Category Archives: church plant

paul tripp, broken down house

If you are a Paul Tripp reader/listener/student.  My guess is that you are growing in the gospel.

Thank you Paul Tripp for so enjoyably and refreshingly engaging my worldview with the same worldview I think I know from the WORD, only it sounds better, bigger, and truer.  We believe that God is renovating the broken world around us and in us… that is all we talk about inside and outside of our church.  It is the confidence with which we preach, do discipleship, small groups, etc.  And we see SOOO much of it – brokenness in believers and unbelievers.  Paul Tripp’s picture of that same worldview where Christ is coming to set up his kingdom of RESTORATION to this BROKEN WORLD is helpful and keen.  Our days under the sun – well, they feel like vanity of vanities, because it is like living in a home that is broken down and amidst renovation.  Is there anything worse than living in a transitioning home?  Dust.  Danger.  Annoyance.  Everything is different in remodel-land.

O God make us productive in this world – partners in your remodel and restoration of Creation – and not just passive survivors.  Read below (in this case he is talking about WEAKNESS) and grow in the gospel…

You cannot release yourself or your surroundings from the affects of the Fall.  You cannot assure that your body will be free of disease and sickness.  You cannot independently free yourself or another from sin.  You cannot reach in and alter the content of your own heart, let alone the heart of another.  You cannot plant faith, courage, and hope into the soul of another person.  You cannot assure that your government will have integrity and that your community will be safe.  You cannot make your acquaintances respect you, and you cannot assure that your family members will treat you with love.  You cannot keep yourself free from natural and environmental disaster.  You cannot control the economic environment… Ou cannot lay out a personal life plan and know it will unfold without interruption.  You cannot assure that your life will be easy and satisfying.

When you stop and look, you are faced with your smallness, your weakness, and your limits.  But don’t get discouraged and don’t panic; reality is a healthy place to be. Think about it.  Only when I humbly embrace my weakness, humbly admit my limits, and humbly recognize how small I actually am, can I begin to reach out for the help of a loving, powerful, and gracious Redeemer who is the true source of my strength, wisdom, and hope.  Only then can I begin to function as an instrument in his powerful hands, rather than being in his way, because in forgetting who I am and who he is, I have been trying to do his job. (Paul David Tripp, Broken-Down House – Living Productively in a World Gone Bad, Shepherd Press, 2009)

Yep.  God can do his RENOVATING job in/through/with me and you.  But it will never be our job.  Just CANNOT be.

Thanks Paul Tripp.  Glad to be close to Philly.  Gospel for weak and renovated people by osmosis.  You’re welcome to come and visit our broken-down house of a Gospel-Growing church plant any day you’d like!

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west valley pca prayer update – september 2009

blog checkers, below is the prayerletter for West Valley PCA, where i am growing up as the planting pastor of a church that God has richly blessed in both exposure to his glory/goodness and exposure to our need/sin/dependence.  Would you pray  for us?
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September 2009

“Jim, do you think I’ve made enough progress in my journey to join the church and receive communion?”

It’s not about progress. It’s about righteousness from God given to you in Christ.

“It just sounds too free. I must be missing something. It can’t be a free pass.”

It is.

“But what is to keep me from living however I want?”

Now I think you understand grace.

“Can I still wrestle with my questions?”

A man once said to Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief.

“Sounds like me.”

__

“Jim, can you recommend the names of some biblical counselors?”

For a friend, or for you?

“For us. I think we need some deconstruction and rebuilding our marriage on the gospel.”

__

“Jim, someone just came into church. He wants to see you.”

Jeff, is that you?

“Yeah, its me. How do I look?! I’ve been clean for 90 days, since the trip to the hospital. Like my new glasses?”

You look great Jeff! Like the man of the tombs resurrected. Where are you living?

“Still at the homeless shelter.”

The above fragments answer the question: What is church planting like? Maybe you’re not asking that question. But I did. Almost every day (before we started) I asked myself: What will it be like? Sure, it will be like vision casting, like demographic and sociographic research, like searching for a facility, organizing teams, setting up a unique historic-indigenous worship service, preparing contextualized sermons, marketing and praying and networking in our community. It will be like trying to learn how to lead a group of gifted and diverse people. It will be vision REcasting again and again. It will be like small group formation over and over! It will be like setting up of an office – with all the administrative hoopla.

It has been all that. BUT.

More than anything church planting has been an exercise in repentance and faith – realizing and repenting of my duplicitous fear-of-incompetence which somehow manages to coexist with excessive-self-reliance. It has become a daily exercise to believe in the glory of God to rescue sinners not once at their conversion, but daily in innumerable ways according to his sovereign mercy that is ALWAYS undeserved. That’s the gospel! It has been the complicated world of trusting the Spirit to restore marriages, to rehabilitate the homeless and addicted to a place of sobriety (even in the suburbs). It has been the pleasurable discovery that God is at work breaking the calcified in his church, and rebuilding the contrite. It has been the experience of watching an intellectual skeptic bow the knee to Jesus Christ in the most existential of experiences – his Creator’s converting his heart!

What am I saying? I think I am saying that church-planting has been like… well, church. In a sense, I am coming to believe that we are not a church-plant, but the CHURCH in fullness (just recently planted)! As I leaf through the pages of Acts, for the first time I am recognizing a connection between my world and that of Philippi, or Thessalonica, or wherever. This summer I have preached through the Acts of the Apostles (aka- the Acts of the Spirit) and we have discovered an uncanny connection to kingdom/church then and now. We have asked the Lord with expectation to define our experiences like THAT… that church in that day with that God!

Robert Coleman, in his work The Master Plan of Discipleship writes:

Getting into the book of Acts is like opening a window in a stuffy room. The wind of the Spirit blows through it. HERE IS REALITY. Feeling its emerging freshness, we should neither try to excuse our spiritual ineptness, nor relegate its vitality to a bygone era. The apostolic church, not the prevailing mediocrity of our religious community, sets the norm. Where we perceive our shortcomings, in all honesty, we should seek to bring our lives into conformity to the New Testament standard.

Is it happening? I think so. I need so. I want so. I surrender so. I pray so. I die so. Whatever church planting is… whatever the stories above are… I can’t help but think that, well – we’re a church now. HERE IS REALITY.

at home: Please praise God with us for our family growth and maturity that coincides with his work at West Valley. By God’s grace (and ashamedly for the first time in my life), I want to lay my life down over and over and over for the love and beauty of Kori. Then the kids. I want to do it more today than yesterday. Through a painful and disciplinary year of trials and ‘ministry’, the Lord has brought his kingdom of righteousness and mercy to a home that I had subliminally and self-righteously pervaded with gospel-less standards of performance and happiness. HERE IS REALITY.

On the homefront, please pray for our homeschooling of Lina and Meggie’s adjustment to Kindergarten in our local school district. Pray for Nate as the footprint of the “torNATEo” is expanding as he grows and participates in family! Pray for Kori to find an excellent set of ear plugs, as she needs the quiet moments to be the strategic and beautiful gospel-loving mom that she is.

at church: For West Valley, pray for our continued facility needs, for the establishment of discipleship and digestion strategies (i.e. small groups and theological/worldview training), for staffing considerations (sounding way ahead of myself, I know – but as we grow, this is REALITY!) and for a sacrificial conformity to the norm of the early church!

Even more, please pray for our financial situation, as the Lord has seen fit to grow the church numerically in a way that has increased our expenses above our income. I have been commissioned by our session to seek to raise Twenty-Thousand dollars, Lord willing, to supplement ministry and vision. Would you prayerfully consider partnering with us and/or honoring any pledges you may have made in 2008? We are at a key phase of ministry and identity confirmation, and we need the resources to grow into what we are – a Jesus Christ celebrating, culture engaging, brokenness renovating, gospel declaring, community invading church! HERE IS REALITY.

Much love to you all, and may Christ expose your REALITY and need for his mercy! -jim

Should you desire, please contact me at jim@westvalleypres.org and/or send any gifts to West Valley Presbyterian Church, 326 Main Street, Suite 1 – Emmaus PA 18049. All gifts will be tax-deduct and a year end statement will be provided.

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a word-picture that resonantes

The quote below resonates powerfully with my considerations as a church planting pastor. 

When considering church, kingdom and discipleship…  

Interest turns primarily to humanistic considerations, like more astute communication techniques or better institutional programs.  All this is helpful, of course, but unless there is genuine commitment to the essential Gospel of Christ, merely changing ways of doing things is like

rearranging chairs on the Titanic

We must come to grips with the faith once delivered to the saints and then let IT set our agenda.

-Robert Coleman, Master Plan of Discipleship

thoughts, not mine so enjoy

Been a while since blogging anything.  I am not apologetic, just up to my eyeballs.  Life has CHANGED!  A church has been planted.  God, plant maturity and discipleship and direction in it.  What a new season this is!

God give me the wisdom to prioritize my FAMILY.  My LIFE basking in the love and calling of obedience of Christ.  My PREACHING.  My PASTORATE.  I have never thought life could go mach speed like this.

So, below are some quotes from people I have been reading as a means of keeping me grounded in truth.  Typing them out for you all (my minimal blog friends because I never post anymore) – that the typing would also implant them into my heart, soul and mind.

Since I occupy a position of responsibility in the church, I think I am more responsible to be humble even than others are.  God demands that I be DEAD to EVERYTHING.  (Fenelon)

Die to jim jim.

The moment we decide to start listening to the voice of self screeching its complaints in our ear, we can no longer hear the more modest wisperings of divine love… The love of God desires that self should be forgotten, that it should be counted as nothing, that God might be all in all.  God knows that it is best for us when SELF IS TRAMPLED under foot and broken as an idol, in order that He might live within us.  (Fenelon)

Die to jim jim.

I have no doubt that God considers you to be one of his friends.  Otherwise, he would not trust you with so many crosses, sufferings and humiliations.  Crosses are God’s means of drawing souls closer to himself.  And these crosses accomplish his purposes much more rapidly and effectually than all of our personal efforts put together.  Crosses DESTROY SELF LOVE at its very root, down in the depths of the human spirit where we can hardly detect it.  But God knows where it is lodged, and he attacks it in its greatest strongholds.  (Fenelon)

Die to jim jim.

What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By know means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it? … We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  (apostle Paul, Romans 6)

Die to jim jim.  Never has the thought of noNOT being ME been so freeing to be ME in Christ.  Sorry for all the excessive self – emphasis.  Kind of ironic in light of a DEATH to self and life to Christ consideration!

Well, one more quote … using it at WVPC as we consider the book of Acts this summer as far as WHO we are called to be as the church of God in this place ast this time.

Getting into the book of Acts is like opening a window in a stuffy room.  The wind of the Spirit blows through it.  HERE IS REALITY.  Feeling its emerging freshness, we should neither try to excuse our spiritual ineptness, nor relegate its vitality to a bygone era.  The apostolic church, not the prevaling mediocrity of our religious community, sets the norm.  Where we perceive our shortcomings, in all honesty, we should seek to bring our lives into  conformity to the New Testament standard.  (Robert Coleman)

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west valley pca update

below is the West Valley PCA church plant prayerletter that I sent out for July… read away, please pray, and contact me if you have any questions or desire to share in this great – BUSY – work!  -jim

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July 2009

 Which round is this?  No, not a boxing match.  Not a night at the bar.  Thinking golf here.  Yesterday, Kori and I were privileged to join a church member at the USGA Women’s Open at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, PA.  Picture it: 80 degree sunny skies.  God-glorifying perfectly green grass (man-toxic with fertilizer).  Beautiful fairways leading up to exquisitely raked sand traps, dense and layered roughs, and greens that were… well, unputtable.    

 Throughout the course, lucky volunteers wore matching polo shirts with red hats, exerting their awesome authority.  They told us where we could and could not walk.  They told us when to stop walking and stand there.  Actually, they didn’t tell us anything.  They didn’t even speak.  They simply held up their hands – silence people, professionals at work.  Silence is the only way to treat a pressure moment.   Every shot in a USGA tournament is a pressure moment, but we were privileged to be seated at the 18th green grandstand to witness the pressurest momentous moment of them all.  23 year old Ji Eun-hee rolled in the birdie putt of her life.   We had just observed 18 golfers in a row miss every putt attempt over 5 feet.  Then it happened.  Ji delivered a 20 foot putt worth $585,000 (that’s $29,250 per foot and $2,437.50 per inch). 

No pressure Ji.

 Wait a minute.  It wasn’t a $585,000 putt.  Ji had just completed the fourth round of a long tournament.  She shot 284 times over those four rounds.  Forgive me, that’s $2,059.86 per swing.  And since Saucon Valley’s Old Course was approximately 6,740 yards (times four), that’s $21.69 per yard that Ji had to walk.  I’d walk a yard for $21 bucks.

 It’s amazing how pressure moments seem to exist irrespective of their context, isn’t it?  That I am naturally inclined to think that Ji’s putt was worth half-a-million dollars is absurd!  Be realistic, Jim – it was one putt in the context of 284 swings, walked over 26,960 yards… in addition to multiple practice rounds, countless previous tournaments, millions of practice putts, chips, and drives over the span of 23 years! 

 (the following sentence will sound familiar)

 It’s amazing how pressure moments IN CHURCH PLANTING seem to exist irrespective of their context, isn’t it?  That I am naturally inclined to think that the prayerful decisions of today are decisive pressure moments that could blow the whole West Valley PCA thing… what a horrendous practical theology when my systematic theology declares that God is sovereign over every detail and decision… most gloriously in his church!  See Ephesians 1.

 Still, the pressure is on at West Valley PCA!  We are in a visible and fantastic facility that will soon be fighting against us, if it is not already.  We simply do not have feasible space for children.  But what to do?  Suddenly the thought of short term vs. long term vision, plus the reality that space in our target area is scarce and we NEED a form of facility expansion before the Fall when college students return and family vacations stop and, Lord willing, more visitors continue to join us … well, the pressure mounting.   Then there’s the pressure of training up leaders in recognition that we are a churchDiscipleshipDevelopment.  On top of that, there are God-fearing newbies and oldies at West Valley who are being painfully deconstructed by the Word of God for their good and the glory/joy of God.  It is pressure shepherding.  Or, then there’s the pressure of giving exhausted teachers and sacrificial church planters a needed respite, even as we don’t have the critical mass to fully raise up a new ‘shift’ of SS teachers and volunteers!  Pray against burnout and for renewed energy!  Then there’s the pressure of financial resources.  We are not yet self-supporting.  (Nor were we when we started in September ’08.  Thanks to God for many of you who have helped provide!)  Our church is expanding along with our expenses.   It is fully under God’s control, but – no pressure – the gap seems to be widening between local tithes and ministry need!  Did I mention a necessary facility change or expansion?!  Please pray for resources as we are budgeting for our fiscal calendar launch in September… pray for the resource capacity to have continued administrative staff and to expand our ministry to children and parents, to our community… in the right facility.  No pressure.

 (Did I almost make you feel like we are facing our own pressure putt that is make-or-break?)

 Seriously, no pressure.  These putts are a part of a LONG round of eternal golf.  They do not exist irrespective of CONTEXT… and that context is the church of Jesus Christ having been provided for over the centuries.  The church of Jesus Christ declaring the gospel to a broken world for centuries.  The church of God seeing transformation and kingdom-realities by the power of the Spirit in us, giving us the power of the resurrected Christ to us, under the sovereign authority of God who owns all things, including us!  Seriously, no pressure.  This Sunday’s sermon is one sermon in a gagillion.  Our worship space is one worship-house of a bajillion.  Our budget-v.-resources need is a drop in the bucket of an eternally deep well of the Lord’s possessions.  Context is everything. 

 

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think,

according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus

throughout all generations forever and ever.  Amen.  [Ephesians 3:20-21] 

 

Will you please pray for us to believe THAT. 

We know we believe it if we feel, well… no pressure.

 

On the home course…

Is it really the middle of July?  Yes.  Is Lina really turning 7 in tomorrow?  Yes.  Is Meggie really prepping for kindergarten?  Yes.  Was that Nate who just spoke in a clear and coherent sentence?  Yes.  Kori and I are so thankful for the beauty of our children – they image God to us more than anything in all creation. 

We need them more than they need us… and in this stage, they need us!  They are curious and creative.  They are observant and obsessing.  They are in need of a gospel-worldview in a secure home!   No pressure.

 Please pray for a (remaining) summer of family rejuvenation and joy (still trying to recover from Disney World and 4th of July weekend!).  Pray for Kori as she is seeking the Lord regarding her role as a mom, wife, church member, community member, and pastor’s wife.  Pray for our parental discernment regarding schooling options.  Pray for our getting to know our new neighbors.  Pray for a sacrificial – dead to self – leader to model the gospel in our home.  (Yes, that would be a bold prayer for me.)  Quite honestly, I think that this summer has exacerbated the distance that we are from our families; we fight loneliness regularly.  Please pray for contentment and surrender to the call of God to be here, on a mission field.  Please pray for a joy that surpasses circumstance.

 Finally, (and let me be explicit here) – we are extending our Powell family Myrtle Beach trip and staying in South Carolina to preach and fundraise for West Valley PCA.  From August 24-30th I would love to sit down with many of you and share more clearly the conversions, convictions and Kingdom-work that God is doing in our midst?  Would you partner with us?  Or, if you pledged to financially support wvpc over three years, would you honor that pledge?  If so, please contact me at jim@westvalleypres.org and/or send any gifts to West Valley Presbyterian Church, 326 Main Street, Suite 1 – Emmaus PA 18049.  All gifts will be tax-deduct and a year end statement will be provided.   I can’t wait to see many of you! 

 Entrusted with something way too powerful for my comprehension or control, -jim

 

 

 

 

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me, responsible?

I try to live a responsible life.  Getting up early, physical exercise, reading a book in the morning, not procrastinating on sermon preparation… I am respectively responsible, I think.  I even just returned from taking my family to Disney World, and I responsibly lost none of my three wanderful children!  (It was the airline that irresponsibly lost our luggage!)

But while running the beaches of New Smyrna, Fl – I listened to and meditated upon a few sermons preached by Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  1 Peter 3:1-6 – “Marriage and Women.”  1 Peter 3:7 – “Marriage and Men.”  OK, so maybe Driscoll has a rep of being a theological bully, but I will say… most men, myself included, need to be kicked in the crotch by Word-expositing preachers.  Driscoll did just that in his sermons (GO! Listen to them – http://www.marshillchurch.org/media/trial?page=2).  Take notes, repent…

There were a myriad of bruise-inducing applications for any man or woman, and I could not help but pray for marriages and husbands and wives in our congregation – sometimes in anger at the extent of the “accepted” brokenness in the homes of the sons and daughters of God.  

But what hit me most was the consideration of my not-so-responsible, gospel-shirking self.  Jesus Christ is the perfect husband to his bride the church.  True.  He laid himself down in full, sacrificial, life-giving headship.  True.  He did not take away the weakness of his “weaker vessel” bride, but he did make himself RESPONSIBLE for her security, identity, health and care.  He did not commit any of his bride’s sins – they are hers (mine are mine), but he did lay his life down on the cross as though he were RESPONSIBLE for her condemning sin.  He took RESPONSIBILITY for the beauty and purity and magnanimous freedom of his bride!

Am I that kind responsible – as a husband and father?  Ahem, well… I mow the lawn weekly, wash dishes most nights, read bed-time stories…  BUT AM I THAT KIND OF A GOSPEL-LIVING, WIFE-HOLDING, CHILDREN-SECURING, CHRIST-EMBODYING RESPONSIBLE HUSBAND AND FATHER? 

[silent, repentant, joyous, intentional consideration…]

Likewise, husbands live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.  – 1 Peter 3:7

Responsible me?  No, it is responsible me.  Period.   Responsible to hold and honor and humbly lay down my life for the sin and struggles and specific growth of Kori, Lina, Meggie and Nate.  O Lord, in my weakness I take it.  I want it.  That responsibility will change me as much as it will change them, because its the gospel!!!  Thank you Responsible Jesus for covering the irresponsible me.

O, did I mention I do our banking?  I wrestle with the kids? 

Shut up and quit shirking your responsibility.

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rediscovering something old

I am rediscovering weakness… or even pursuing it again.  I think, I pray, I hope with a new actual awareness (or alomost awareness) of all the weak and broken parts of myself that the Lord has shown me over the past year.  Indeed it was a year ago that I enjoyably blogged about discovering the gospel in weakness, reading and recording the thoughts of Henri Nouwen (Wounded Healer) or  Richard Sibbes (The Bruised Reed) or Kyle Strobel (Metaphorpha) or just my own musing thoughts.

Through the past year, the Lord has, I think, shown me his Fatherly affection by placing me over his knee and WHACK.  Chastening the child he loves.  Showing me my personal fear of weakness/sin/struggle even as I “theologically” engaged it with passion.  Putting me in a place where the wrestling match with weakness was… hell.   May I say with truth and candor: church planting has been the most difficult life experience, even as God has grown his church and planted us in the “west valley.”    I am so thankful for the fog of last Fall, and the slow unfolding of a spiritual Spring over the past few months.  I have seen life come from death.  Energy returned.  Weakness confessed.  Habits exposed.  Righteousness (my own) revealed as filthy.  Gifts (preaching and teaching) used as a cop-out for true pastoral leadership.  Otherness revealed as a serious weakness.  Exhaustion evidencing gospel-thirst.  Excessive work falsely defined as “success.”  Being at home with my family confronted with what it truly is to “be home” and undistracted.  Loving my wife compared to laying my life down for her.  On we could go.

Maybe this is what freedom feels like.

We are in confining quarters, indeed, when we are enclosed in self, but when we emerge  from that prison, and enter into the immensity of God and the liberty of his children, we are truly free.

Though it sounds strange to say it I am rejoicing that God has reduced [me] to a state of weakness.  Oh, how painful, but how beneficial these times of weakness!  As long as any self-love is remaining, we are always afraid it will be revealed.  But God does not give up as long as the least symptom of it lurks in the innermost recesses of heart, God pursues it, and by some infinitely merciful blow, forces it into the open.  And the sight of the problem becomes the cure.  Self-love, forced into the light, sees itself as it really is in all its deformity and disgrace.  And in a moment, the flattering illusions of your whole selfish life are dissipated.  God sets before your eyes your idol: self.  You look at that spectacle, and you cannot turn your eyes away.  Nor can  you hide the sight from others.  To expose self-love in this way without its mask is the most mortifying punishment that can ever be inflicted.

When you finally see self for what it is, weakness has become your only possession.  Strength is not even in the picture.  And if you had any, it would only make the agony longer and more distressing.   If you die [to self] from weakness and weariness, you will die more quickly and less violently.

What, then, shall we do?  Do nothing.  Seek nothing.  Hold to nothing.  Simply confess everything, not as  a means of getting relief, but because of humble desire to yield unto Jesus. (Fenelon, Let Go)

But [Jesus] said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamaties, for when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

O Lord my God, thank you for this church planting weakness exposition – all for your glory and display of your grace.  Amen.

 

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Letting Go, by Fenelon

A church member and friend has coerced me into reading a book by Fenelon, “Letting Go: to get peace and real joy”.  I say coerced because I know he asked me to dig through it (short but stout) because of my desire to control aspects of life that, well… are in need of God’s continual control.  Say, like pastoring a church plant that is the living body of Christ.

It is a brief book of letters written by Francois de Salignac de La Mothe Fenelon, the Archbishop of Cambrai, France during the seventeenth century.  He was writing to a small group of people at the Court of Louis the Fourteenth.  Apparently they lived in a world of shameless immorality and struggle, kinda like us.  Try his words on for size and may they be a blessing to you.

The good that comes from any experience of personal weakness is the realization that God wants us to be lowly and obedient.  So may the Lord keep you!

I am amazed at the power that comes to us through suffering; we are worth nothing without the cross.  Of course, I tremble and agonize while it lasts, and all my words about the beneficial effects of suffering vanish under torture.  But when it is all over, I look back on the experience with deep appreciation, and am ashamed that I abore it with so much bitterness.  I am learning a great deal from my own foolishness!

The great Physician who sees in us what we cannot see, knows exactly where to place the knife.  He cuts away that which we are most reluctant to give up.  And how it hurts!  But we must remember that pain is only felt where there is life, and where there is life is just the place where death is needed.  Our Father wastes no time by cutting into parts which are already dead.  Do not misunderstand me: He wants you to live abundantly, but this can only be accomplished by allowing Him to cut into that fleshly part of you which is still stubbornly clinging to life.

Learn to cultivate peace.  And you can do this by learning to turn a deaf ear to your own ambitions and thoughts.  Or haven’t you yet learned that the strivings of the human mind not only impair the health of the body, but also bring dryness to the soul.

Love of self, which the world advocates, is a thousand times more dangerous than any poison.

Be careful about your motives in this eager chase for knowledge.  You are aware, aren’t you, that all we need is to be poor in spirit, and to know nothing but Christ and him crucified.  Although being a know-it-all makes us feel important, what is really needed to strengthen Christian character is love.  You certainly don’t think it possible that the love of God and the dethroning of self can only be reached through the acquisition of knowledge.  You already have more knowledge than you can use.  You would do better to put into practice what you already know.  Oh how we deceive ourselves when we suppose that we are growing in grace because our vain curiosity is being gratified by the enlightenment of our intellect!  We need to be humble, and to understand that we cannot receive God’s gifts from man.  The love of God comes to us only from Jesus.

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where have I been

I recently heard that the first way to lose blog readers is to not blog.  Brilliant.  In by bogged downedness I blog lessedness.  So my taking a month off has surely made this post worthless… can I find a reader?

Well, just in case a bloggerby stops in (in addition to my tech saavy grandma), perhaps I should post a prayer update.

I have been to the mountains for five days, virtually alone.  I journaled, slept, read, hiked, yelled at the rocks and trees, and bowed my knees before a Creator who reminded me that he alone makes the trees sway.  More than that.  He moves me.  He did so in the woods.  I came to a stop in the woods… Haven’t stopped like that in 10 years.  Seriously.  O, and I was in the woods as the speaker/preacher for a camp of Lehigh University college students.  I gave six 45 minute sermons, and they gave me five days of rest and rediscovery.  Thanks to God.

I came back from the mountains.  I struggled.  God, you are good – so good to expose me to your grandeur in the hollowed hills, then to  expose me to myself and my need for a God as glorious and merciful as YOU.  I have been back for 2 weeks now, and I am amazed at my stress, anxiety, busyness and well… wrestling match to remember the God of creation who communed with me in the quiet winds of the woods.  I know now why mountaneering is worshipful.

I went to the NJ shore with my family.  Thanks to God for community and friends – laughter on the roof top under the stars.  Playing with the kids in the sand.  Suddenly all three of my kids love finding and holding crabs.  A long way since last year…

I came back from the shore.  I struggled.  God, you are good – so good to expose me to your grandeur through the magnificent ocean, then to  expose me to myself and my need for a God as glorious and merciful as YOU.  I have been back for 2 days now, and I am amazed at my stress, anxiety, busyness and well… wrestling match to remember the God of creation who communed with me through my family on the shore.  I know now why beach vacations are worshipful.  (deja vu, I know)

Apologies for my bloglessness.  God is continuing the good work he has begun in me – in my family – at West Valley PCA.  He is making us feel our need for Christ… “the only fitness he requires of us is to feel our need of him” (Come Ye Sinner Poor and Needy).  But our immaturity and Satan’s devouring presence lay close at hand.  O God have mercy as you show us the powerful KINGSHIP of Christ over our hearts, our heads, our happenings.

Since blogging is clearly slow… If you desire to check into my oral “writing” that I actually spend time on each week,  visit www.westvalleypres.org for sermons on Ecclesiastes. 

This weakchristian is dependent evermore on a strong Savior and King.  Sorry for my failure to devotionalize on this blog site.  Some stressful seasons don’t allow for time… even more, they don’t need public blogging so much as private journaling and gospel-dependent prayer.

Much love to my family and praying friends.  A formal “prayerletter” from a West Valley PCA coming soon!

jim

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blogging about weakness, believing in election

It has been some time since a flapped my gums, or played sticky fingers with my laptop … since I’ve blogged about weakness.  The whole point of this whole thing is a deep confidence that the whole of ourselves is wholly weak the whole time we live in this whole life under the sun!  So why have I failed to blog about weakness… or at all for that matter.

First, personally things are busy and hectic at home and at West Valley PCA.  God has continued to bless and work in our home as we adjust as a family (even 3 years into this) to living in the North East.  We just bought our “lifestyle” house, a mile from the home we have owned the past 2 years.  What a blessing to still be able to walk/bike to work, to the coffee shops and farmers market… and yet to be a bit removed from the buzz,  and to have a house with some space and kids rooms and play room and garage!  Thanks to God for his undeserved gifts. 

On the church-front, we are continuing to seek the face of God and be astounded by his provision at West Valley.  God is gathering weak believers, missional believers, in addition to weak and broken unchurched skeptics who return hungry for something that is just beginning to whet their palate.  So I am trying to learn how to lead a church that is 9 months old and dealing with gospel-incarnation, community needs,  space constraints, and vision/identity ownership!  May God remain central and glorified, gathering whom he would for his glory – our SOVEREIGN GOD alone is planting this church.  We long to be the conduits of a kingdom that is from eternity, to eternity “in our West Valley as it is in heaven.”  Suffice to say, my joy and submission to God’s calling our family here for such a time and season and people and gospel-work as this is envigorating.  As such, blogging has been less-exciting, and less of a call to my wandering mind than it was before the winds of my soul have changed…  Thank you for dropping us off here, O God.

And so I say all of that to blog an ounce about weakness.  Specifically, this morning I think of all my weakness (tiredness, sin-ness, self-ness,  soreness, etc.) in connection to believing in the comforting biblical truth that God has providentially ordered all of our days, our finances, our rooftops, our street names, our church facilities, our growth stages, our discipline needs, our hard-lessons learned, etc… even as he has predestined our “election” as his eternally redeemed children who have no other hope than his call and care and conservation of our very selves whom he has effectively given his grace, first to last.

What am I saying? 

I can’t believe I am a recipient of the mercy of Christ, by his sovereign grace and election alone.  That in my weakness I am all the more in Christ who rescued my broken frame from a world of pain solely because of God’s election to glorify himself by the extension of his mercy to one who has done NOTHING (Eph. 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9).  I deserve to be a recipient of wrath, that he might be glorify his own justice.  But in Christ who gave my righteousness and took my just punishment, I am a recipient of grace, that God might glorify his own mercy!  And so I ask the only thing I can ask (even as a PCA pastor who has studied and made vows regarding the biblical doctrine of election): why me, O God?  I did nothing to deserve or receive your mercy!  Weak and impotent that I am to stop sinning, to love others well, to speak truth in love, to pastor people the gospel-treasure… Why me?

That question changes everything.  Everything is put in context!  I am weak but will worship my electing rescuer.  I am humbled to engage the broken around me, because I have done NOTHING to not be broken – God and God alone has elected to restore what I can’t fix.  I pray you know this gospel of God’s sovereign grace to bind up the broken of NOTHING in them and ALL for his glory.

How many Christians stumble on in weakness, burdened with doubts that would be erased if only they knew their salvation rested not in themselves but in God?  The doctrine of election tells us that it was God who sought us and not we who sought him; that God called us to him self in time because he chose us in eternity.  (Richard Phillips)

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