Category Archives: Culture

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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Working on biblical exposition

In two days, I leave for a week-long journey to Chicago.  I get to see my grandma.  I get to watch the White Sox.  I get to hear gospel-centered preaching from my mentor, Paul Winters (Spring Valley PCA, Roselle IL).  I will be speaking to both the congregation and adult Sunday School of SVPC about our West Valley Church plant.  I will be meeting with former seminary proffs from TEDS.  I will be fundraising.  O, and I will be working on preaching.

One of the highlights of every year is attending the Workshop on Biblical Exposition, put on by the Simeon Trust.  It was Charles Simeon who said of preaching,

My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there.  I have a great jealousy on this head – never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding.

That is a high calling.  The workshop this year will be focusing on the minor prophets – which is exhilirating, because I have thought about beginning our church plant sermon series with a minor prophet.  God knows what is in store for me to learn this week.  I certainly need the exposure to excellent biblical exposition.  I certainly need some peer review of my own stuff.  I certainly need to begin preparing to be back in the saddle (pulpit) on a weekly basis. I can honestly say about this ‘business trip’ – that it will be a pleasure next week to “go to work.”  It is through weeks like this that I discover that God does POWERFUL things when his servants submit our weak and pithy efforts to his disposal!

Thanks be to God for his LIVING Word that interprets us and keeps giving us the GOOD stuff for life and kingdom, here and forever.

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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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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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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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my existence

There is only one problem on which all of my existence, my peace, and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God.  If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him. 

–  Thomas Merton

There is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God.

–  John Calvin

A humble self-knowledge is a surer way to God than a search after deep knowledge.

– Thomas a Kempis

Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.

– Augustine

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weakness quote

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

-Alistair Begg

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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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