Categories
Life Ministry

A Brief Message to Our Ministry Partners at Grace Chapel

Inspired by Philippians 4:10-20

Dear Ministry Partners at Grace Chapel,

We have greatly rejoiced in the Lord because it’s very clear you are concerned for us. Indeed, you’ve always been concerned for our well-being. You’ve showed it in various ways. Yet you didn’t always have opportunity because our needs weren’t always tangible. Sometimes they weren’t even noticeable! Our need now is for prayer and financial partners in our new ministry. But this need is not burdensome. Even if it were, we’ve learned how to be content in any situation. We know what it’s like to struggle. We know what it’s like to prosper. In all kinds of circumstances, we’ve learned the secret to facing anything. Do you want to know the secret? (You already know it!) Here it is: Jesus gives us strength to endure highs and lows. It’s his strength that can get us through any kind of situation.

Yet when we were troubled and in need during our time with you, you were gracious to endure with us and provide in various ways. We’ve never doubted your generosity and kindness! Boy, are you generous! And you know that when we announced we’d be leaving you for a new and different kind of ministry, and would need people to partner with us in prayer and giving, you were the first church to jump at that chance! Even though we left you, you are helping with our needs! You are supporting us financially. Incredible! Not that we seek the financial gifts for themselves. Oh no. We seek the fruit that increases to your spiritual credit. We want you to be blessed in giving! We are on our way to being fully supplied in every way because you are giving generously, which is a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.

And what’s more is that we are not only trusting God to provide for us, but we truly believe that our God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

We love you,
James and Carly

Categories
Theology

A Journey to Christ-Centered Bible Study

In case you missed it, my wife and I are transitioning to full-time missionary staff with Cru in 2017. Since last week, we’ve been in Daytona Beach at Cru’s new staff orientation.

Today, we interacted a bit with Keith Johnson, Cru’s director of theological development. Meeting him face-to-face for the first time reminded me when I first served with Cru as an intern (2007-08), Keith was one of a few men who helped me develop a Christ-centered approach to the Bible. I was tasked with writing a Bible study commentary for 1-2 Samuel. (To this day, I have no idea how or why they asked me.) I remember Keith saying that many of the old Cru studies were well-intended but moralistic in their exegetical conclusions and applications. Cru wanted to go in a gospel-centered direction. It was music to my ears.

At that time, my campus director and friend of Keith’s, Bill Kollar (now Cru High School’s Director of Leadership Development), played the primary role of helping me understand the big picture of the Bible and how to apply all Scripture to all of life in a Christ-centered and practical way. Thanks to Bill, I began to see the Bible as beautiful tapestry, a diverse yet unified document telling the story of God’s grace.

These men directed me to two precious resources that rooted me in understanding the Bible the way it was meant to be understood.

The first was Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell. Don’t be fooled by the title. This is not just a book for preachers! Several chapters will appeal to the average Bible student. Most helpfully, this book taught me to understand what Chapell calls the “Fallen Condition Focus,” that is, what any particular text says about our sinfulness or brokenness or suffering because of living in a fallen world. If you don’t see this, you won’t see the need for Christ.

Alongside was God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts. It’s by far the best introduction to biblical theology I’ve encountered. Roberts shows that whole Bible is about God’s redemption through Jesus. It’s still the book I recommend most to people who ask how to better understand how to study the Bible.

After these initial two books, several others helped bolster a Christ-centered approach to the Bible.

I accidentally discovered Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation by Graeme Goldsworthy in the “Related” link on Amazon when I bought God’s Big Picture. I tried to read it immediately and my brain imploded. So I put it down, lived some life, studied the Bible more, got married, and re-started it and finished. I’m forever grateful that Goldsworthy introduced me to macro-typologies like creation/new creation, kingdom, exodus, temple/sacrifice, and more.

I found Goldsworthy to be golden, and two more books, among others, proved that true. First was Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching. Another preaching book but (again) don’t be fooled. If you communicate the Bible in any way, you’d benefit. Goldsworthy goes genre-by-genre explaining what a Christian interpretation looks like. The truly stellar thing is that he gives several examples from each genre of how to actually to teach a particular passage.

Then I read According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible. This book is a step beyond God’s Big Picture, providing a more thorough introduction to what biblical theology is and how it works. Goldsworthy also provides a helpful understanding of what Scripture is and how we meet God in its pages.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I did not mention The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Admit it. You didn’t expect a children’s book in this list. It’s the book my wife and I give away most, hoping people not only read it to their kids, but read it—and love it—for themselves. Lloyd-Jones poignantly shows how every story in Scripture is in some way pointing to the bigger story of what God is doing in Christ. By the way, there is a grown-up version now, so you don’t have to be self-conscious reading it at Starbucks.

Wondering where to start? Try this order:

  1. The Jesus Storybook Bible 
  2. God’s Big Picture
  3. According to Plan
  4. Preaching the Whole Bible 
  5. Christ-Centered Preaching (select chapters)
  6. Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics (only when ready for brain implosion)

I pray your Christ-centered Bible study journey is as energizing, fun, and formative as mine was, is, and continues to be. Happy reading!

Categories
Life

Ending One Chapter, Beginning Another

For the past three years, I have served as a pastor at Grace Chapel in Clifton Park, New York. But for the past year, Carly and I have sensed God calling us into a new ministry role. We are thrilled to tell you that God has providentially led us to join Cru (known internationally as Campus Crusade) as missionaries to college students!

Visit pruchcru.com, a new website devoted to our new ministry, to read more!

In our church’s worship gathering earlier today, Carly and I announced this news to our congregation. It was a bittersweet morning, to say the least. Here’s what I said:

We are excited to tell you this morning that God has called us to a new ministry role. Carly and I are going to serve as missionaries to university students with Campus Crusade for Christ at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. God has been gracious to lead us in discerning our next chapter and we hope you rejoice with us. While we are excited, of course, this is bittersweet, too, because my time as a pastor here will end at the end of March.

We acknowledge not having a senior pastor makes a transition like this messier. Yet we’ve sensed a call to a different kind of ministry for quite some time and are convinced this is the right time for us to pursue it. The possibility of serving with Cru has been on our hearts for the better part of the last year, and even more intensely in the last six months. We believe that Jesus is clearly calling us to this new role. Our parents, family, closest friends and mentors, and Cru leadership have affirmed us in this new call. Our elders have been very supportive and excited for us.

Several core ministry values led us to this. We want serve together more often and use our home as a base for ministry. We want to live in an urban context with a diverse population. We want to disciple young people in their formative years. We want to be around more non-Christians and share the gospel with them. We desire to work with multiple churches and organizations. We also desire to serve the global church and the connections and infrastructure of Cru make that possible. God has been gracious to put these desires in us and faithful to provide a path to pursue them.

For more than three years, I’ve been blessed to serve as one of your pastors. We came from Nebraska about as green as could be in terms of life and ministry experience. You have been so loving and caring—more than we could have asked for. You embraced our family. Some of you became surrogate grandparents to our children, many more became surrogate aunts and uncles, and all of you brothers and sisters in the Lord. We have significantly benefited from you, and we hope that in some way you have benefited from us, too.

Nine months ago, I stood here and asked you to pray for us to hear the voice of Jesus and obey him, no matter where he might call us to go. Thank you for praying. We now have a significant transition ahead of us and we ask for your continued prayers. And if you have questions, as I’m sure many of you do, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

From now until March, I’ll serve in a coaching and training role in the ministries I’ve been a part of. I look forward to working with many of you to help these ministries flourish better than ever.

The faith nature of our new role means, like other missionaries, we will need a team of people who will pray for us and generously give of their financial resources. On our own time, we will reach out to you all to talk more about our ministry and invite you to partner with us.

You can visit pruchcru.com to read more about what we’ll be doing or we can get you a brochure, if you’d like.

All goodbyes are hard and this one will be difficult, too. Our prayer is that we all would cherish the friendship we have been given and will have forever in Jesus. And even more than that, that we would cherish Jesus himself who binds us together in perfect harmony for his glory, no matter how far apart or what we are doing. He is sufficient, and we have every reason to believe that he will continue to be faithful, as he always has.