Category Archives: authenticity

prayerless words – weak fool

I have spoken many prayerless words in the past 24 hours.  Words matter.  Hard reminder when I see the effect of my mouth on my family.  God have mercy.

When I consider that my words can wound as they do… I am suddenly struck by the words of the Ecclesiastes passage I am working through – “What is crooked cannot be made straight.”  Sometimes that’s how I feel about the parts of myself that don’t add up.   When I am angry, why do I speak.  I know not to.  I do anyways.  What a crooked part of this fallen world.  The things I don’t want to do I do…

Crooked words point to a crooked heart in a crooked world that I can’t make straight.  Once again, weakness as the catalyst for a gospel prayer, hope, dependence and love. 

Today I feel like a crooked pastor because I can’t make things straight in my home… and yet, somehow by grace (in spite of all I said last night) there was a familial experience of peace this morning.  Could it be the peace that God, in his time, will straighten what is crooked.  Will bend my words into obedience and blessing for his glory?  Please do O God.

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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

 

 

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Sexual Brokenness and the Gospel

This weekend, Cornerstone PCA and Calvary Bible Fellowship Church are hosting Harvest USA’s

Sexual Brokenness and the Gospel Seminar

Unfortunately, the myriad of sexual-brokenness related needs have skyrocketed in our church and sexual culture.  The normalcy of pornography and image desensitizing has risen to epidemic proportions.  I could put statistics here, but that would only be shock valule about how many others struggle.  If you struggle with sexual brokenness – guilt from the past, addiction in the present, family exposure (perhaps you are a casualty of some else’s struggle) – and you live in our near the Lehigh Valley of PA, join us for this incredible gospel-centered weekend.  Email me for details.

It is not a conference on sexual perversion or sexual evil… but the reality of sexual brokenness.  How many of us break over the misuse of something God created to be good and beautiful and guiltless??!!  The weekend is for men and women, singles and marrieds, parents and youth.  All of us live in a sensual culture that leaves its wake of tears. 

Join us.  If you cannot or live outside of our target, pray for the Harvest USA speakers and the individuals/families who will be joining us.  If you personally struggle with an addiction and desire to discover release and resurrection victory but you don’t know where to turn, email me should you choose (jim@cornerstonepca.net). 

 The gospel of Christ’s righteousness given to us IS relevant to this broken need.  It is a safe solution that is no longer costly to you and me… Christ has borne the cost of your freedom from this enslavement.  There is hope!  There is freedom!  There is forgiveness!  There is guiltlessness!  There is a Redeemer who was broken for our brokenness, that we might be whole.  Soli deo gloria!

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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.”

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my existence

There is only one problem on which all of my existence, my peace, and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God.  If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him. 

–  Thomas Merton

There is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God.

–  John Calvin

A humble self-knowledge is a surer way to God than a search after deep knowledge.

– Thomas a Kempis

Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.

– Augustine

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Screwtape Letters, again

This is a terrifyingly real thought.  In the following section, Screwtape is impressing upon his nephew the entire point of tempting their “patients” – you and me.

Screwtape speaks about the importance of tempting people not with something enticing, but with Nothing…

Nothing is very strong; strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiousities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off. 

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness.  But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy.  It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.  Murder is no better than cards if the cards can do the trick.  Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,

Your affectionate uncle Screwtape

Kinda makes me glad for the pointed struggles of reality’s particular moments.  Better that than to “ease on down the road.”

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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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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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learning curve

There’s a learning curve in every are of life.  Family.  Occupation.  Marriage.  Ministry.

I was recently soberly confronted with a lesson I have yet to learn.  Simply put, in the pastoral life – one knows a lot about people and their lives and struggles and needs.  I understand the reality to put a ‘hedge’ around my family so that I can go home at night and play with 3 kids (or go home with an honest intentionality to deal with my own life and struggles and needs).  I have been taught to distance myself, in a sense, from what I know about people so that I don’t absorb what they know in life as my own life.  I understand that.

BUT – I am learning that it is one thing to KNOW life-facts about hurting people… it is another thing altogether to break with them.  To hurt with them.  To fully empathize.  I have often thought I was doing that… but maybe (today atleast) I have been simply knowing about people’s lives – then speaking the gospel into it – then knowing that I had done what was required.

Maybe that’s not what is required.  Twice, recently, I have failed to break alongside someone and to plead God’s mercy with them.  I was satisfied to know their need.  There’s privilege to “be in the know” (you know). 

The beauty of learning is that it alerts me to who I really am and softens me in what I think I know.  I guess I actually learn more when I realize how far down on the curve I am.  And that’s a good thing (kinda fits a weakness theology).

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