Category Archives: church

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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the kingdom of heaven on earth – on city streets

My friend Terrence will love the fact that my trek through the Book of Isaiah brought chapter 58 into my world with crushing force.  This morning’s reading is impacting and leaves me (and most of the evangelical Christianity I have known) in a posture of repentance.  This morning I also began reading Tim (ahem “Timothy”) Keller’s NY Times best-selling bookThe Reason for God.  In the intro, he acknowledged that as a young Christian, “I seemed to see two camps before  me, and there was something radically wrong with both of them.  The people most passionate about social justice were moral relativists, while the morally upright didn’t seem to care about the oppression going on all over the world.”

OK, so social justice has a bad rap among evangelicals who are supposedly missional and reaching out to our broken culture.  I get that some churches/individuals are intentionally missional over seas (thanks be to God for his Great Commission) and others are missional in their local community.  But Isaiah 58 calls us to missionalism ON OUR OWN STREETS.  Compelling for the suburban isolated – but passionate believer.  Convicting for the church planting pastor.  Convicting for the rural farmer who loves the Lord. 

Who are we to be for the sake of the kingdom of God intersecting with our world around us? 

I give to you from Isaiah 58 – and if GOD has it on your heart to be involved in the West Valley Church Plant, I PRAY this will be knit into your soul with urgency as we ask him to make us “restorers of the streets” in Emmaus and Lower Macungie and all of the west side of the Lehigh Valley.

Isaiah 58:5-12 – God speaking through Isaiah:    

“Is such a fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?  Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?  Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?  (actually sounds appropriate… BUT…)

Is it not (rather) to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house;  when you see the naked (or divorced or indebt or addicted or whatever), to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (other image bearers are, in a sense, my own flesh as I am a sinner broken and likewise in need)

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ 

If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out FOR the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.  And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters do not fail… you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”

O God, may your WORD guide what we think a church should like on our city streets and FOR our neighbors.

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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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West Valley Presbyterian Church Plant

west valley church plant office

Check it out… there we will be.  The first floor office on the left (slightly hidden)!  We are so thankful for the opportunity to already be “in” the downtown as Emmaus is renovating its artsy center.  New retail spaces.  Newly renovated store exteriors.  A newly landscaped “triangle.”

We are in the process of painting and designing the space – such that it will be useful and warm and a place for community rest.  My hope is that we will be able to host the work of various local artists inside our office, such that we get walkthru traffic simply by saying: “come check out our local art.”  What an opportunity to display the creation of those in our community who are reflecting the image of their Creator.   What an inroad for conveying the gospel that redeems all things! 

I have spent the week working on my fundraising “packet” – letters and funding plans and demographic/personal bios.  If all goes as planned, we will mail many out next week!  If you know of anyone who would desire to participate in a kingdom church plant in the North East, please send them my way!  jim@cornerstonepca.net

God is at work in the admistrating this HUGE transition.  Pray for Cornerstone families who are praying about surrendering to the call of church planting.  Pray for a sacrificial spirit to suppress all of our “preferences” as we jointly prefer to plant a church to God’s liking!  A church OF the broken that is FOR the broken in our community BEFORE him who binds up the broken hearted! 

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West Valley church planter(s)

At our initial West Valley PCA church plant gathering on Sunday night, I tried to be intentionally vague about most things while annoyingly clear about other things.  For example: where will we worship?  vague shrug.  When exactly will we begin? vague shrug (with clearly stated ‘launch indicators’)  What kind of music?  vague shrug.  Frequency of the Lord’s Table?  vague shrug.  Interestingly, I have my hopes and convictions about each of those things… but they are not for now… nor is this church plant enterprise about my hopes.

One of the things that I hope to make excitably clear is that the West Valley PCA project will NOT be about one church planter who (by God’s grace) ministers among core group, out of which a launch team is formed.  Rather, the kingdom prayer is that God would CALL church planters (plural) to engage our neighborhoods with the gospel and Christ incarnate through the body of the church.  I failed, in the midst of the details, to share a text that invigorates me in this regard.

Isaiah 32 speaks of the King.  God’s King.  The King whose kingdom we are to be praying would come to earth in justice and mercy and extravagant unconditional gospel-love. 

32:1 – Behold, a king will reign in righteousness.

But as the text moves on to describe his rule… it includes his people!  … and princes will rule in justice.  EACH will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like strams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.

Notice, it is not merely the King who is the hiding place from the wind.  His kingdom is made up of princes (plural) who shelter others from life’s storm and brokenness, who are like streams of water bringing satisfaction to the people in our dry and despairing world; our weary land!  The picture, for me, is one of Christ being the King of a kingdom made up of princes who PLANT the benefits of his glorious kingdom in our weary context (wherever that might be).

The translation into church planting is simply in the plurality of planters, much the same as the plurality of princes!  O God, would you call out churchplanters, such that “EACH will be like a hiding place from the wind (for their neighbors being blown like tumbleweed), a shelter from the storm (for their family and friends who are sick and tired of being beaten be the storms of guilt and family distress, etc), like streams of water in a dry and weary land (in Emmaus and Lower Macungie and all of the West Valley).  May your work be so ‘pluralized’ among church planter(s) that we embody one unified Christ-centered community!

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West Valley Presbyterian Church, PCA mission

Last night I enjoyed the presence of 33 friends and good coffee at our first West Valley PCA (mission church) gathering in Emmaus PA.  I am excitedly silent… or is it, silently excited.  (which makes you more excited?)  In sum, we hung out, went through the demographic gospel-needs of our target (East Penn area of the Lehigh Valley – specifically Lower Macungie and Emmaus) and I took the privilege to convey a bit of my philosophy of ministry – you know, that bit about being a church of weak people who depend on a strong gospel.  Otherwise said like this: Would that God create a church of the broken, for the broken in our community, before the One who binds up the broken

We talked about being a church that DOES CHRIST’S KINGDOM among our community, rather than just doing church among the churched and calling it kingdom.  What that will look like in human flesh (incarnate), we are yet to really know.   We trust these upcoming months will reveal gospel-opportunities where the kingdom is as stunning in Emmaus/Lower Mac as it was in Acts 2.

The cry is that the 33 people present would pray and begin to do neighborhood church planting as the gospel heals their brokenness and moves them into the brokenness around them.  A high calling.  Sacrifice.  (Yes, last night was as much about getting people excited as it was setting the bar of churchplanting high for the sake of surrender!  This is way too big for all of us, and only those whom God truly calls from the beginning should be involved)!  We said it like this: May this be a church plant of church planters (plural), rather than just a church plant with a church planter (singular) with a core group…  O God, would you call church planters out!  My friends in the West Valley – CALL them out to humble sacrifice, O God!

We also walked next door to the new office space of West Valley Presbyterian Church… we prayed.  Some wept.

I think I’d like to be quiet now. 

Stunned.

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church plant gathering

It’s here.  Finally. 

On Sunday, March 9th, from 5-7pm, we will hold our initial west valley church plant meeting at Mas Cafe in Emmaus PA.  This gathering will be for the sake of burden inculcation and kingdom anticipation in the West Valley through a PCA church plant.  We will not be vision casting or planning… but rather discussing the unique needs of our demographics in the East Penn area of the Lehigh Valley.  What are the needs?  What are our responsibilities before God if we would be his church in our target area?  Who should be involved?  How will things unfold in the next 6 months?  What is it to be a church plant that is wide open for the sake of kingdom and gospel ministry among our neighborhoods and communities?  Why is there a need for a church plant? 

Ray and his wife Courtney, owners of the new Mas Cafe, will be providing a full slate of coffees and cappacinos – in addition to snacks.  Childcare will be a block away at the Powell home where we will have a handful of college/career age adults watching our children during our gathering.  If you know you and your kids will be joining us, it would help if you would leave a comment or let me know.

If you are curious as to the nature of the church plant, the needs of Emmaus/Lowermac, or the sacrifice involved for those God will call to be ‘church planters’ – then join us!  Will you consider DOING KINGDOM and planting a church that will be for the renewal of the West Valley (west side of the Lehigh Valley) – for the renewal of our broken, sinful hearts – for the renewal of our families and neighbors – for the renewal of our secular culture and its comprehensive need for mercy and worldview transformation through Christ and his BIG gospel!

Mas Cafe

332 Main Street, Emmaus

Sunday, March 9

5-7pm

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Update

update time:

I put the application in for the West Valley church plant office (per my Jan 10 post)… You know, the one on Emmaus’ main street, right on the Triangle.  The beauty of it is this: 7 guys joined me last Thursday night for a walkthrough and to assess location-location-location.  Is it really as intriguing as I think?  Is said office spot really advantageous to being a gospel-kingdom blessing to the people who hang out in the coffee shops and developing retail marketplace of the Triangle?

Yes, so it seems.  After walking through – we hung out next door, chatting and listening to the live music at Mas Cafe.  Not bad.  Quite mellow actually.  To a man, we agreed that the space is ideally suited for the plant, well-priced, and even more, that timing (we will not be worshiping as a new body until the Fall) should not deter our acting on it.   The next step, then, is to formally address the CPC elders about their backing.

But is it a blessing to the West Valley, particularly Emmaus?  (it is nice to consider this question before we even exist)

One of us asked the realtor if he thought we would be a blessing or if we were taking a prime spot for retail that would benefit Emmaus’ economy in a way that we simply couldn’t.  He made the point that the space is zoned commercial, not retail… The owner of the building does not want to make the changes to rezone it.  He indicated that most small commercial offices don’t bring people to the downtown (i.e. the previous lessee didn’t, as he ran an internet book store).  In contrast, he thought our church’s office most likely would.  He thought the blessing would be apparent.  Thanks be to God.

There are details yet to be worked out.  It is not done by any stretch, but the possibility is more than a thought now… and I thought some of you might like to know-pray.

This is just the beginning of re-routing where we (I) walk and talk for the glory and extension of Christ’s kingdom of grace and justice and mercy.  Just the beginning.

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