Tag Archives: kingdom

It is because it is.

It is.

What is?  Where? When?

Here, now, it is.

It is visible and obvious.

It is painful and present and powerful.

It is purposeful and poignant, and pauseworthy and praiseworthy.

It is a King and a kingdom conquering…

It is light exposing darkness…

That is all too austere.  Not clear enough.  Nothing to sink my teeth into.  Not unambiguous.  Not ambiguous.

What I mean is… there is something visibly present that I am experiencing as the planter/pastor of west valley pca, which is as invisible as it is concretely present.

I can see that we see it, and yet we all know that we haven’t even begun to see it all.

Yes.  I mean what I am saying and am unsure of what I don’t mean.

God is renewing people.  The King is kingdoming.  I mean that.  I depend on that.

In the past  48  hours I have experienced a window into the soul of wounded, addicted, scared, skeptical, converted, longing, ravaged, curious, afraid, thrilled and worshiping… people.

I have tasted and labeled and trusted in the efficacious call of God on impossible hearts.

In the past 48 hours I have experienced the Word of God by the Spirit of God draw people into the gospel of God.

I have listened to people recount that they want it… because they see that it is.  That is kingdoming.  It is.

I have watched  women who are longing… and men who are breaking… that is kingdoming.  It is.

I have enjoyed the thought of people resting in the freedom of righteousness and regretlessness and rescue of their past… suburban sinners sensing the impossible…. that is kingdoming.  It is.

It is here because it just is.

Kingdom.

King.

It is.

Come Lord Jesus Come.

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the most important day for Christians this week

On Sunday, prior to the prayer time at the worship service of West Valley PCA, I made the comment that I believe that Wednesday, not Tuesday is the most important day for gospel-centered Christians during an election week.  The day is upon us.  Has our hope, joy, confidence, graciousness, otherness changed?

O God, may your church be the salt and light of the gospel in how we speak, in how we depend on you alone as the King above all nations…  May your church speak graciously into one another’s lives, in our workplaces.  May we listen and love.  May we pray and share peace.  May we encourage and not slander. 

For your church, may the salvation of society and culture not be found in the election of a human leader and government.  Equally so, for your church, may discouragement not reign due to the election of a human leader and government!  Neither/nor.  O God, thank you that you have already revealed the hope of the  nations, the gospel of salvation – YOU ALONE CHANGE HEARTS and you have begun the advancement of the kingdom of full justice and mercy and truth among weak individuals, societies, cultures!

Today, may your church be prayerful for its elected leaders (Romans 13) – whom YOU have put in your place of leadership for your purposes!  May your church be the aroma of grace in how we show our true hope of Christ and his reign in our hearts above all things!  May we listen and learn and consider the interests of others (Philippians 2) that we might truly love, truly engage, and truly contextualize the hope of the world for people irregardless of their political hopes/fears.  Me what we believe MOST in – your gospel – be revealed today by our speech and conduct.  

May we not be ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe and for the transformation of all things!  All things.  The only power. 

No matter what we hoped for yesterday – from left to right, from the cities to the farms, from North to South… this Wednesday, we still love our worldwide, eternal, timeless, unchanging Government.  Our King of kings and lord of Lords.  Come Lord Jesus Come!  Amen.

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processing the gospel amidst the process of churchplanting

I am becoming delinquent.  God has been gracing me with deep lessons on his gospel and his Church – lessons that I am processing amidst the busyness, but not as much over the blogosphere!  I do intend to keep writing… (I apologize as if I have regular weakchristian readers who have missed me – prideful man that I am.)

an update on how I am processing the gospel amidst the process of churchplanting:

I am reading in Ecclesiastes.  Enough said.  If you have a Bible and time, check out the parallel-but-contrast between Ecclesiastes ch.1 and Psalm 104.  What an amazing difference in the heart and soul of one who has a God-centered view of reality (Ps. 104) and one who rightly conteplates the vanity/meaninglessness/emptiness/vaporish-ness of life under the sun apart from awareness of the glory of our Creator!  I am chewing on that as I prepare to perhaps preach through Ecclesiastes as our opening exposition series at West Valley PCA (launching this Fall – hence the craziness)!  What a culturally apropos book, with HUGE gospel flashing lights to give us hope!

The other thing I am chewing on is the nature of the CHURCH as part of the Gospel, not just as the collection of “recipients” of the Gospel.  God has chosen to dwell among a people that he has formed by his Word and Spirit – we are his incarnated good news to our culture and neighborhoods!  See Ephesians 2:11-22.  We are a central tenent and irrevocable part of the gospel message… an awesome biblical truth to rediscover and ponder in an age of increased spirituality, yet decreased churchiality (ecclesiology).  I will share more of this – thanks to some studying I am doing on “the Sacramental Gospel” – by Preston Graham, Jr., pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New Haven, Connecticut.  Preston, you’ve got a new disciple.

Tomorrow (or soon thereafter) I will paste my July Prayer-letter to update you on the progress of West Valley PCA (a churchplant in the 3rd trimester, but still in embryo).

Grace and transformation amidst your brokenness and mine, your community and mine – solely through the gospel of Christ’s kingdom manifested in his church by his Word and Spirit!

jim

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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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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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Nothing goes with dinner like Vision

This Saturday night, Cornerstone (where I serve on staff) will be holding our annual Vision Dinner.  Much like last year – due to all the planning and administeratering – I am, in part, just looking forward to the dinner being over!  But even more, it’s exciting to anticipate a formal declaration to the congregation that we are moving forward with the West Valley church plant in 2008.  Yep-indeedy. 

My prayers are for my pastor and mentor who will be addressing a church that has no building; that has one extra pastoral staff in addition to himself (me); that has no current youth minister (etc.) why the session of elders sees God calling Cornerstone to have a church-planting vision and why that vision is set in action even now. 

I guess what I am most excited about is the declaration that my role will be changing.  I love my job.  I am learning things I never knew I needed to learn.  I am weak and dependent on Christ more now than when I came to CPC.  But God called us up here for the sake of planting a gospel-centered kindgom-incarnating culturally-apropos church in the West Valley.  Much has already been done in preparation, but it has all been behind the scenes so as not to be a divurgent direction for Cornerstone people to think about (as their life and church IS at Cornerstone).  But now, following Saturday night, it is time to let the cat out of the bag – to more directly inquire of people who sense that God may be calling them to be missional by committing to an embryonic church plant.  It is soon time to gather…

Of course – and I love John Kinyon – my pastor and mentor is excited about the thought of calling Cornerstone to a new gospel-centered missional focus as well.  The Vision night will emphasize how Cornerstone is not just releasing some people to be on mission through a church plant.  Rather, Cornerstone – mother ship herself – is embarking on a new kindgom mission as well. 

2008 will hopefully be about two churches.  Two parts of the Valley.  Two missional callings that hopefully will subsume every gospel-dependent believer who currently attends Cornerstone.

O God, with the announcement and vision declaration on Saturday night (along with the good food/community) would you give us a glimpse of your kingdom spreading through this Valley in ways that we could neither ask or imagine (Eph. 3:14-21).

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DO church, or DO kingdom?

I have been doing some reading about the kingdom of God.  Of course, it’s always easier to read about the kingdom than to incarnate the kingdom.  That’s what I was reading about.  The book I was reading pushed me to consider whether, as God’s community, we DO church as a means of doing God’s kingdom… or whether we do church in place of doing the kingdom.  Simply put:

How well do our churches DO the kingdom of God?  BE the kingdom of God?  Have we gotten to the point of doing church (in the Western institutional sense) more than we DO kingdom (in the Acts 2:42-47; Jeremiah 29:4-7; Amos 5:14-15) sense? 

I don’t know the answer… but I know my mind is a muddy mess about the nature of the kindgom-communiy that I hope our church plant will be. 

Not knowing the answer, I pose the question to you: What things would we DO, or not DO, or keep or change… if we sought to DO the kingdom as a church, rather than just do church the way most churches today DO church? 

(By the way, I love the church… so I don’t think that DOing Kingdom and Doing church are mutually exclusive!)

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imagination as a gift

There are a lot of things I have come to believe by God’s grace.  I do believe.  And then, in a moment of intimacy with my children, I realize that it is one thing to believe a propositional declared truth… it is another thing altogether to imagine such good truth to be TRUE.

Last night, Lina and Meggie and I were finishing the last chapter of The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.  It was all about the kingdom of Christ and his heaven coming to earth.  It was biblical theology that mattered and could be imagined.  Lina – “Linna” (5) – sat up and her eyes conveyed the imaginitive glory.  “So, daddy, it’ll be like a whole new world.”  Yep.  “So, if I die and then Jesus breathes on me to come into his new world, I might not live here anymore… I might live in that state where Uncle Kurt and Aunt Carla live.  Or maybe in Georgia.”  Maybe Lina, but I like how you called it ‘Jesus’ new world.  That makes a lot of sense to me.  “But daddy, I might be scared in heaven because I won’t find you.”  No Lina, it’s impossible for you to be scared in heaven… because in heaven there will be no tears or pain, not even fear.  And Jesus won’t let you be alone.  And I don’t think we’ll be apart, because we’ll all be doing the same thing – praising Jesus together!

I could go on.  But I would rather “treasure these things in my heart” – in a sense they are wordless anyway.  The point is, last night, through my child’s imagination, I experienced real belief.  I couldn’t paint a picture for her of something I casually held to.  What a gift.  Thank you God for your work in my children “of promise” who make your promises new to me day after day.

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Blue Like Jazz

I mean not to make this blog into “Book-Review Central”… I think the 3 books I have thrown at you recently are The Wounded Healer (Henri Nouwen), Metamorpha (Kyle Strobel), and The Bruised Reed (Puritan Richard Sibbes).  Well, surely some of you have read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz – Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality.  I started it yesterday and am 140 pages into it after only two sittings. 

 Here’s the thing: Donald Miller is an amazing writer.  I appreciate his ability to enjoyably engage our post-modern very spiritual culture with the relevance of Christ.  Now, I’m not sure where Miller stands with regard to “postmodernizing the gospel” in our attempt to reach our postmodern culture… but he is refreshing, interesting, and intelligible nonetheless and, so far, I have only read his affirmation of the centrality and truth of Christ.  I am thankful for the words God has gifted him with.  Let me give you an example of his work and why it is effective for our postmodern culture (and why many of us should tap into his words for reference sake, at a bare minimum).

Rather than declaratively stating that the Bible teaches us that God has written a story about a King redeeming a people broken and in need (which it does tell us in epic fashion)… instead, Mr. Trendy Writer (which he doesn’t want to be called) uses the fourfold elements of story that are consistent throughout good literature (appreciated asthetically by our artsy culture): setting, conflict, climax and resolution.  What he says is that the reason why we naturally resonate with stories or movies – is because the best of them have a setting that is realistic, a conflict that is all-encompassing (subliminally reminds us of our lives), a climax where the conflict is addressed, and a resolution of some sort (even if not what we expect – most of us still assume life will resolve in some way).  Why does that fourfold ‘package’ continue to be defined as good literature (proven by books purchased and movies watched)?  Why do these elements make sense?

Miller says it is because they reflect the cosmic story where the setting is our struggle in this broken world, the conflict is realizing that the dark struggle is not just in the world but inside our very souls, the climax is when belief in salvation through Christ “happens to us” and the resolution is the kingdom transformation that will come presently and in the future.  In his own words:

There it was: setting, conflict, climax, and resolution.  As silly as it seemed, it met the requirements of the heart and it matched the facts of reality.  It felt more than true, it felt meaningful.  I was starting to believe that I was a character in the greater story, which is why the elements of story [all stories] made sense in the first place.  The magical proposition of the gospel, once free from the clasps of fairy tale, was very adult to me, very gritty like something from Hemingway or Steinbeck…  Christian spirituality was not a children’s story.  It wasn’t cute or neat.  It was mystical and odd and clean, and it was reaching into the dirty. 

Now, I am not in favor of a postmodern gospel, just as I could do without a modernist gospel.  The gospel is trans-cultural.  It transforms the postmodern spiritual individual into a socially active Kingdom-minded follower of Christ, even as it transforms the modern intellectual individual into a Truth-defending but gracious believer.  We don’t modernize or post-modernize the gospel (we don’t enculturate it), but we MUST take the gospel in an intelligible way to the culture we are in – be it postmodern or modern, be it rural or urban, be it homogonous or heterogonous (we DO trans-culturate it).

So far, Blue Like Jazz is like a window into such a philosophy of ministry.  Thank you Donald Miller.  After reading a book with absolutely NO Scripture quotes or references… I come away wanting to know the God of grace who has/can touch my world in Christ.  I come away repenting of my self-obsession.   And I come away excited about the relevant truth that is just that… TRUTH.

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