Category Archives: Christ

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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A kingdom of humility, contrition and trembling

“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” – Isaiah 66:2

Smack in the middle of a vision of the New Heavens and Earth – the beautiful restoration of God that includes his judgment and justice and KINGDOM – is a beautiful description of the people to whom God’s grace and righteousness will rest.  THOSE WHO HUMBLY AND CONTRITELY TREMBLE AT HIS WORD.

Here we are, on the verge of planting a church in the Lehigh Valley of PA.  The thoughts (and methodological books) pour into my head.  Be relevant.  Be faithful.  Be risky.  Be patient.  Be holy.  Be original.  Be missional.  Be Spirit-led.  Be this or that or this or that.  Many of those things I DO want!  But O God, I want  most for us to be your kingdom on earth! 

What will that be like, I wonder.  One thing is clear according to Isaiah’s kingdom vision.  The kingdom on earth WILL be a place where the Word of God revealed to man is CENTRAL to life and ethics and obedience and worship.  We are to be “West Valley Presbyterian Church that trembles contritely at the word of God.”  Nice.

Whether I am seeing this because I am on the heals of a workshop on biblical exposition, or I am resting in it because it is God’s purpose for me to discover the centrality of his Word while outside of a bunch of crazy Word-centered preachers… I am not sure – except I love the Word.  Yes, it is hard to read.  Yes, it is often uninteresting to our visual and emotive culture.  BUT, it is the living Word and revelation of the Creator of the universe and Redeemer of my soul.  Is it not a powerful gift of grace around which ALL of our church plant should center?!

One thing I humbly had to confess at the workshop was this: I generally try to discern how the text of Scripture applies to me, or the congregation to which I preach.  But the problem with such a philosophy is that I am making myself, or others the center point of relating to God.  “How does this apply to ME?”  It is egocentric (though normal in our Western culture)!  The question is rather, “How do I apply my life to the Word?”  “How do I relate to the TRUTH of the text?” rather than “How does this text relate to my perceived reality?”

All I can say is that I can’t possibly imagine being in the New Heavens/Earth of Isaiah 66 and thinking, “How does this Kingdom fit into my reality?”  No, my reality will be defined by such a kingdom!  This is the reason that the kingdom is for those who humbly and contritely tremble at the Word – because IT IS the bar.  IT IS the barometer of reality.  IT IS the density of the gravity by which things float or fall.  How does my reality square with TRUE, GOD REVEALED REALITY?  That is humbling… it induces trembling.  What a grace – that those who are humbled and contrite and trembling at God’s Word are the ones to whom he will look in his kingdom (66:2)! 

SO, it must be Word-now, because it will be Word-then!!!  The kingdom is thus here and then through the Word revealed!

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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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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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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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blue like jazz deux

It has been a long time since I was able to read a 240 page book in 4 sittings.  Going to bed early to get up at 5:30 to read again…  Weird, because I know I am culturally late having just now read Blue Like Jazz.

Friends, foes, family, liberal believers, conservative believers, non-believers (liberal or conservative), modern, postmodern, Gen x, hippies, moms, dads, laypersons, clergy, skeptical, frustrated, missional, emerging, emergent, reformed, dispensational, coffee drinking, beer drinking, Southern Bible-belter, Northern ?!, college kid, high school kid, city-monger, rural farmer…  have I missed anyone?  Please give this a read.  Give Donald Miller’s words a chance, all of them.  Read, and read on.  Or maybe just read him because he’s from Portland.  Cool.

I am not saying that it is the best book I have ever read.  Not that it is the perfect book.  Not that I agree with every last word.  But that they are real words.  Words that made me laugh and stunned me and led to worship or repentance or introspection.  They are Donald Miller’s words… and even though it is impossible to hear all that he is saying, I have heard something profound.

From his final chapter:

I was watching BET one night, and they were interviewing a man about jazz music.  He said jazz music was invented by the first generation out of slavery.  I thought that was beautiful, because, while it is music, it is very hard to put on paper; it is so much more a language of the soul.  It is as if the soul is saying something, something about freedom.  I think Christian spirituality is like jazz music.  I think loving Jesus is something you feel.  I think it is something very difficult to get on paper.  But it is no less real, no less meaningful, no less beautiful. 

The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music.  It is music birthed out of freedom.  And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality.  A music birthed out of freedom.  Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands…

This book is about the songs my friends and I are singing…  ((p.239)

Interesting enough, I feel like singing.

 _______________________

Addendum.  I would be remiss not to pass this quote along to you, especially for those of you who know that I am inching forward in my book-writing adventure.  ‘Bout a hundred pages in and here is how I feel…

Now, I am not a real writer as is Miller, but his words made me laugh. 

Writers don’t make any money at all.  We make about a dollar.  It is terrible.  But then again we don’t work either.  We sit around in our underwear until noon then go downstairs to make coffee, fry some eggs, read the paper, read part of a book, smell the book, wonder if perhaps we ourselves should work on our book, smell the book again, throw the book across the room because we are quite jealous that any other person wrote a book, feel terribly guilty about throwing the schmuck’s book across the room because we secretly wonder if God in heaven will notice our evil jealousy, or worse, our laziness.  We then lie across the couch facedown and mumble to God to forgive us because we are secretly afraid He is going to dry up all our words because we envied another man’s stupid words.  And for this, as I said before, we are paid a dollar.  We are worth so much more…  (p.187)

When you are writing without a contract, you feel as though everything you say is completely worthless (technically it is, until you get a contract).  You can write all day and still not feel that you have done anything.  (p.188)

And that, my friends, should tell you how I feel about the progress I am not making in my ‘project.’

Grace.

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imagination as a gift

There are a lot of things I have come to believe by God’s grace.  I do believe.  And then, in a moment of intimacy with my children, I realize that it is one thing to believe a propositional declared truth… it is another thing altogether to imagine such good truth to be TRUE.

Last night, Lina and Meggie and I were finishing the last chapter of The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.  It was all about the kingdom of Christ and his heaven coming to earth.  It was biblical theology that mattered and could be imagined.  Lina – “Linna” (5) – sat up and her eyes conveyed the imaginitive glory.  “So, daddy, it’ll be like a whole new world.”  Yep.  “So, if I die and then Jesus breathes on me to come into his new world, I might not live here anymore… I might live in that state where Uncle Kurt and Aunt Carla live.  Or maybe in Georgia.”  Maybe Lina, but I like how you called it ‘Jesus’ new world.  That makes a lot of sense to me.  “But daddy, I might be scared in heaven because I won’t find you.”  No Lina, it’s impossible for you to be scared in heaven… because in heaven there will be no tears or pain, not even fear.  And Jesus won’t let you be alone.  And I don’t think we’ll be apart, because we’ll all be doing the same thing – praising Jesus together!

I could go on.  But I would rather “treasure these things in my heart” – in a sense they are wordless anyway.  The point is, last night, through my child’s imagination, I experienced real belief.  I couldn’t paint a picture for her of something I casually held to.  What a gift.  Thank you God for your work in my children “of promise” who make your promises new to me day after day.

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Blue Like Jazz

I mean not to make this blog into “Book-Review Central”… I think the 3 books I have thrown at you recently are The Wounded Healer (Henri Nouwen), Metamorpha (Kyle Strobel), and The Bruised Reed (Puritan Richard Sibbes).  Well, surely some of you have read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz – Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality.  I started it yesterday and am 140 pages into it after only two sittings. 

 Here’s the thing: Donald Miller is an amazing writer.  I appreciate his ability to enjoyably engage our post-modern very spiritual culture with the relevance of Christ.  Now, I’m not sure where Miller stands with regard to “postmodernizing the gospel” in our attempt to reach our postmodern culture… but he is refreshing, interesting, and intelligible nonetheless and, so far, I have only read his affirmation of the centrality and truth of Christ.  I am thankful for the words God has gifted him with.  Let me give you an example of his work and why it is effective for our postmodern culture (and why many of us should tap into his words for reference sake, at a bare minimum).

Rather than declaratively stating that the Bible teaches us that God has written a story about a King redeeming a people broken and in need (which it does tell us in epic fashion)… instead, Mr. Trendy Writer (which he doesn’t want to be called) uses the fourfold elements of story that are consistent throughout good literature (appreciated asthetically by our artsy culture): setting, conflict, climax and resolution.  What he says is that the reason why we naturally resonate with stories or movies – is because the best of them have a setting that is realistic, a conflict that is all-encompassing (subliminally reminds us of our lives), a climax where the conflict is addressed, and a resolution of some sort (even if not what we expect – most of us still assume life will resolve in some way).  Why does that fourfold ‘package’ continue to be defined as good literature (proven by books purchased and movies watched)?  Why do these elements make sense?

Miller says it is because they reflect the cosmic story where the setting is our struggle in this broken world, the conflict is realizing that the dark struggle is not just in the world but inside our very souls, the climax is when belief in salvation through Christ “happens to us” and the resolution is the kingdom transformation that will come presently and in the future.  In his own words:

There it was: setting, conflict, climax, and resolution.  As silly as it seemed, it met the requirements of the heart and it matched the facts of reality.  It felt more than true, it felt meaningful.  I was starting to believe that I was a character in the greater story, which is why the elements of story [all stories] made sense in the first place.  The magical proposition of the gospel, once free from the clasps of fairy tale, was very adult to me, very gritty like something from Hemingway or Steinbeck…  Christian spirituality was not a children’s story.  It wasn’t cute or neat.  It was mystical and odd and clean, and it was reaching into the dirty. 

Now, I am not in favor of a postmodern gospel, just as I could do without a modernist gospel.  The gospel is trans-cultural.  It transforms the postmodern spiritual individual into a socially active Kingdom-minded follower of Christ, even as it transforms the modern intellectual individual into a Truth-defending but gracious believer.  We don’t modernize or post-modernize the gospel (we don’t enculturate it), but we MUST take the gospel in an intelligible way to the culture we are in – be it postmodern or modern, be it rural or urban, be it homogonous or heterogonous (we DO trans-culturate it).

So far, Blue Like Jazz is like a window into such a philosophy of ministry.  Thank you Donald Miller.  After reading a book with absolutely NO Scripture quotes or references… I come away wanting to know the God of grace who has/can touch my world in Christ.  I come away repenting of my self-obsession.   And I come away excited about the relevant truth that is just that… TRUTH.

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