Category Archives: bruised

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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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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Keller on Isaiah 58

A week ago, I posted my contemplations on Isaiah 58.  I have some upcoming opportunities to speak on the nature of the West Valley church plant – and in honesty, the picture of true kingdom living from Isaiah 58 is burned into my soul and causing surreal ache and repentance.  I can’t even think about church planting without the hope of being ‘restorers of the streets’ – as Isaiah describes it.

This morning, I was reading more of Keller’s The Reason for God – Belief in an Age of Skepticism.  He directly alluded to and extrapolated from Isaiah 58 as he considered the skeptic’s frequent objection that “the church is responsible for so much injustice.”  With gentle biblical and intellectual prowess, Keller agreed, though he acknnowledged that the very reason we can critique the church’s actions in history is because Christ and the prophets did the very same thing.  They were the first to critique the oppression and blindness of the religious establishment!  According to the historian C. John Summerville, “even strong secular critics of Christianity are really using resources from within it to denounce it.”  For example, Jesus’s sermon on the Mount is a major critique of the religious, not the irreligious! 

Then Keller turned to Isaiah 58.  Remember, it’s a chapter that presents a relatively good picture of those who fast and humble themselves before God in personal devotion, etc.  THEN, the Lord rebukes such personal piety on the grounds that he required fasting that rather looked like “loosing the chains of injustice and setting the oppressed free…”

Timothy Keller: “What were the prophets and Jesus criticizing?  They were not against prayer and fasting and obedience to God’s directions for life.  The tendency of religious people, however, is to use spiritual and ethical observance as a lever to gain power over others and over God, appeasing him through ritual and good works.  This leads both to an emphasis on external religious forms as well as greed, materialism, and oppression in social arrangements.  Those who believe they have pleased God by the quality of their devotion and moral goodness naturally feel that they and their group deserve deference and power over others.  The God of Jesus and the prophets, however, saves completely by grace.  He cannot be manipulated by religion and moral perfomance – he can only be reached through repentance, through the giving up of power…  In Jesus’ and the prophets’ critique, self-righteous religion is always marked by insensitivity to issues of social justice, while true faith is marked by profound concern for the poor and marginalized.”  – p.60, The Reason for God, Dutton Press, 2008 –

Yes, the church has historically been stained by its involvement in (at worst) oppression of the weak or (more simply) blindness to the broken in deference toward its own happiness and image.  Yes, it happens due to sinful hearts.  BUT, that is where religion has been unfortunately gospel-less and filled with strength rather than an awareness of our constant grace-dependent weakness. 

SO, may the ‘restorer of the streets’ version of true fasting and true gospel-religion be all-consuming as we pray for the identity of a church that is in embryo and soon to meet the world.  Will we be concerned for all whom God has providentially placed in our demographic (hispanic, indian, hindu, goth, homosexual, historically churched, evangelical, young, old, transplant, PA Dutch, wealthy, poor, skateboarding, single parent, skeptic, angry, indifferent, happy, healthy, sick…)?

If we will, than we have no clue the kind of church that God will create!!!  All we know is that it’ll have something to do with the people on our street (Isaiah 58:12) and it will have everything to do with showing forth a gospel of a God who longs to weep with the weak and bind up the broken. 

Yes, the church has historically oppressed or ignored while clinging to personal piety… but that is not the end of the story!

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weakness quote

If dependence is God’s agenda, then weakness is actually our advantage.

-Alistair Begg

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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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resolving to rest and quit resolving

This new year, may our gospel-centered lives be evidenced by our RESTING in the finished work of Christ our Redeemer… which means recognizing our continual weakness and brokenness and need to be held by him who will not bruise even the weakest reed.  May THIS new year actually be about NEWNESS, as we seek to REST in our graciously given new-creation-identity, and not just RESOLVE to do more… to be stronger… to learn more… to be better. 

Yes, may we be vigorously attentive to our weaknesses and not our perceived and often deceived strengths, such that we might live more dependently (and very newly) on Christ.  

Make your resolutions if you must, but may the first resolution be to not resolve to find strength in anything other than the Strong One whom you and I can only see in his glorious fullness when we observe him through our weakness and need! 

May your new year be Christ-dependent and new and risky and secure as you resolve to REST on him alone and to quit resolving to be a better you (which subliminally often becomes resting in self-progress)!  Rather, resolve to rest on the perfect you through his righteousness and the gospel given to you last year, this year, and for eternity to come.

Grace.  Jim

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When my soul blows smoke rather than burns with fire…

A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.  – Isaiah 42:2-3 

Still reading the puritan Richard Sibbes, A Bruised Reed. 

Isaiah 42:3 makes the point that Christ will not blow out a faintly burning wick.  In other words, as we have been re-created to burn with a gospel light that evidences Christ’s transforming work through his righteousness and mercy, yet all of our soul-fires are attended with the smoke of corruption.  You and I blow smoke all the time, but if we would be in Christ (by grace through faith), we WILL NOT blow out.  And yet, we have days when the fire is wanting; when no heat seems to emanate.  We simply puff smoke.  That is the reality of our weakness. 

How does it enable us to live the gospel all the more?!  Let me just give you a puff or two from the puritanical pipe I have been smoking…

Some think, when they become more troubled with the smoke of corruption than they were before, therefore they are worse than they were [before].  It is true that corruptions appear more now than before, but they are less. 

For first, the more sin is seen, the more it is hated, and therefore it is less.  Dust particles are in a room before the sun shines, but they only appear then. 

Secondly, the nearer the contraries are one to another, the sharper is the conflict between them.  Now, of all the enemies the spirit and the flesh are the nearest one to another, being both in the soul of the regenerate man… and therefore it is no marvel that the soul, the seat of this battle, thus divided within itself, is as smoking flax (a faintly burning wick)… Therefore, none are so aware of corruption as those whose souls are most alive. 

Let such know that if the smoke be offensive to them, it is a sign that there is light.  It is better to enjoy the benefit of light, though with smoke, than to be altogether in the dark. 

It should encourage us to duty [obedience, worship, awe] that Christ will not quench the smoking flax, but blow on it till it flames. 

And so this day I pray the gospel with my new friend Sibbes:

‘Lord, I believe’ with a weak faith, yet with faith; love thee with a weak love, yet with love; endeavor in a feeble manner, yet endeavor.  A little fire is fire, though it smokes.   Amen.

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.

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.