportunities where the kingdom is as stunning in Emmaus/Lower Mac as it was in Acts 2.

The cry is that the 33 people present would pray and begin to do neighborhood church planting as the gospel heals their brokenness and moves them into the brokenness around them.  A high calling.  Sacrifice.  (Yes, last night was as much about getting people excited as it was setting the bar of churchplanting high for the sake of surrender!  This is way too big for all of us, and only those whom God truly calls from the beginning should be involved)!  We said it like this: May this be a church plant of church planters (plural), rather than just a church plant with a church planter (singular) with a core group…  O God, would you call church planters out!  My friends in the West Valley – CALL them out to humble sacrifice, O God!

We also walked next door to the new office space of West Valley Presbyterian Church… we prayed.  Some wept.

I think I’d like to be quiet now. 

Stunned.

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less blogs about weakness

Less blogs are flowing from the weakchristian.  Reason: weakness.

Actually, I have been thinking a lot lately about what it is to be weak.  I have discovered some real weakness in myself (the kind that sends you “reeling” and not so interested in writing).  I have been feeling the wounds of others that have stunned the senses into silence and meditation… taking words out of my mouth rather than putting words in.  

All this is to say that I am stilled for weakness sake.  I have less impulse to have to catalogue “me” and my different angled-ness.  I am free to be quiet and ponder.  (Most of you are thinking, thank God.)  But seriously, I almost feel like I spent six months creating a blog identity – the “weakchristian” who ravished the biblical/grace-centered concept of engaging weakness to discover gospel-strength… but NOW, things have flipped.  I am discovering weakness and beginning to engage the grace and strength of Christ.  I like it better this way.  Thanks be to God.

Shh… no comments please.

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the zeal of the Lord ALONE will do this

We are back from the PCA Church Planting Assessment Center.  Words cannot encapsulate the experience.  It was the most gruelling, honest, beautiful, unifying (Kori and me), enjoyable, corporate (new friends) and mexican (nice restaurant across the street) week I can remember.  I heard the Word declared with particular application to a person like me. 

Kori and I then went to a Bed and Breakfast in PA (Glasbern, Fogelsville PA) for processing and cool white robes – sorry, had to say that.  This was my assessment of our experience at Assessment:

I was found out.  Kori was found.  Both of us are now driven to the gospel in new ways AS ONE COUPLE.

Anyway, one thing I will share (most of our experience I will not): I am zealous.  Excessively.  Apparently my zeal can be of good kingdom use, but it can also have its people-effect that is less than desirable.  I see it now.  This morning, I was reading from Isaiah 37, and I came across a powerful statement that I have read thousands of times in the prophetic books. 

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this (37:32)

I read it.  Then again.  Again.  The assessed-self was seeing something powerfully apropos.  Ministry is about the Lord’s zeal, not my zeal.  In my zeal I am either winsomely “effective” (at best), OR deceptively manipulative (at worst).  Because of that, my zeal is NOT the means by which I hope the Lord will do this church plant or any other ministry.  Rather, there will be a church in the West Valley of the Lehigh Valley ONLY if the zeal of the Lord does this.  

Why was the recognition of my zeal such a focus of assessment?  Partly because I was blind to it.  Partly because it affects people in ways I don’t intend.  But mostly, I think I see the reason in Isaiah 37:32 – my zeal is NOT the zeal by which kingdom things will be accomplished.  No, only the zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish his purposes in my home, my life, the church plant or any other locus of his work.

O God, even now I am excited because this makes so much sense and will have its impact…  but may my excitement be about YOUR safe/powerful ZEAL, and not my own.  I can control my zeal about as much as my son (18mo) can control himself when he sees food he wants.  This HAS to be about something BIGGER than my zeal.  And it is.

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my life on paper

One week from this Sunday, Kori and I will be flying to Atlanta for the PCA Church Planter Assessment Center.  Our marriage, sense of call, giftedness, and contextual placement (i.e. in the North East) will be assessed and reassessed.  They tell me it is like marriage counseling on steroids. 

Here’s the thing – we’ve already been assessed just to be accepted at the Assessment Center.  I haven’t liked what I’ve learned.  It is actually quite funny: my life and personality don’t translate that well on paper.  We have each filled out questionaires and personality tests (which will be interpreted for us on site).  We received most of the results already, so that we might digest who we are on paper before we show up and discover who we are in person

My wife is incredible… especially on paper.  She received a personality report that sounded like this: “Quiet and discerning.  Not needing to be the center of attention.  Likely to enter a room and recognize people and needs.  Unlikely to talk about herself before inquiring of others.”  It went something like that.  If you know Kori – that is right on.

I am not so incredible, especially on paper.  My personality report sounded like this: “Energetic and strong in personality.  May prefer to be the center of attention.   Likely to enter a room desirous of sharing about himself before inquiring about others.  Willing to persuade people that they might follow.  May unintentionally offend others or step on toes as he engages in conversation.  Prefers to lead independently.”  OK, so maybe it wasn’t that bad – but it is no overstatement that I now have documented proof that I married way over my head.

It is sobering to read an accurate assessment of yourself in ink that cannot be erased.  Maybe the qualities I read are normal/good for a leader, but it’s still sobering. 

To be honest, I am used to reading an accurate self-assessment.  Every time I read God’s Word it happens with acute clarity.  I am a sinner.  I am desperately wicked.  I am gloriously redeemed.  I am weak enough to need a Savior every moment for every breath throughout every day.  Sobering but beautiful. 

So I guess I am saying that I enjoy and presently prefer sober assessments, because in the newfound awareness I find myself thanking God all the more that he would give the grace of salvation and ministry (and a woman with the personality of Kori) to someone like me, even me.

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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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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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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.

 

my weakness makes me long to be ruled

I am heading off to church planter community in Philly… a highlight of every month.

But this morning I highlighted an incredible word from Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed.  In consecutive chapters, he has been making the point that our weakness should not so much cause US to desire to be strong (better self-rulers), but rather they cause us to desire to be ruled by another’s government… one who is not debilitated by weakness but can guide and direct and deliver us.

I quote: The happiness of weaker things stands in being ruled by the stronger.  It is best for a blind man to be guided by him that has sight.  It is best for sheep, and other feckless creatures, to be guided by man.  And it is happiest for man to be guided by Christ, because his government is so victorioius that it frees us from the fear and danger of our greatest enemies, and tends to bring us to the greatest happiness that our nature is capable of [do I hear John Piper here?].  This should make us rejoice when Christ reigns in us.

Yes, I am so weak that today I WANT to be ruled by him who is stronger.  May my self-awareness be the same tomorrow and the next day and the next day…