Monthly Archives: April 2009

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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west valley pca april/may prayerletter

It was a Sunday evening.  March 8th, 2008.  It was our “burden inculcating” gathering.  We met at a local coffee shop to begin the church planting conversation among 30 adults from Cornerstone PCA who lived in the target area that would soon be called the “West Valley.”  That night, we discussed the necessity of studying our culture and the people in our neighborhoods even as we study the Word of God.  It was at that meeting that we first prayed, “Thy Kingdom come in our West Valley as it is in heaven.”   We discussed everything from the musical tastes of our demographic to the children of our neighborhoods.  We avoided all banter about style of music in worship or philosophy of kids ministry.  The good ole days!  It was a time set apart by God to talk about “doing KINGDOM” in our community.   We still talk about that.  In many recent conversations about West Valley, I find myself confessing that we are only eight months into public worship and only a year old in totality.  We are infantile, immature, adolescent, and a bit toddlerish.  And yet, so much has happened.  Church-plant years are like dog-years, I think. 

After our March 8th meeting, we entered formation mode.  We sought a biblical philosophy of ministry for our North East context.  We landed on five core values (the Word, the Gospel, the Kingdom, the Church, and the West Valley).  We painted a vision 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.  We committed to seek after it as the church of God, according to the Word of God, in the enjoyment of God, for the glory of God (our mission).  It was exciting to craft a model of KINGDOM to the best of our discernment of both the Word and our culture.  But then again, it was what it was.  Just a model of ministry.  Just words on a paper.  Just a plan that started like many conversations do… at a coffee shop.

 How goes it now?

 Well, we are still praying, “Thy Kingdom come in our West Valley as it is in heaven.”  We are seeing neighborhood friends join us in worship and God-exploration through the Word.  We have intellectual skeptics joining us Sunday after Sunday, even embarking on one-on-one discipleship journeys to test the gospel more intimately.  We have become a small home away from home for college students who bring friends.  We are doing a community assessment to learn what physical and spiritual needs are untouched in our target demographic (i.e. we have been burdened by the lack of transitional housing for people without shelter).  We are partnering with other churches that likewise declare the gospel as the only hope for the brokenness in us and around us.  We are seeking the Lord regarding our facility stewardship, as we can fit no more than the 160 chairs we have in our worship space.  Specifically, we are curious as to how we can continue to be a blessing to our community by inhabiting and perhaps transforming a warehouse or spacious building into a place of transformative KINGDOM engagement.  (Our main Street space has affected our DNA.) We are engaging 120+ people each Sunday with the gospel incarnate – through fellowship, through sacrament and through declaration.  We are so thankful that God would continue to gather us weekly to exalt his loftiness, his glory, his gospel, and his PLAN to redeem his people.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is, I hope, intruding on the lives of believers and inquisitive unbelievers alike, regardless of their connection point of brokenness.

 BUT…

 There may be a glaring need in our midst.  Even as we have celebrated the centrality of the Word of God, that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”(Rom. 10:17); and even as we are confidently desperate in our celebration of Jesus Christ, the only hope for the ravaged and wrecked among us.  Even still, it seems we are just now growing HUNGRY for the transformation that only the Holy Spirit can bring to his church, to his people in this sin-soaked, self-saturated, spiritually-suffocating world. 

 John Calvin summed up the Christian life as “rejoicing in the Holy Spirit.”  Christians glory in the presence of the Holy Spirit, without which glorying Christianity itself does not stand!   As I consider the people at West Valley – both those who have been historically churched and those who are newly engaged – I am seeing hunger for transformation… a simultaneous awareness and desire for God the Spirit to be in our midst!  People are weighed down by personal pain, relational scars, financial debt, identity crises, guilt, anger, fear, lust, depression, despair.  I look into their eyes every Sunday with the Word in my hands.  And yet, what I am learning is that God’s people do not merely need to hear me wax about “Jesus Christ, the only hope for our brokenness.”  They do not merely need to learn the power and purpose of expositional preaching in context of celebratory worship.  They do not merely need to be reminded to incarnate Christ’s love to their neighbors and business partners.  No.  We ALL universally need the Holy Spirit to change our human hearts, to “reform our affections,” to transform us! 

 I am committed to gospel-centered expositional preaching and I have been called of God to pastor a missional church plant.  Yet in this winepress of sanctification (as one of our members so affectionately termed church planting) I habitually forget that effective gospel preaching depends wholly on the power of the Spirit as Christ offers himself in the gospel.  If we neglect to proclaim the work of Christ or to beseech the work of the Spirit, all preaching is lifeless and impotent (Thabiti Anyabwile).  Paul made the point CLEAR in 1 Corinthians 2:12 – Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given to us.  Wow.  No believer will understand the Word and experience the transformative power of the gospel apart from the Spirit.  No skeptic will grasp the relevant dead-to-life promise of the gospel apart from the Spirit. 

 So, one year into the planting of West Valley Presbyterian Church, I ask one thing of you: will you pray for the Spirit’s transformation through the Word – as Christ himself is offered to us in the gospel?  Will you pray that for every person we engage at West Valley?  No, that’s not big enough.  Will you pray that for the entirety of our mission field of the West Valley, for our city?  Will you?  Will you pray that for my life, my family and the families of a growing church plant?  Will you?

Today I pray it for you.  May God transform us all for his glory by his Spirit through his Word.

 Rejoicing in the Spirit, jim

If you desire to partner financially with West Valley PCA, please contact me at jim@westvalleypres.org and/or send any gifts to West Valley Presbyterian Church, 326 Main Street, Suite 1 – Emmaus PA 18049.  All gifts will be tax-deduct and a year end statement will be provided.

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Below is a poem/prayer titled “Resurrection” in the Valley of Vision Puritan Prayer Book.  Few posts in this chaotic time at West Valley PCA.  May God be delighted with the gratitude and joyful offering we bring to him.  May he resurrect our broken lives and stir us to actually believe what we believe.

 

O God of my exodus,

Great was the joy of Israel’s sons,

when Egypt died upon the shore,

Far greater the joy

when the Redeemer’s foe lay crushed in the dust.

Jesus strides forth as the victor,

conqueror of death, hell, and all opposing might;

He bursts the bands of death,

tramples the powers of darkness down,

and lives forever.

He, my gracious surety,

apprehended for payment of my debt,

comes forth from the prison house of the grave

free, and triumphant over sin, Satan, and death.

 

Show me herein the proof that his vicarious offering is accepted,

that the claims of justice are satisfied,

that the devil’s scepter is shivered,

that his wrongful throne is leveled.

Give me the assurance that

in Christ I died,

in him I rose,

in his life I live,

in his victory I triumph,

in his ascension I shall be glorified.

 

Adorable Redeemer,

thou who was lifted up upon a cross

art ascended to highest heaven.

Thou, who as Man of sorrows

wast crowned with thorns,

art now as Lord of life wreathed with glory.

 

Once, no shame more deep than thine,

no agony more bitter,

no death more cruel.

Now, no exaltation more high,

no life more glorious,

no advocate more effective.

Though art in the triumph car leading captive

thine enemies behind thee.

What more could be done than thou hast done!

 

Thy death is my life,

thy resurrection my peace,

thy ascension my hope,

thy prayers my comfort.

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