Category Archives: community

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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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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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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planting a neighborhood church in our neighborhoods

Yesterday I attended a day-conference with multiple church planters from the Philly region.  Our Church Planter Community gathers monthly to discuss issues germane to Northeast gospel-driven culturally apropos church plants, to pray, and to have round-table discussions with planters about particular struggles they may be facing.  It is a highlight of my time here in PA, to be sure. 

At the community, Rob Burns – Pastor of Realife Church in Philly (SBC) spoke to us about his neighborhood church plant in the Bridesburg neighborhood of the city.  Much I could say about his presentation/case study… but I pass on to you only my renewed passion to have a West Valley church plant that sees the west side of the Lehigh Valley as our Jerusalem wherein we are called to contextualize the gospel AND live our lives.  In fact, who knows what the Lord has in store… but the day before Rob’s presentation, I became aware of an office space in our town of Emmaus that is on the mainstreet drag.  Right on the triangle.  Walking distance from my house!  It is in the ideal spot in our neighborhood to have a church presence.  I’ve even spoken with Ray, the owner of the sweet new coffee shop, Mas Cafe, about how we might try to settle an office two doors down and then bring him an insane amount of business.  Are there any church meetings any more that aren’t in good coffee shops?  Kidding but serious. 

I can’t get out of my mind where I should walk and talk all the days of my life here in the West Valley.  I know that God has called us to a target area of 40,000 people (East Penn).  I know that he has already dropped people throughout that region that we might have a multiple-neighborhood presence.  I hope and pray we will have a worship location more in the heart of Lower Macungie (have to know our geography to understand).  But I am going nuts thinking about the life change and accountability increase (surreal really) that would come if we had a church office in an old mainstreet retail space next to the coffee shops, across the street from the pub and on the very route that hosts community parades and Christmas tree lightings, etc.  In fact, yesterday while in the “two door down” Mas cafe, I studied amongst 5 high school kids working on a project, 2 college students studying, and about a dozen other people in and out.  That alone means nothing… except that there is a spot in our target where people just hang out.  Why not have a presence there!  If God has put it in his story for us to lease that office space for the church plant – it would most certainly heighten our/my responsibility to be a neighborhood pastor of a church committed to bring the gospel to the people among whom I walk and talk every day (ahem, as I would walk back and forth from my house to the office).

O God, your plan alone.  Fog my dreams if I am not praying for neighborhood engagement with your life-transforming gospel more than I am hoping for a hip office next door to nice-smelling coffee beans. 

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