Category Archives: west valley church plant chronicles

Ecclesiastes – the treadmill of existence

Can’t wait.  I, a preacher wrestling with my scary dependence on God to cover my inadequacy and weakness and sin… get to preach from Ecclesiastes – where “the Preacher/Teacher (Qohelet)” gives a solid dose of worldly realism… about the spiritual depression that should befall us all apart from the mercy and grace of God in Christ! 

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” – or vapor or mist or meaningless or fleeting or pointless or dissatisfying or broken… call it what you will.  We need the grace of God to crash into our world because simply put, apart from God and his eternal mercy, “Life is full of trouble, and then you die” (Tremper Longman on the message of Ecclesiastes).

I will be blogging through Ecclesiastes as it is a book about weakness.  For those who are weak, it is thankfully confirming to their predicament… it affirms their desperate cry for the gospel.  For those who do not feel weak, it clearly shows us why we may be blind – the vanity of life under the sun is weakening, debilitating, deathly frustrating.  THAT is why we cry out for the gospel.

So pray for West  Valley PCA, as we publicly launch this Sunday, and as we (during Advent of all times) turn to this refreshingly depressing book about life in a broken and weak world where we NEED outside gracious redemption from God which he provided in Christ!  I look forward to combing through the Scriptures and cultural mouthpieces like music and art and literature to show how our world inherently KNOWS that Qohelet is right… it speaks the same language of spiritual depression that only finds its answer in fearing God who will set things right and has done so in Christ (12:7).

thanks be to God for his relevant revealing Word.

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A kingdom of humility, contrition and trembling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sexual Brokenness and the Gospel

This weekend, Cornerstone PCA and Calvary Bible Fellowship Church are hosting Harvest USA’s

Sexual Brokenness and the Gospel Seminar

Unfortunately, the myriad of sexual-brokenness related needs have skyrocketed in our church and sexual culture.  The normalcy of pornography and image desensitizing has risen to epidemic proportions.  I could put statistics here, but that would only be shock valule about how many others struggle.  If you struggle with sexual brokenness – guilt from the past, addiction in the present, family exposure (perhaps you are a casualty of some else’s struggle) – and you live in our near the Lehigh Valley of PA, join us for this incredible gospel-centered weekend.  Email me for details.

It is not a conference on sexual perversion or sexual evil… but the reality of sexual brokenness.  How many of us break over the misuse of something God created to be good and beautiful and guiltless??!!  The weekend is for men and women, singles and marrieds, parents and youth.  All of us live in a sensual culture that leaves its wake of tears. 

Join us.  If you cannot or live outside of our target, pray for the Harvest USA speakers and the individuals/families who will be joining us.  If you personally struggle with an addiction and desire to discover release and resurrection victory but you don’t know where to turn, email me should you choose (jim@cornerstonepca.net). 

 The gospel of Christ’s righteousness given to us IS relevant to this broken need.  It is a safe solution that is no longer costly to you and me… Christ has borne the cost of your freedom from this enslavement.  There is hope!  There is freedom!  There is forgiveness!  There is guiltlessness!  There is a Redeemer who was broken for our brokenness, that we might be whole.  Soli deo gloria!

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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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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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my weakness makes me long to be ruled

I am heading off to church planter community in Philly… a highlight of every month.

But this morning I highlighted an incredible word from Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed.  In consecutive chapters, he has been making the point that our weakness should not so much cause US to desire to be strong (better self-rulers), but rather they cause us to desire to be ruled by another’s government… one who is not debilitated by weakness but can guide and direct and deliver us.

I quote: The happiness of weaker things stands in being ruled by the stronger.  It is best for a blind man to be guided by him that has sight.  It is best for sheep, and other feckless creatures, to be guided by man.  And it is happiest for man to be guided by Christ, because his government is so victorioius that it frees us from the fear and danger of our greatest enemies, and tends to bring us to the greatest happiness that our nature is capable of [do I hear John Piper here?].  This should make us rejoice when Christ reigns in us.

Yes, I am so weak that today I WANT to be ruled by him who is stronger.  May my self-awareness be the same tomorrow and the next day and the next day…

covet your prayers

I covet your prayers.  Though shalt not covet, except for things that God himself is zealous for. 

This Saturday, the session of Cornerstone PCA (elders) will be meeting for the express purpose of seeking clarity from God in regards to our specific strategy for launching out to plant a west valley church in the Fall of 2008 (Emmaus, Lower Macungie… East Penn School District and beyond).  We all covet your prayers.  Kingdom prayers.  Gospel prayers.  Unity prayers.  Fervent prayers.  Maybe, if any of you would be so able, some of you could simultaneously gather in community and pray together that we would sense God’s picture of a church plant in his place in his time with his gospel for his glory.   Yes, this has been in the works and discussed for some time (it is why we were called to PA in 2006).  But, this meeting is about specific structure and strategy and timing and vision.

Here’s the thing.  Cornerstone has never done this before – the whole ‘release a limb’ kind of a thing.  So pray not only for this church plant in embryo, but for the entire model by which we approach this plant – as it could be reduplicated time and again (probably tweaked time and again).  Pray for a church that is 6 years old, has no building, has only 200ish people and is still compelled by God to plant other gospel-centered churches in our Lehigh Valley even now.   I praise God to be a part of a church that does not want to be a big church, but wants to promote a BIG saturation of the Lehigh Valley with the gospel through numerous healthy and strategically placed church plants.

The gospel-need is great.  The gospel’s power is greater.  The Lehigh Valley cultural church-need is great.  The local church’s missional power in Christ is even greater.  So please PRAY!

please pass this on.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  Thy Kingdom come ON EARTH [through your church] as it is in heaven.

The Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes

I recently picked up a copy of the Puritan classic by Richard Sibbes – The Bruised Reed (1630).  

In fact, when I was in line to purchase the book (at a CCEF conference bookstore), the guy next to me leaned over and said – THAT is a comforting, incredible, gospel book.  I had grabbed it in the first place because in my devotional/reading life I am aiming to alternate between modern and historic works – and I was set for turning the clock back for my next read.  The Bruised Reed jumped out at me because it is ALL about the gospel and our self-awareness of our being weak “bruised reeds” whom Christ will not break (Isaiah 42:3).  So maybe it is research for this weakness project —- or, as I have come to find the past few mornings – it is a devotional well with fresh biblical water!

D Martin Lloyd-Jones said this of the book: I shall never cease to be greatful to Richard Sibbes who was balm to my soul at a period in my life when I was overworked and badly overtired, and therefore subject in an unusual manner tothe onslaughts of the devil… I found at that time that Richard Sibbes was an unfailing remedy.

Sibbes was apparently known among his contemporaries as “the sweet dropper.”  Give yourself 2-3 pages of his work, and you’ll feel the puritanical effect!  SO, I pass on to you a sweet drop or two… or five.

We see that the condition of those with whom [Christ] was to deal was that they were bruised reeds… not trees; but reeds; and not whole, but bruised reeds.  The church is compared to weak things: to a dove amidst the fowls; to a vine amongst the plants; to sheep amongst the beasts; to a woman, which is the weaker vessel.

WHAT IT IS TO BE A BRUISED REED:  The bruised reed is the man that for the most part is in some misery, as those were that came to Christ for help, and by misery he is brought to see sin as the cause of it, for, whatever pretences sin makes, they come to an end when we are bruised and broken.  He is sensible of sin and misery, even unto bruising; and, seeing no help in himself, is carried with restless desire to have supply from another, with some hope, which a little raises him out of himself to Christ, though he dare not claim any present interest of mercy.  This spark of hope being opposed by doubtings and fears rising from corruption makes him as smoking flax [a faintly burning wick – ESV]; so that both these together, a bruised reed and smoking flax, make up the state of a poor distressed man.  This is such an one as our Saviour Christ terms ‘poor in spirit’ (Mt. 5:3).

God’s children are bruised reeds before their conversion and oftentimes after…  After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks.  Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy…  The heroic deeds of the great worthies do not comfort the church so much as their falls and bruises do.

Hence we learn that we must not pass too harsh judgment upon ourselves or others when God exercises us with bruising upon bruising.  There must be conformity to our head, Christ, who was ‘bruised for us’ (Isaiah 53:5)…  Ungodly spirits, ignorant of God’s ways in bringing his children to heaven, censure broken-hearted [weak] Christians as miserable persons, whereas God is doing a gracious work with them.

As a mother is  tenderest to the most diseased and weakest child, so does Christ most mercifully incline to the weakest.  Likewise he puts an instinct into the weakest things to rely upon something stronger than themselves for support.  The vine stays itself upon the elm, and the weakest creatures often have the strongest shelters.  The consciousness of the church’s weakness makes her willing to lean on her beloved, and to hide herself in his wing.

More sweet drops to come.  Grace today.