Tag Archives: church plant

still here

We are still here… no blogs of late.  My apologies.  Too many hours away from home as it is.

God is doing an amazing work in my heart, in the lives my children, in the eyes of my wife, and in the congregation that God has called us to serve.  Times they are a changing and they are a crazy.

Sunday we had more folks at WVPC than ever before, and we are praying for wisdom.  We are cramming people into a space that doesn’t fit us.  We are seeking wisdom on facility mayhem.  We are praying for small groups that are forming, for discipleship relationships that are beginning, for broken people who are hurting, and for both the comforting and exposing AFFECT of the saturating Word of God -in all whom we engage!  I am preaching through Colossians.   We are having membership classes.  We have transitioned into year numero two – budgeting, leadership training, etc.  We are out hosting community events.  I think the buzz is contageous.  Acts 2 tells us so!

O God have mercy.  We are in over our head.

As I told our congregation at our annual meeting on Sunday – I believe they are crazy for following a 31 year old.  Someone said: Jesus was only 33.  To which I replied: no one here actually knows how badly I need Jesus.

I do.  Jesus Christ, thank you for rescuing me from sin.  Covering me with righteousness.  Giving me your Word.  Implanting your Spirit.  Being my Wisdom from God that appears foolish to the world.  For letting me fail time and again so that I can meet my need for you face to face.  thought to thought. 

O God, draw people into your midst in all churches that declare your gospel for the glory of Christ.  Do it at West Valley.  Bring your kingdom to earth as it is in heaven – by your people declaring your Word and embodying your resurrection power in a spirit of humility and weakness.  The powerful work, then, is all yours for your namesake.  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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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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west valley pca april/may prayerletter

It was a Sunday evening.  March 8th, 2008.  It was our “burden inculcating” gathering.  We met at a local coffee shop to begin the church planting conversation among 30 adults from Cornerstone PCA who lived in the target area that would soon be called the “West Valley.”  That night, we discussed the necessity of studying our culture and the people in our neighborhoods even as we study the Word of God.  It was at that meeting that we first prayed, “Thy Kingdom come in our West Valley as it is in heaven.”   We discussed everything from the musical tastes of our demographic to the children of our neighborhoods.  We avoided all banter about style of music in worship or philosophy of kids ministry.  The good ole days!  It was a time set apart by God to talk about “doing KINGDOM” in our community.   We still talk about that.  In many recent conversations about West Valley, I find myself confessing that we are only eight months into public worship and only a year old in totality.  We are infantile, immature, adolescent, and a bit toddlerish.  And yet, so much has happened.  Church-plant years are like dog-years, I think. 

After our March 8th meeting, we entered formation mode.  We sought a biblical philosophy of ministry for our North East context.  We landed on five core values (the Word, the Gospel, the Kingdom, the Church, and the West Valley).  We painted a vision to be a church for the West Valley, in order that Jesus Christ is celebrated as the only hope for the brokenness in us and around us.  We committed to seek after it as the church of God, according to the Word of God, in the enjoyment of God, for the glory of God (our mission).  It was exciting to craft a model of KINGDOM to the best of our discernment of both the Word and our culture.  But then again, it was what it was.  Just a model of ministry.  Just words on a paper.  Just a plan that started like many conversations do… at a coffee shop.

 How goes it now?

 Well, we are still praying, “Thy Kingdom come in our West Valley as it is in heaven.”  We are seeing neighborhood friends join us in worship and God-exploration through the Word.  We have intellectual skeptics joining us Sunday after Sunday, even embarking on one-on-one discipleship journeys to test the gospel more intimately.  We have become a small home away from home for college students who bring friends.  We are doing a community assessment to learn what physical and spiritual needs are untouched in our target demographic (i.e. we have been burdened by the lack of transitional housing for people without shelter).  We are partnering with other churches that likewise declare the gospel as the only hope for the brokenness in us and around us.  We are seeking the Lord regarding our facility stewardship, as we can fit no more than the 160 chairs we have in our worship space.  Specifically, we are curious as to how we can continue to be a blessing to our community by inhabiting and perhaps transforming a warehouse or spacious building into a place of transformative KINGDOM engagement.  (Our main Street space has affected our DNA.) We are engaging 120+ people each Sunday with the gospel incarnate – through fellowship, through sacrament and through declaration.  We are so thankful that God would continue to gather us weekly to exalt his loftiness, his glory, his gospel, and his PLAN to redeem his people.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is, I hope, intruding on the lives of believers and inquisitive unbelievers alike, regardless of their connection point of brokenness.

 BUT…

 There may be a glaring need in our midst.  Even as we have celebrated the centrality of the Word of God, that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”(Rom. 10:17); and even as we are confidently desperate in our celebration of Jesus Christ, the only hope for the ravaged and wrecked among us.  Even still, it seems we are just now growing HUNGRY for the transformation that only the Holy Spirit can bring to his church, to his people in this sin-soaked, self-saturated, spiritually-suffocating world. 

 John Calvin summed up the Christian life as “rejoicing in the Holy Spirit.”  Christians glory in the presence of the Holy Spirit, without which glorying Christianity itself does not stand!   As I consider the people at West Valley – both those who have been historically churched and those who are newly engaged – I am seeing hunger for transformation… a simultaneous awareness and desire for God the Spirit to be in our midst!  People are weighed down by personal pain, relational scars, financial debt, identity crises, guilt, anger, fear, lust, depression, despair.  I look into their eyes every Sunday with the Word in my hands.  And yet, what I am learning is that God’s people do not merely need to hear me wax about “Jesus Christ, the only hope for our brokenness.”  They do not merely need to learn the power and purpose of expositional preaching in context of celebratory worship.  They do not merely need to be reminded to incarnate Christ’s love to their neighbors and business partners.  No.  We ALL universally need the Holy Spirit to change our human hearts, to “reform our affections,” to transform us! 

 I am committed to gospel-centered expositional preaching and I have been called of God to pastor a missional church plant.  Yet in this winepress of sanctification (as one of our members so affectionately termed church planting) I habitually forget that effective gospel preaching depends wholly on the power of the Spirit as Christ offers himself in the gospel.  If we neglect to proclaim the work of Christ or to beseech the work of the Spirit, all preaching is lifeless and impotent (Thabiti Anyabwile).  Paul made the point CLEAR in 1 Corinthians 2:12 – Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given to us.  Wow.  No believer will understand the Word and experience the transformative power of the gospel apart from the Spirit.  No skeptic will grasp the relevant dead-to-life promise of the gospel apart from the Spirit. 

 So, one year into the planting of West Valley Presbyterian Church, I ask one thing of you: will you pray for the Spirit’s transformation through the Word – as Christ himself is offered to us in the gospel?  Will you pray that for every person we engage at West Valley?  No, that’s not big enough.  Will you pray that for the entirety of our mission field of the West Valley, for our city?  Will you?  Will you pray that for my life, my family and the families of a growing church plant?  Will you?

Today I pray it for you.  May God transform us all for his glory by his Spirit through his Word.

 Rejoicing in the Spirit, jim

If you desire to partner financially with West Valley PCA, 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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Below is a poem/prayer titled “Resurrection” in the Valley of Vision Puritan Prayer Book.  Few posts in this chaotic time at West Valley PCA.  May God be delighted with the gratitude and joyful offering we bring to him.  May he resurrect our broken lives and stir us to actually believe what we believe.

 

O God of my exodus,

Great was the joy of Israel’s sons,

when Egypt died upon the shore,

Far greater the joy

when the Redeemer’s foe lay crushed in the dust.

Jesus strides forth as the victor,

conqueror of death, hell, and all opposing might;

He bursts the bands of death,

tramples the powers of darkness down,

and lives forever.

He, my gracious surety,

apprehended for payment of my debt,

comes forth from the prison house of the grave

free, and triumphant over sin, Satan, and death.

 

Show me herein the proof that his vicarious offering is accepted,

that the claims of justice are satisfied,

that the devil’s scepter is shivered,

that his wrongful throne is leveled.

Give me the assurance that

in Christ I died,

in him I rose,

in his life I live,

in his victory I triumph,

in his ascension I shall be glorified.

 

Adorable Redeemer,

thou who was lifted up upon a cross

art ascended to highest heaven.

Thou, who as Man of sorrows

wast crowned with thorns,

art now as Lord of life wreathed with glory.

 

Once, no shame more deep than thine,

no agony more bitter,

no death more cruel.

Now, no exaltation more high,

no life more glorious,

no advocate more effective.

Though art in the triumph car leading captive

thine enemies behind thee.

What more could be done than thou hast done!

 

Thy death is my life,

thy resurrection my peace,

thy ascension my hope,

thy prayers my comfort.

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west valley pca march 2009 prayerletter

 

www.westvalleypres.org

presbyterian church in america

 

 

 

 

I write this prayer letter to connect with you.  Maybe it will happen, maybe not.  After all, writing only works if a connection is made.  Every now and again, I read a book and the author’s semantic style or sense of humor or something magnetically attracts all of me to all of what he/she has to say.  Have you ever read a book wherein the words moved (as though living) from a mere place on paper to a central place in your thoughts?  Have you ever discovered your elusive stream of consciousness through a coherent combination of vowels and consonants?  Have you ever had a page of prose or poetry expose and interpret your childhood memories? 

 

Yesterday I read a book that may have done all of that and more.  A two-hour time warp in which it all coalesced for a moment: my childhood in Colorado collided with family rearing and church planting in Pennsylvania.  The words came from Ken Gire, in his book Life as we would Want It… Life as we are Given It.  Subtitle: The Beauty God Brings from Life’s Upheavals.  Gire is a magnificent writer and student of literature.  Consider his words:

 

I was browsing a bookstore one day when I happened upon a topographical map of Colorado, molded in plastic.  A yellow line representing Interstate 25 ran down the center, dividing the map in half.  I stooped to pick it up and ran my fingers across its surface.  The eastern half had barely a dimple on the landscape.  The western half had peaks and valleys that formed the southern range of the Rocky Mountains.

 

Eastern and Western Colorado.

Smooth, even terrain… and bumpy, uncertain terrain.

Life as we would want it… and life as we are given it.

The physical landscape [of Colorado] was a metaphor of the landscape of our lives.  One had no upheavals.  The other was full of them.

 

I grew up on Interstate 25 in Colorado.  To the West of our home in Fort Collins was Horsetooth mountain and reservoir.  To the East were the wind-swept plains, the Kansas-like and rarely-mentioned expanse of Colorado.  On our day trips to Denver, the view out one window afforded a sense of awe, the other a sense of “are we there yet.”  The point of Gire’s landscape parable is simply that in life – we generally PREFER the smooth landscape of Eastern Colorado, though we genuinely LONG for the grandeur of the Mountains.  However, mountains are only formed by upheaval… and they are more prone to upheaval. 

 

I recall road-biking with my dad.  I preferred the Eastern flat, but the ride up the Big Thompson canyon to Estes Park brought glory and joy and accomplishment (amidst personal PAIN and upheaval).  In fact, nothing about the mountains is easy – whether a hike, or cycling ride, or cross-country skiing saunter.  Even more, the “better” the climb (Longs Peak at age 11), the worse the upheaval and AGONY.

 

That is the way of the mountains.  That is the memory of my childhood.

That is the way of church planting.  That is the reality of my present.

 

While in truth, I might prefer to walk away from the cell phone and busyness and just hike a mountain with my family (its in our family blood, both Kori and me), the reality is that the Lord has set the Powells on a mountainous climb, spiritually speaking.  We have seen the grandeur of the kingdom of God through church planting in a way that (I don’t think) other paths would have afforded.  Just the same, however, we have experienced the shifting rocks under our feet.  We have slipped time and again, our breath is short, the climb is stressing.  Lina is now hiking with us (she is aware of the strain), Meggie needs to be carried now and again, and Nate – well, he’s still in the hike-pack (but he’s heavier now).  I never dreamed 3 years ago that our family would experience the goodness and glory and awe of ministry in such a ‘mountain-parabolic’ way. 

 

So – praise God for his grandeur in our midst:

  1. Kori and I continue to see how the gospel for sinners (Cheer up, you’re worse than you think, but you’re also more loved in Christ than you ever dared imagine!) is the WHOLE of our Christian life, and is the growing hope of our kids.  Thank you God!
  2. We are growing in our connectivity to the “West Valley.”  Community needs are now being directed to us by business and community leaders, who have seen that we are passionate about being a blessing amidst the brokenness.
  3. Our Main Street location has become a strategic gathering point – as neighborhood people have discovered us and boldly begun a journey of faith, beginning their hike wherever they are.
  4. Praise God for his connecting with his people through the preached word in the book of Ecclesiastes!  The entire book is about the upheaval of life under the sun, and we are seeing MANY long for the hope of the gospel in all its grandeur through such an honest assessment!
  5. In September 2008 we gathered as 60 adults/children from Cornerstone PCA.  In March 2009 we are at the tipping point of having more new regular attendees than mother-church missionaries.  We are becoming a church for the West Valley!

 

Also, pray for us in the midst of the upheavals:

  1. Upheavals of personal faith.  God has drawn people to our church who are ready to journey the mountain… so long as they can freely (perhaps skeptically) hike at their own pace.  People are looking for answers – but NOT pat answers!  Please pray for wisdom, as our feet often slip on shifty ground.  Please pray for my confidence in the power of the Word of God to change hearts.  Pray for conversions by God’s Spirit through his church!
  2. Upheavals in family life.  Please pray for the marriages and children of our families.  God has exposed some magnanimous things in the lives of many.  Pray for those who are wading through their broken pasts and presents… that they would see the “beauty God brings from upheavals.”
  3. Upheavals in finances.  Please pray for the job-loss and job-stress from which we have not been immune at West Valley. 
  4. Upheavals in the ‘West Valley.’  Please pray for our community involvement, as we are seeking to provide work and housing – mercy and grace – to the poor and hurting who are in our very community.  May we realize that “ignorance is really ignoring which is really oppression” (my summary of Ecclesiastes 5:8).  How will our presence in this community change the physical, emotional and spiritual lives of the people in this place?!
  5. Upheavals in churches.  We are so thankful to be seeing the beauty of God in such visible ways as a young church plant.  Please pray for the churches of our Presbytery, many of which are struggling financially in the economic landscape.  These churches have sacrificed to launch us out… and yet they are exhausted from their climb in the Northeastern spiritual terrain.  God give them grace.

 

We praise God for your partnership on this climb.  It has been a YEAR now since many of you received our first “give us money packet” (as I was once heard it so affectionately called).  THANK GOD FOR YOU.  We are seeing the kingdom come in our West Valley as it is in heaven.  We need continued prayers for wisdom to be good stewards of the mystery of the gospel and the gifts of God’s people.  We need continual financial partnership to saturate this one-million person Lehigh Valley with the gospel!  As the Lord led some of you to pledge annual gifts, would you please prayerfully fulfill your desire? 

 

Many thanks, and to God be the glory!

 

 

 

If you desire to partner financially with West Valley PCA, 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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retreat (without running away)

this is a  “retreat week” for me.  I find it to be very ironic, that the more I intentionalize “retreating” from the regular demands of church work, the more my heart is engaged.  Hmm. 

What I mean is this – tomorrow I leave for a retreat in the Poconos with pastors.  To make it a retreat week, I am “pulpit swapping” with our mother church pastor so that he and I can both “retreat” from sermon prep work and preach a recycled sermon in one another’s pulpits.  That has allowed me 15-20 hours extra this week – to meet with men from our church, to read, to clear the desk of the last 4 months debri, etc.  And in so doing, I feel I am running toward the ministry of West Valley with clarity and joy.  Weird, retreating away from the daily tasks and yet more intune with the task of ministry itself.  It must take a “retreat” week to step back and see things clearly… 

It gets even better.  What a week for a snow storm… RETREAT home to play in the snow with kids, etc…

Some pastoral buddies of mine are on their “sabbatical year” – getting to take 4 month retreats with their family.  Well deserved and very important, so I see.  I guess that, technically, I am 4 1/2 years from earning that sort of retreat.  But I’ll take a week here and there… to run from it all that I might run toward it with joyous submission. 

I guess all I am saying is that exhaustion from ministry is not necessary linked to intentionality in ministry.  Good lesson to learn young man.

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what God is doing

A friend of mine recently said to me that he thinks faith is what broken and unbelieving people (whom we have seen at West Valley PCA church plant) are curious about.  Faith… what to believe in?  Then he made the observation that hope is what believers long for… people who attend our churches, who sit in our small groups, who maybe read the Bible daily and pray before meals – they long for hope… “Show me God that this is making a transforming change in my life…”  I hope, anyway.  Transforming me from the inside-out – my anxieties, addictions, depressions, obsessions… I hope, anyway.

Well, I blog today filled with hope that has renewed my faith.  How’s that for a combo?  God is at work!  He is at work in his church through Christ, through his Word, and through his people.  He is at work in family and self… 

A few weeks ago I attended my favorite – the Workshop on Biblical Expostion (Simeon Trust, see links), and since my return, my Word-work for Sunday sermons has been transforming.  Actually ,the times in the Word are slower, filled with more struggle, checking and rechecking context… slow to apply to modern life – and God, through the work, has given POWERFUL textual links to my life and family and our congregation.  God is at work in his Word!  O, and Ecclesiastes is an awesome mess of a book – mirroring its message, and connecting with the magnanimous mess of the people/world to which we are seeking to engage with the gospel.  God is at work!

He is so at work in our family and personal life – bringing us glimpses of new life out of the funk for his glory and service… that I am content to say nothing in reflection.  How’s that for different.  Yeah, I know. 

We were told that church planting would put us in the line of fire and that spiritual attack would be unlike any we knew… Wish they would’ve told us more.  But thanks to God for showing us personal immaturity, giving us new patterns, and now we open our eyes and realize that the gospel is our HOPE of transformation, even as our faith has been tested more than I thought possible as a “pastor/church planter.”   Hope is… well, not just a word. 

Truly, it is as if (Ephes. 1:18ff) “we have had the eyes of our hearts enlightened, that we may know what is the hope to which we have been called…”  And you know what, the whole “weak christian” concept I have wrestled with over the years – am I being too emphatic on the power and discovery of the gospel in moments of weakness?  It has proved realistic for me these past 4 months.  There is a God whose gospel of transformation is real.  It is not real for me apart from my being so desperate, so parched, so scared, so worried, so pushed, so attacked, and so weak – as we have been in these launching days of West Valley.

Today do I feel strong and ready for the glorious task of where God is taking West Valley PCA?  No, I don’t feel strong!  I do have HOPE that transformation in this life under the sun is possible according to the work of God, through his Word and his revelation/power shown us in Christ! 

Amen and Amen.  Come Lord Jesus.

Below is a snipet from our recent prayerletter sent to the prayer and financial partners of WVPC – if you are desirous of learning a bit more of God’s work on the churchplant front.

  __________________

Allow me to share this update.  We are still meeting at our Main Street store-front location, and are in process of reconfiguring the space to fit 150 rather than 100 chairs.  Very needed!  We have been blessed of late to have web-connected, friend-connected, and not-so-random-connected visitors who have returned time and again.  We continue to study the sobering book of Ecclesiastes, salivating more and more for the redemption promised us in Christ from a world filled with futility, vanity and suffering.  We currently have four Community Groups gathering weekly in homes with approximately 25 family units represented.  The goal of our Community Groups is transformation through the Word in a context of safety and exposure among God’s people.   In tandem with our Community Groups, our ladies have begun multiple small groups to study “Gospel Transformation” (World Harvest Mission) and we have finally begun our College Student Adoption as 5-6 families have been linked to pairs of students.   

 

Organizationally, we are on the front end of reassessing our Sunday morning Kids Ministry (due to energy-stewardship and discipleship-effectiveness).  What to do with the responsibility of 40+ kids?!   To help with this and other strategic decisions, we are forming an Advisory Team of men and women who will help “assess and advise” the needs and direction of West Valley, giving on-the-ground thoughts to our provisional session, which is made up of sacrificial elders from regional presbytery churches.  This Advisory group will be a brain-Spirit trust to discuss issues such as our rented facility (Is it working?  Is there a better option?), kids ministry discipleship (Are we effective? Are we burning people out?), etc.  In addition to the strategic formation of an Advisory Team, our session of elders is also prayerfully discussing how to effectively shepherd God’s people as needs and people are mounting (beyond what I have wisdom/capacity/experience for)!  It is not easy for a plurality of elders to shepherd God’s people, when the majority of the plurality are not in the vicinity!  Please pray for us.  In one respect, however, my pastoral role of shepherding and textual study has already been greatly enhanced.  We have hired a part-time Administrative Manager!   Alex is finishing his Bachelor’s degree in business, and while in school, he is using his budding business acumen to organize our office for the sake of stewardship and effectiveness.  Already, this has enabled me to rediscover and prioritize the prayer, expositional preaching (study!) and shepherding tasks of this glorious calling.  Will you pray for wisdom as we discern the changing stages of West Valley’s maturation – that we might structure and prioritize ourselves in a way that enhances our obedience to Christ and helps fulfill our vision for his glory?  These are exciting and uncharted organizational waters (at least for me)!

 

So, having said all that, where are we as a church?  We are in the wilderness.  You may find us in coffee shops, the grocery store, our places of work (hospitals, banks, offices, shops), out sledding if the weather’s right, or at our homes among a myriad of children.  You surely can find us at 322 Main Street in Emmaus on Sunday mornings!  But make no mistake by the thankful and exciting report above… we are in the wilderness.  An artsy-town/sprawling suburban wilderness.   Revelation 12:6 describes the wilderness like this: “and the woman (church) fled to the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished.”  So there you have it.  We are in the nourishing wilderness.  Right now it happens to look like a Main Street church plant of people who meet in Community Groups to study the Word and who are in process of organizing…  But in a deeper sense, we are simply being nourished and preserved by God in our corner of this earthly wilderness where, indeed, there is a tumult of pain and brokenness and temptation and sin.  God is nourishing us by his gospel, by his Word, and by his people until the day when Christ who has ascended to the throne of God (Rev. 12:5) returns to set up his kingdom.  Come Lord Jesus Come!

 

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when human weakness meets divine calling

I just began reading a phenomenal, enjoyable, easy-reading but theological book titled, A Journey Worth Taking: Finding Your Purpose in This World.  Charles Drew is a pastor in Manhattan who writes after thirty years of pastoring churches in university cities.  In other words, as Tim Keller comments, it is “clear, personal, and culturally up-to-date.”  I found it for four bucks on clearance at a bookstore – showing that many of the greatest gospel-centered relevant works are unmarketed and unknown.  This is one of those.

My reading Drew coincides with my sermon prep-work on the Book of Jonah, our first expositional series at West Valley PCA (which started corporate worship 2 weeks ago).  I am joyously amazed at how the themes of the early verses of Jonah dovetail with the beginning chapters of “A Journey Worth Taking.”  It was not an intentional undertaking – I just needed a good read in the midst of the chaos!

Here is what I stand amazed to see: Jonah was a weak man who fled the presence of the Lord when he did not like the call of God to go to Nineveh.  I am a weak man who wandersand sometimes runs from the gospel of God himself when I do not like how life and churchplanting and ME are too hard to figure out.  THEN, in winsome gentleness, Charles Drew writes about the CALLING OF GOD that gives purpose to all of our weak and broken lives.  For all of God’s children, there is the primary call to God and people, the secondary call to a faithful and joyful expression of who we are as our very selves, and there is the tertiary call of God to service (to certain tasks and duties that, in a fallen world, simply need to be done). 

There you have it – the gospel is that as weak as we are in the quagmire of our own survival and self-definition (perhaps self-hatred)  and sin, there is a Caller who is our Creator who created us to only know purpose according to his call!  AND… his call is first and foremost to himself and to others (to relationship not task), secondly to ‘be ourselves’ as he created us uniquely, and thirdly to be agents of service in a broken world… 

But here’s the thing – while it is glorious that God would call us in our weakness.  (The voice of the perfect God calling the wayward heart of even you and me?!?!)    While THAT is glorious, it is sad that much of the misery in my life – in the life of Jonah – occurs when we mix and match and confuse our primary, secondary and tertiary callings!  When I live life such that my primary calling is to figure my own identity out (Secondary calling) – miserable.  When I live life such that my primary calling is to be really good at a task or a job or whatever (tertiary calling) – miserable.  We are called by the God of the universe to himself – nothing parallels or should ever supplant that!!!  And yet, my pain in life comes when I define myself as a pastor first (great if things are easy, stinks if things are hard – either way WRONG).  My pain comes when I define myself as a husband or father or soccer referee or soccer coach or bread-winner or whatever…  Those are callings under the CALL to God himself! 

This is where Jonah shows us the pain.  Jonah fled the call of God in his life (at that particular time) to go to Nineveh to cry out against the city as a means of God’s gracious mercy to Nineveh.  He didn’t like that call.  But the text scares me in how it describes his flight.  He fled the presence of God (1:3)!  In other words, Jonah did not like the tertiary call to service, so he fled his primary call to know God himself!  How could he cut himself off so!  O my gosh, it’s a picture of me. 

O God, would you help your people as we struggle through our secondary calling of ‘being our true selves’ in a world of conformity, or as we struggle through our tertiary call of serving your broken world well (our jobs, etc)… would the struggles in those departments NEVER supplant our submission to the JOYOUS primary call to know YOU.  Thanks be to God for the Call of Weak people – called first to nothing other than being known and perfectly loved by the God of glory, Hallelujah!  Why would we desire to be called to anything else first?!

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west valley presbyterian church – services have begun!

our worship space before the addition of people and folding chairs!

our worship space before the addition of people and folding chairs!

 

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Psalm 127:1

We are so thankful that the Lord gathered his people and inhabited our praises this past Sunday as west valley presbyterian church (pca) gathered for our first preview service.  It was an unadvertised sacrifice of worship wherein we planned to give God our new expression of praise, unsure of exactly what it would be!  The Lord was gloriously present in our worship and community – and he brought more than we expected… college kids, neighbors and friends in our target area… close to 100 people to hear his gospel, to offer our broken but made-beautiful selves in thankful worship.  The text that resounded throughout the service was John 17, where Jesus prayed that we might share in both the GLORY and ONENESS of the Father and Son.  And that, I think, we did!  Through the gospel, we are glorious not grotesque.  Through the gospel we are one with each other and the Godhead!  What a gift.

kids sermon, the first try.  "I spy..."

kids sermon, the first try.

 

It is clear, that like children, we at west valley pres are being cared for and fed by our Creator and Redeemer and Father.  We are bruised reeds whom he holds and cherishes.  We are conduits of his kingdom into our broken world.  O God, may your kingdom come to the west valley as it is in heaven.  May we receive your gracious gospel in your church even as you extend it through your church.  O God, what is man that you are mindful of us?  What is a new chuchplant that you would gather people to yourself through us?  What is in store O God!

If you live in the lowermac and emmaus (west of allentown) region of the Lehigh Valley, come check us out!  We long to be a “come as you are community where Christ is celebrated and brokenness renovated”   www.westvalleypres.org

 

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