Tag Archives: weakness

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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me, responsible?

I try to live a responsible life.  Getting up early, physical exercise, reading a book in the morning, not procrastinating on sermon preparation… I am respectively responsible, I think.  I even just returned from taking my family to Disney World, and I responsibly lost none of my three wanderful children!  (It was the airline that irresponsibly lost our luggage!)

But while running the beaches of New Smyrna, Fl – I listened to and meditated upon a few sermons preached by Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  1 Peter 3:1-6 – “Marriage and Women.”  1 Peter 3:7 – “Marriage and Men.”  OK, so maybe Driscoll has a rep of being a theological bully, but I will say… most men, myself included, need to be kicked in the crotch by Word-expositing preachers.  Driscoll did just that in his sermons (GO! Listen to them – http://www.marshillchurch.org/media/trial?page=2).  Take notes, repent…

There were a myriad of bruise-inducing applications for any man or woman, and I could not help but pray for marriages and husbands and wives in our congregation – sometimes in anger at the extent of the “accepted” brokenness in the homes of the sons and daughters of God.  

But what hit me most was the consideration of my not-so-responsible, gospel-shirking self.  Jesus Christ is the perfect husband to his bride the church.  True.  He laid himself down in full, sacrificial, life-giving headship.  True.  He did not take away the weakness of his “weaker vessel” bride, but he did make himself RESPONSIBLE for her security, identity, health and care.  He did not commit any of his bride’s sins – they are hers (mine are mine), but he did lay his life down on the cross as though he were RESPONSIBLE for her condemning sin.  He took RESPONSIBILITY for the beauty and purity and magnanimous freedom of his bride!

Am I that kind responsible – as a husband and father?  Ahem, well… I mow the lawn weekly, wash dishes most nights, read bed-time stories…  BUT AM I THAT KIND OF A GOSPEL-LIVING, WIFE-HOLDING, CHILDREN-SECURING, CHRIST-EMBODYING RESPONSIBLE HUSBAND AND FATHER? 

[silent, repentant, joyous, intentional consideration…]

Likewise, husbands live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.  – 1 Peter 3:7

Responsible me?  No, it is responsible me.  Period.   Responsible to hold and honor and humbly lay down my life for the sin and struggles and specific growth of Kori, Lina, Meggie and Nate.  O Lord, in my weakness I take it.  I want it.  That responsibility will change me as much as it will change them, because its the gospel!!!  Thank you Responsible Jesus for covering the irresponsible me.

O, did I mention I do our banking?  I wrestle with the kids? 

Shut up and quit shirking your responsibility.

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rediscovering something old

I am rediscovering weakness… or even pursuing it again.  I think, I pray, I hope with a new actual awareness (or alomost awareness) of all the weak and broken parts of myself that the Lord has shown me over the past year.  Indeed it was a year ago that I enjoyably blogged about discovering the gospel in weakness, reading and recording the thoughts of Henri Nouwen (Wounded Healer) or  Richard Sibbes (The Bruised Reed) or Kyle Strobel (Metaphorpha) or just my own musing thoughts.

Through the past year, the Lord has, I think, shown me his Fatherly affection by placing me over his knee and WHACK.  Chastening the child he loves.  Showing me my personal fear of weakness/sin/struggle even as I “theologically” engaged it with passion.  Putting me in a place where the wrestling match with weakness was… hell.   May I say with truth and candor: church planting has been the most difficult life experience, even as God has grown his church and planted us in the “west valley.”    I am so thankful for the fog of last Fall, and the slow unfolding of a spiritual Spring over the past few months.  I have seen life come from death.  Energy returned.  Weakness confessed.  Habits exposed.  Righteousness (my own) revealed as filthy.  Gifts (preaching and teaching) used as a cop-out for true pastoral leadership.  Otherness revealed as a serious weakness.  Exhaustion evidencing gospel-thirst.  Excessive work falsely defined as “success.”  Being at home with my family confronted with what it truly is to “be home” and undistracted.  Loving my wife compared to laying my life down for her.  On we could go.

Maybe this is what freedom feels like.

We are in confining quarters, indeed, when we are enclosed in self, but when we emerge  from that prison, and enter into the immensity of God and the liberty of his children, we are truly free.

Though it sounds strange to say it I am rejoicing that God has reduced [me] to a state of weakness.  Oh, how painful, but how beneficial these times of weakness!  As long as any self-love is remaining, we are always afraid it will be revealed.  But God does not give up as long as the least symptom of it lurks in the innermost recesses of heart, God pursues it, and by some infinitely merciful blow, forces it into the open.  And the sight of the problem becomes the cure.  Self-love, forced into the light, sees itself as it really is in all its deformity and disgrace.  And in a moment, the flattering illusions of your whole selfish life are dissipated.  God sets before your eyes your idol: self.  You look at that spectacle, and you cannot turn your eyes away.  Nor can  you hide the sight from others.  To expose self-love in this way without its mask is the most mortifying punishment that can ever be inflicted.

When you finally see self for what it is, weakness has become your only possession.  Strength is not even in the picture.  And if you had any, it would only make the agony longer and more distressing.   If you die [to self] from weakness and weariness, you will die more quickly and less violently.

What, then, shall we do?  Do nothing.  Seek nothing.  Hold to nothing.  Simply confess everything, not as  a means of getting relief, but because of humble desire to yield unto Jesus. (Fenelon, Let Go)

But [Jesus] said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamaties, for when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

O Lord my God, thank you for this church planting weakness exposition – all for your glory and display of your grace.  Amen.

 

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Letting Go, by Fenelon

A church member and friend has coerced me into reading a book by Fenelon, “Letting Go: to get peace and real joy”.  I say coerced because I know he asked me to dig through it (short but stout) because of my desire to control aspects of life that, well… are in need of God’s continual control.  Say, like pastoring a church plant that is the living body of Christ.

It is a brief book of letters written by Francois de Salignac de La Mothe Fenelon, the Archbishop of Cambrai, France during the seventeenth century.  He was writing to a small group of people at the Court of Louis the Fourteenth.  Apparently they lived in a world of shameless immorality and struggle, kinda like us.  Try his words on for size and may they be a blessing to you.

The good that comes from any experience of personal weakness is the realization that God wants us to be lowly and obedient.  So may the Lord keep you!

I am amazed at the power that comes to us through suffering; we are worth nothing without the cross.  Of course, I tremble and agonize while it lasts, and all my words about the beneficial effects of suffering vanish under torture.  But when it is all over, I look back on the experience with deep appreciation, and am ashamed that I abore it with so much bitterness.  I am learning a great deal from my own foolishness!

The great Physician who sees in us what we cannot see, knows exactly where to place the knife.  He cuts away that which we are most reluctant to give up.  And how it hurts!  But we must remember that pain is only felt where there is life, and where there is life is just the place where death is needed.  Our Father wastes no time by cutting into parts which are already dead.  Do not misunderstand me: He wants you to live abundantly, but this can only be accomplished by allowing Him to cut into that fleshly part of you which is still stubbornly clinging to life.

Learn to cultivate peace.  And you can do this by learning to turn a deaf ear to your own ambitions and thoughts.  Or haven’t you yet learned that the strivings of the human mind not only impair the health of the body, but also bring dryness to the soul.

Love of self, which the world advocates, is a thousand times more dangerous than any poison.

Be careful about your motives in this eager chase for knowledge.  You are aware, aren’t you, that all we need is to be poor in spirit, and to know nothing but Christ and him crucified.  Although being a know-it-all makes us feel important, what is really needed to strengthen Christian character is love.  You certainly don’t think it possible that the love of God and the dethroning of self can only be reached through the acquisition of knowledge.  You already have more knowledge than you can use.  You would do better to put into practice what you already know.  Oh how we deceive ourselves when we suppose that we are growing in grace because our vain curiosity is being gratified by the enlightenment of our intellect!  We need to be humble, and to understand that we cannot receive God’s gifts from man.  The love of God comes to us only from Jesus.

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blogging about weakness, believing in election

It has been some time since a flapped my gums, or played sticky fingers with my laptop … since I’ve blogged about weakness.  The whole point of this whole thing is a deep confidence that the whole of ourselves is wholly weak the whole time we live in this whole life under the sun!  So why have I failed to blog about weakness… or at all for that matter.

First, personally things are busy and hectic at home and at West Valley PCA.  God has continued to bless and work in our home as we adjust as a family (even 3 years into this) to living in the North East.  We just bought our “lifestyle” house, a mile from the home we have owned the past 2 years.  What a blessing to still be able to walk/bike to work, to the coffee shops and farmers market… and yet to be a bit removed from the buzz,  and to have a house with some space and kids rooms and play room and garage!  Thanks to God for his undeserved gifts. 

On the church-front, we are continuing to seek the face of God and be astounded by his provision at West Valley.  God is gathering weak believers, missional believers, in addition to weak and broken unchurched skeptics who return hungry for something that is just beginning to whet their palate.  So I am trying to learn how to lead a church that is 9 months old and dealing with gospel-incarnation, community needs,  space constraints, and vision/identity ownership!  May God remain central and glorified, gathering whom he would for his glory – our SOVEREIGN GOD alone is planting this church.  We long to be the conduits of a kingdom that is from eternity, to eternity “in our West Valley as it is in heaven.”  Suffice to say, my joy and submission to God’s calling our family here for such a time and season and people and gospel-work as this is envigorating.  As such, blogging has been less-exciting, and less of a call to my wandering mind than it was before the winds of my soul have changed…  Thank you for dropping us off here, O God.

And so I say all of that to blog an ounce about weakness.  Specifically, this morning I think of all my weakness (tiredness, sin-ness, self-ness,  soreness, etc.) in connection to believing in the comforting biblical truth that God has providentially ordered all of our days, our finances, our rooftops, our street names, our church facilities, our growth stages, our discipline needs, our hard-lessons learned, etc… even as he has predestined our “election” as his eternally redeemed children who have no other hope than his call and care and conservation of our very selves whom he has effectively given his grace, first to last.

What am I saying? 

I can’t believe I am a recipient of the mercy of Christ, by his sovereign grace and election alone.  That in my weakness I am all the more in Christ who rescued my broken frame from a world of pain solely because of God’s election to glorify himself by the extension of his mercy to one who has done NOTHING (Eph. 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9).  I deserve to be a recipient of wrath, that he might be glorify his own justice.  But in Christ who gave my righteousness and took my just punishment, I am a recipient of grace, that God might glorify his own mercy!  And so I ask the only thing I can ask (even as a PCA pastor who has studied and made vows regarding the biblical doctrine of election): why me, O God?  I did nothing to deserve or receive your mercy!  Weak and impotent that I am to stop sinning, to love others well, to speak truth in love, to pastor people the gospel-treasure… Why me?

That question changes everything.  Everything is put in context!  I am weak but will worship my electing rescuer.  I am humbled to engage the broken around me, because I have done NOTHING to not be broken – God and God alone has elected to restore what I can’t fix.  I pray you know this gospel of God’s sovereign grace to bind up the broken of NOTHING in them and ALL for his glory.

How many Christians stumble on in weakness, burdened with doubts that would be erased if only they knew their salvation rested not in themselves but in God?  The doctrine of election tells us that it was God who sought us and not we who sought him; that God called us to him self in time because he chose us in eternity.  (Richard Phillips)

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where do we start…

This Sunday, I will be preaching on the prologue of Ecclesiastes – ch.1:2-11.  I find it awkwardly familiar in that the verses remind me of the journey I have trod theologically over the past few years.  3 years ago, I preached a sermon series “Strong Faith is for Weak People.”  It was an attempt to engage “strong Christians” in a churched setting who struggled to be able to articulate the finished glorious work of the gospel of Christ.  I was one such person.  Then, 18 months ago, it was a passion of mine to probe Scripture and literature to discern a theology of weakness that I might put on paper in book form.  Dream, dream, dream.  But I was chasing something tangible and pragmatic that would scratch the itch and comfort myself and many people I know whose only hope to discover grace seems to only be through the gospel covering our weakness – physical, relational, emotional, spiritual.  2 Corinthians was my starting point for a gospel-driven theology of weakness.  I pitched my tent there for some time.  About 9 months ago, I packed up my belongings and headed back in from my weakness wildernesss… sensing I needed to quit exploring, quit writing, and just survive pastoring, parenting – and most importantly, husbandring. 

What has transpired since is a churchplant that has been launched by the strength and grace of Christ alone – a process that has revealed and covered and exposed and covered and threatened and covered the weaknesses of myself and many others who are dependent on Christ to do a good work through West Valley Presbyterian Church!  He is doing that good work!

The vision statement of West Valley did not come from me, but rather a collection of called churchplanting families who sought the Lord, his Word and our context to paint a picture of the kingdom of God coming to earth through a church plant.  The vision is this –  “to be a church for the West Valley, in order that Jesus Christ is celebrated as the only hope for the brokenness in us and around us.” There you have it.  You can actually see it – the weakness theology coming out in vision form.  We long to be a church of the broken (weak sinners) who embrace and engage the broken around us (weak sinners) living in broken world (weak and sinful) SO THAT our weaknesses become the continual catalyst of authentic worship of Jesus Christ, who alone has conquered the weakness of this fallen world, and promises to bind up our brokenness by his resurrection power!

Months ago, I had the hunch that the first sermon series of West Valley PCA “public services” would be Ecclesiastes.  There you have it… the subliminal weakness theology coming out again!  Yep – Ecclesiastes is a money book that speaks to a broken culture that knows the emptiness of life under the sun (aka desperate weakness).  The cry of the book – “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” – is the answer to the overarching question (1:3) – What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?  Nothing, that’s what he gains.  It is that distressing, our broken world and our debilitating weaknesses ARE that bad – we gain nothing by our efforts, says Qohelet (the Preacher).

Sounds depressing.  And yet, it makes for a good, honest, biblical weakness theology – a diving board into the pool of the grace of the gospel!  See, what has amazed me is that the probing questions of Ecclesiastes is very similar to the question of Christ in Mark 8:36 – What does it profit a man to gain the world and forfeit his soul?  No profit, that’s what he gains.  How incredible that the depressing worldview of Qohelet starts with virtually the same question of Christ – which ultimately pointed to the hope of the gospel for souls who rest on him to lay down his life and raise it up again in victory over the vanity of this sinful world! 

So it’s the same starting place for all of us.  We gain nothing in this world… nothing.  Vanity of vanities.  Weakness is real, be honest.  And yet, it’s not hopeless if it is true that the “nothingness of our gainless vain world” was the very reason that God, by his gospel, has sent Christ to conquer the cycle of meaningless weakness and vanity!  Rest on that.  Weakness theology or realistic theology – call it whatever you will.

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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.

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genuine love… is there any other kind?

Just how weak are we?

This post is not a reflection on any personal or church experience – let that be noted. 

I have spent the last 2 mornings reading and meditating on Romans 12-14.  Last week, I attended a preaching workshop at Westminster Seminary and heard Bryan Chappell speak on Christ-centered preaching.  Among many things, he was emphatic on how the gospel must be the motivation for all holy living (from his book, Holiness By Grace).  Good stuff.  Romans 12:1-2 was a case in point.  The text says, in view of Christ’s mercy (because of your receiving it), present your bodies as a living sacrifice…  And yet, he unfortunately revealed how we often live our lives – or worse, preach from the pulpit – as if the text said, if you desire to receive Christ’s mercy, present your bodies as a living sacrifice.  May it never be said or implied so!!!  The entirety of the Christian life of sacrifice is in response to the perfect sacrifice of Christ’s life/death already having been received with pleasure by the Father on our account! 

So it sent me reading and reflecting on the latter chapters of Romans.  And once again, staring me in the face was the reality of the weakness over which Christ’s grace and mercy have covered – in my life and the lives of believers I know.  The text of Romans 12 moves past v.1-2, in my opinion, to show us that we are so weak that only Christ’s sacrifice unto death could free us to try to live as living sacrifices for the glory of God.  And its still not easy! Consider Romans 12:3 – for by the grace given me I say to everyone not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.  OK, we’ve heard that before – but Paul references grace again because Christ has laid down the perfect sacrifice for his prideful self, such that he can now seek to be a living sacrifice by soberly judging who he really is – weak and prideful and redeemed. 

Then in 12:9 – Let love be genuine.  Wait.  I must be reading too fast.  Let    love   be   genuine.   I have never noticed such an odd sentence!  Why does it even need to be written?  Is there any other kind of love than that which is genuine?  Woah.  Apparently this is but a glimpse into the difficulty of presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice!  Our tendency in life is not to love.  When we love, we must be reminded by command to make it genuine!  What a weak people we are!  Thinking too highly of ourselves.  Loving, but not really.  How could we ever live as if our “living sacrifice” could perfectly please God and so move him to show us mercy!  We can’t.  Not genuinely at least.

Thanks be to God that our loving and living and sacrificing is in view of Christ’s already perfectly given mercy to cover an ungenuine lover like me!

O God, do the mighty work of transformation in your church that we might become genuine sacrificers of self in love toward You and others – and may we find it to be the most beautiful and freeing motivation to look upon the mercy and genuine eternal love with which you have ALREADY PERFECTLY moved toward us!  Amen.

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it’s not easy

This morning I went to Philly for our regular “Church Planter Community.”  As is usual, we discussed an issue pertinent to church planting (today it was “philosophy of ministry”); then we prayed together and for one another; then we had a round-table discussion that addressed one particular planter’s situation.

It’s not easy. That’s all I have to say.  I praise God for my brothers and how they are serving Christ.  Today, we sat and prayed with a pastor who is serving, wrestling, struggling, fighting, and wondering if the investment is worth it.  It’s not easy.  Should we keep going?  Why is it so hard?  What about my family?  Am I called to this?  What about the joy of seeing the kingdom expand?  Wouldn’t God rather me be productive in some other way? …these are the kinds of hand-holding, ear-opening, prayerful conversations we share.  Church planting is for very weak Christians – no wonder I find myself in such common company!

I guess it is supposed to be as Paul said, “And I was with you in weakness and fear and in much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

So brothers in the pastorate and church planting – I am praying for you today.  I agree, that it is not easy, but I know the struggles we face are from and for the God of glory.

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weakness unexpected

this post will be vague but,  much like when Jesus called out the bleeding woman in Mark 5… when he oddly said, “Who touched me?” amidst the pressing crowd – no one knew to whom he was talking except the one for which his words were directed.  May this be the same to the ones I love whose life is upside down, I can only imagine.

i guess that weakness discovery and God-dependence is often more about our not knowing the future than it is about our inability to handle the present.  i know people who have been graced with God’s strength to continually manage the present for his glory… but what about the sudden change of future?  when the “unexpected” ravages our ordered life, disrupting and changing and reordering the narrative of our life – what an awesome place of helpless dependence on God the author of life whose eternal narrative remains untouched and equally full of redemptive turns, here and there. 

what do we say when the “unexpected” attacks people (robbing sleep and schedule) who have sought to order life for the glory of God?  what is there but quiet contemplation… and all under the listening ears of a God who knows no frazzled unforeseen circumstances.  they are his to order, and so our cries are his to hear.  i am stuck resting in that – i hope you are too.

thank you God for showing us who you are when we least expect it… when life has to go on after it seems to stop.  when you are with us in the stillness of the reordering. 

“I once understood the gospel as God asking me to let him into my narrative, to find room for him in my heart and life.  But now I realize that God bids me to find my place in his narrative.  In God’s story, he, with his own two hands – the incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit – recapitulated and reversed the human situation so I can now live in him.  Through him I can live in the expectation of a restored world…Here and now, because God became incarnate and recapitulated all things, I live in him, in his narrative, and he lives in my life, which is to be a witness to his narrative for the world.” (Robert E. Webber) 

i can’t imagine not knowing WHO it is that turns our life plans from the left to the right for his glory and our good.  thanks be to God – be with your servants in the well of the unexpected.  may they live the gospel for others in the midst of weakness.

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