Monthly Archives: November 2007

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.

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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.

Thanksgiving prayer…

I read this today…  What a prayer for a pastor on Thanksgiving.  May what I hope for when I declare the message of the gospel be the same thing I am thankful for when I consider my heart and its need – Christ!  

I do not ask that crowds may throng the temple,
That standing room be priced;
I only ask that as I voice the message
They may see Christ!
I do not ask
For churchly pomp or pageant,
Or music such as wealth alone can buy;
I only ask that as I voice the message
He may be nigh!
I do not ask
That men may sound my praises,
Or headlines spread my name abroad;
I only pray that as I voice the message
Hearts may find God!
I do not ask
For earthly place or laurel,
Or of this world’s distinctions any part;
I only ask, when I have voiced the message,
My Savior’s heart!
-Ralph S. Cushman (1939)

vacating…

We are on vacation this week, so I may not be posting.  Then again, many of you readers seem to be on vacation as well… as there’s been a drop in reading! 

Tired and with my wife and kids and family for a weak.  I mean week. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you, and thanks to our God for his new and comprehensive… daily… morning-by-morning MERCY. 

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.

pain before comfort – gospel counseling!

I have been reading and re-reading James.  I have also been trying to do some gospel-counseling.  Imagine with me if James were your counselor to whom you brought a weakness-sin-struggle.  My gut tells me that his response would eventually lead to comfort, but it would start with acute pain!  Check out this call to go straight into the bottom of the well and so find him who “gives more grace.” 

“Be wretched and mourn and weep.  Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.”  – James 4:9-10

Love it.  Sometimes my problem is that when I have sinned against my kids or Kori, or when I have pridefully not listened but talked incessantly, or when I have fallen prey to unproductive self-pleasing idleness – whenever I struggle with my inumerable weaknesses, I push them aside and just go on laughing and existing undeterred.  What counsel James gives!  I should rather run with naked abandon into the place where I am humbled by the honest disgust of my sin; or just the honest reality of the Fall in and around me! 

SO, next time I come to you (my friends) with this pithy look on my face evidencing I am coasting and coexisting with issues of struggle – look me square in the eye and say – Jim, be wretched.  Mourn.  Weep.  Don’t laugh.  Don’t be happy.  Try on some gloom.  It’ll be the beautiful word of the hour because I might actually still my proud and casual heart into a place of humility – and there experience the glorious, gracious exaltation of a repentant sinner who experienced more grace once again. “But he gives more grace”(James 4:6).

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

too startled to know where to start

Yesterday I had a startling realization.  I don’t know how to read Scripture.  I know how to use it (I’m sure some of you could argue with that), but I don’t know how to read it for my needy self.

Seriously – I sat outside on my back porch on a beautiful Fall day.  Just me and the text.  Actually, I went outside to prepare a Bible study.  I thought it best to spend time reading and praying before I set to “studying and preparing.”  Then a whole lot of nothing happened.  I didn’t know how to do it.    Had I wanted to, I could have kicked back into “Bible study preparation mode” and I would have been actively chasing nuances and contextual drivers, etc.  I would have felt productive.  But who would I be kidding? 

This was one day on the heals of an incredible gospel-centered counseling conference (CCEF).  I had been fed the gospel and devoured multiple texts of Scripture over the weekend – so why was it so hard when alone on my porch?  Or, recently I have been reading book after book about the gospel and culture… or about life… books that drive the reader into Scripture as the sole authority.  So why was I now – when it was just me and my Bible – drawing a blank?

In other words… I get jazzed when preparing to teach/preach Scripture.  I am moved when others speak the Word into my world.  I am encouraged, challenged (and jealous all at the same time) when a good writer kidnaps my mind and heart and takes me to an internal gospel-textual world.  Yet sitting on my back porch I felt unmotivated, unmoved and unsure about what to do next. 

Maybe that was my problem.  I have often made it as though there was something for ME to do next, when Scripture very clearly teaches us about what God does first, next and last by his Spirit when he engages us with his Word.  “Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God”(1 Cor. 2:12). 

What would the Spirit do next to break through the textual workaholic inside of me with the very text before me?  

Long story short.  I turned to the book of James (knowing it talks about anger and anger has been an issue lately).  I read the whole book slowly.  s-l-o-w-l-y.  And then it happened.  I read Scripture without thinking about teaching it.  Without the desire to check it off of my list of “a pastor’s daily duties.”  I feel like I read Scripture for the first time in a long while. 

Maybe I wasn’t the one reading.  It was as though God was reading to me.  The words slowed down.  The words didn’t drag on, they jumped off the page.  God was reading to me.  He told me His story of my life. 

He told me about me and what he has done to save me from me.  (O, and he used words I had read over and over… he made them NEW.)

James 1:19-21 – “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger [all 3 are me]; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.  Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness [that’s me too] and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” 

Then the word implanted itself in me 2 chapters later: “But He gives more grace… Submit yourselves to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.  [You don’t teach that, you taste it, Jim.]  Cleanse your hands your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded.  Be wretched and mourn and weep.  Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.”  – James 4:6-10