Monthly Archives: December 2007

resolving to rest and quit resolving

This new year, may our gospel-centered lives be evidenced by our RESTING in the finished work of Christ our Redeemer… which means recognizing our continual weakness and brokenness and need to be held by him who will not bruise even the weakest reed.  May THIS new year actually be about NEWNESS, as we seek to REST in our graciously given new-creation-identity, and not just RESOLVE to do more… to be stronger… to learn more… to be better. 

Yes, may we be vigorously attentive to our weaknesses and not our perceived and often deceived strengths, such that we might live more dependently (and very newly) on Christ.  

Make your resolutions if you must, but may the first resolution be to not resolve to find strength in anything other than the Strong One whom you and I can only see in his glorious fullness when we observe him through our weakness and need! 

May your new year be Christ-dependent and new and risky and secure as you resolve to REST on him alone and to quit resolving to be a better you (which subliminally often becomes resting in self-progress)!  Rather, resolve to rest on the perfect you through his righteousness and the gospel given to you last year, this year, and for eternity to come.

Grace.  Jim

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blue like jazz deux

It has been a long time since I was able to read a 240 page book in 4 sittings.  Going to bed early to get up at 5:30 to read again…  Weird, because I know I am culturally late having just now read Blue Like Jazz.

Friends, foes, family, liberal believers, conservative believers, non-believers (liberal or conservative), modern, postmodern, Gen x, hippies, moms, dads, laypersons, clergy, skeptical, frustrated, missional, emerging, emergent, reformed, dispensational, coffee drinking, beer drinking, Southern Bible-belter, Northern ?!, college kid, high school kid, city-monger, rural farmer…  have I missed anyone?  Please give this a read.  Give Donald Miller’s words a chance, all of them.  Read, and read on.  Or maybe just read him because he’s from Portland.  Cool.

I am not saying that it is the best book I have ever read.  Not that it is the perfect book.  Not that I agree with every last word.  But that they are real words.  Words that made me laugh and stunned me and led to worship or repentance or introspection.  They are Donald Miller’s words… and even though it is impossible to hear all that he is saying, I have heard something profound.

From his final chapter:

I was watching BET one night, and they were interviewing a man about jazz music.  He said jazz music was invented by the first generation out of slavery.  I thought that was beautiful, because, while it is music, it is very hard to put on paper; it is so much more a language of the soul.  It is as if the soul is saying something, something about freedom.  I think Christian spirituality is like jazz music.  I think loving Jesus is something you feel.  I think it is something very difficult to get on paper.  But it is no less real, no less meaningful, no less beautiful. 

The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music.  It is music birthed out of freedom.  And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality.  A music birthed out of freedom.  Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands…

This book is about the songs my friends and I are singing…  ((p.239)

Interesting enough, I feel like singing.

 _______________________

Addendum.  I would be remiss not to pass this quote along to you, especially for those of you who know that I am inching forward in my book-writing adventure.  ‘Bout a hundred pages in and here is how I feel…

Now, I am not a real writer as is Miller, but his words made me laugh. 

Writers don’t make any money at all.  We make about a dollar.  It is terrible.  But then again we don’t work either.  We sit around in our underwear until noon then go downstairs to make coffee, fry some eggs, read the paper, read part of a book, smell the book, wonder if perhaps we ourselves should work on our book, smell the book again, throw the book across the room because we are quite jealous that any other person wrote a book, feel terribly guilty about throwing the schmuck’s book across the room because we secretly wonder if God in heaven will notice our evil jealousy, or worse, our laziness.  We then lie across the couch facedown and mumble to God to forgive us because we are secretly afraid He is going to dry up all our words because we envied another man’s stupid words.  And for this, as I said before, we are paid a dollar.  We are worth so much more…  (p.187)

When you are writing without a contract, you feel as though everything you say is completely worthless (technically it is, until you get a contract).  You can write all day and still not feel that you have done anything.  (p.188)

And that, my friends, should tell you how I feel about the progress I am not making in my ‘project.’

Grace.

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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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Bruised Reed conclusion…

I could write on and on, trying to give you more of a taste of my new friend, Richard Sibbes.  But for now, I pass on to you these words from the final chapter of The Bruised Reed. 

In conclusion and as a general application to ourselves of all that has been said, we see the conflicting, but yet sure and hopeful, state of God’s people.  The victory lies not with us, but with Christ, who has taken on him both to conquer for us and to conquer in us.  The victory lies neither on our own strength to get it, nor in our enemies’ strength to defeat it.  If it lay with us, we might justly fear.  But Christ WILL maintain his government in us and take our part against our corruptions.  They are his enemies as well as ours. 

Let us think when we are troubled with our sins that Christ has this in charge from his Father, that he not ‘quench the smoking flax’ until he has subdued all.  This puts a shield into our hands to beat back ‘all the fiery darts of the wicked’ (Eph. 6:16). 

Satan will object, ‘You are a great sinner.’ 

We may answer, ‘Christ is a strong Saviour.’ 

But he will object, ‘You have no faith, no love.’ 

‘Yes, a spark, of faith and love.’ 

‘But Christ will not  regard that.’

‘Yes, he will not quench the smoking flax’ (or “blow out the faintly burning wick”).

‘But this is so little and weak that it will vanish and come to nought.’

‘Nay, but Christ will cherish it, until he has brought judgment to victory.’

And let all that has been spoken allure those that are not yet in a state of grace to come under Christ’s sweet and victorious government, for, though we shall have much opposition, yet, if we strive, he will help us.  If we fail, he will cherish us.  If we are guided by him, we shall overcome.  And if we overcome, we are sure to be crowned.

Amen.  Thank you God the historic gospel that still speaks.

prayer of confession

The following is a prayer of confession that we will be using at Cornerstone PCA this weekend.  If you are an attendee, prepare your heart for communal confession by devouring this prayer through the rest of the week.  If you are not… may God richly move your broken heart to cry to him in confession – both individually and corporately (wherever he has called you).   What a God.  What an honest prayer.  What help for weak prayers like me.

Father, teach us not to sin with such abandon. 

We do it all so easily:
pretend, lie,
envy, lust,
criticize, brood,
ignore, deny,
consume, hoard,
defame, distort,
make excuses,
and then expect an easy forgiveness for the asking.

God, forgive us for our deep and utter disregard for your holy character. Keep us from presuming upon your patience with us in our sin. Loving Father, work in us a godly fear that drives us, not to despair, but to you. And teach us the shortness of our days, that we may learn to live them for your glory, and gain from you a heart of wisdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

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…

“Magnificent Kingdom, Myopic Me” sermon

I don’t normally do this… actually I have never put a sermon audio link on this blog.  However, I know that many of you are going through magnificent storms of weakness in your life.  You have told me personally.  I also know that God alone has authority to interpret our storms and our lives in how we handle the storm…

So it you’ve got 30, give this a listen.   We are going through the gospel of Mark at Cornerstone, and God gave me the privilege of preaching on Mark 4:35-41, with Jesus and the disciples and the squall on the Sea of Galilee.  What a Word has been preserved for us… a worldview-interpreting, life-giving, kingdom-declaring, self/sin-magnifying Word.  Thanks be to God.

http://www.cornerstonepca.net/audio/encoded%20J%20Powell%20Magnificent%20Kingdom%20Myopic%20Me%20Dec%209%202007-1.wma

Grace and peace.

Jim

west valley church plant update

OK, I’m not sure if I should provide you with the less-complicated or more-complicated version of this update…

Thank you to those who prayed for the Cornerstone session meeting on Saturday morning.  By God’s grace, the unity and anticipation toward planting this Fall was evident and encouraging.  Long story short, we have decided to pursue a “temporary session of elders” daughter-church model.  I won’t catalogue for you the similarities/differences with other models that we bantered about, but I can somewhat fill you in on how this will look. 

In early 2008 (yes, 2 months) –  formally at our Vision Dinner on Jan 26th – I will be veeerrryyyy slllloooowwwwlllllyyyyyy weaned off of some of my Cornerstone responsibilities to direct my attention to the “West Valley churchplant.”  Areas of attention will include (first) pursuing some ruling and teaching elders in local PCA churches to form a “temporary session” that I will moderate; a body of men called and commissioned to keep the churchplant accountable to God and his Word and to provide support and oversight from its inception.  This is integral in the early stages, so that the budgeting and gathering and vision casting can be done in the context of ecclesiastical oversight.  I am praying and consulting now about who these elders should be.  This temporary session will include some of the present Cornerstone elders.  This temporary body will remain in oversight until such time that the church-plant has trained its own session of elders (usually a year or two in) who will then take the helm under Christ the King.  It will be a large commitment for these men – so please pray that God will raise up the right “session.”  Under this model, the church that is planted will be a bonafide sister PCA church to Cornerstone.

I will also soon need to get a non-profit tax ID so that we can begin fundraising to complement the giving of momma church (Cornerstone, Center Valley).   Good thing my mentor is a former lawyer – as John will be guiding me in how to create bylaws, etc. for accomplishing the task.   Of course, to do this – a name of the church is necessary.  More on that some day.  Right now, West Valley PCA is on my heart because THAT is the target area of the Lehigh Valley in which we live and breath and experience God’s kingdom.  THAT is the place for which we (the launcher-outers) need to be regularly praying and weeping for God’s kingdom mercy on our neighbors and classmates and friends.   THAT is where we long for “thy kingdom to come to earth as it is in heaven.”   THAT is the place where we long for every biblical description of God’s people to fit (terms you often find in the name of churches): grace, mercy, Christ the Cornerstone, fellowship, kingdom, hope, truth, love etc.   I will never forget the first day when – while driving and looking out over the Valley’s lights – I felt tears on my face.  NEVER before have I cried for a people in a place…  The West Valley is my Jerusalem, and it may be yours depending on where you live.   So for now, expect to hear the church plant called as such.  

Then will come the gathering of PRAYERS.  I anticipate that in February, we will begin weekly praying kingdom prayers with one another – that God will check our hearts and motives and move in the west valley in ways we cannot imagine (Eph.3:20-21).  This time of prayer will not be vision casting…  it will be the heart-surrendering.  We will be praying that God will plant a gospel centered church that perpetually serves his kingdom purpose in that place (with or without any of us who are there in the beginning – even me).  This may or may not be in conjunction with the Cornerstone small groups already on the west side of the Valley.  Of course, I HOPE that any of you who will be with us have been and are continually praying for the target and a gospel-church.  Praying for a location to worship.  Praying for people outside of Cornerstone who are curious and gospel-driven who will perhaps be a part of our prayer times as well!  The praying together will only be as powerful as our praying has already been on our knees beside our beds.

Sometime in the Spring, the gathered prayers will (some of them) become vision dreamers. The prayer meetings will likely morph into community Bible studies.  The summer will probably bring any number of “vision barbecues or parties or whatever” to which we invite our friends.  But we don’t need to go there now.  Just pray and see the season of scattering new ecclesial seeds coming soon! 

It shouldn’t be that hard to think about what to pray:

What will the vision of the plant be?  Where will the worship be located?  How will we minister to the needs of the community?  How will it be a churchplant committed to faithfully declaring the gospel to believers and making it relevant to nonbelievers?   How will it – to the glory of God – pursue excellence to reach the “professional valleyman” without being tripped up with performance and cultural entertainment?  How BIG of a work will God do through this churchplant such that YOUR life in YOUR neighborhood in YOUR city on YOUR west side of the Valley will never be the same due to the gospel of the King of mercy and truth?  How big of a commitment is required for my family and your family?  How much do you and I believe the gospel in the first place, such that we are burdened by the need of our community for a new gospel-declaring and incarnating church?  How will we be excited and yet patient at the same time, letting Christ the King through his Spirit plant the church in his time?  How will God preserve Cornerstone PCA in its faith risk of planting a church that will undeniably shake up its gospel-community as it “releases and faithfully multiplies”?  How can we make sure it is God doing the work and not our pursuing human strategies apart from his guidance?  How will we be a church that ministers mercy and justice in sectors of our Valley that are underpoverished?  How will we be a church of the broken and the weak that lives out the power of the gospel because we NEED it so desperately?  How will God raise up people to lead new ministries from “scratch?”  How will we honor and support the gospel-work of other churches in our target area?  How will we plant a church in our community and not just in our heads?  How will we keep from becoming the “cozy Christian couch” and rather be the sacrificial cultural transformers that we ought to be?  How will we uphold a commitment to the purity of God and his kingdom without showing disdain toward the stained and broken in our world who are circumstantially poised to receive the good news?!  How will we be in the world but not of it?  How will Satan try to infiltrate a gospel-work with disunity and pride and competition and vision-distractions – because we KNOW he will?  How will you and I become shepherds of our weak community, and not just colaborers in the church who solely minister to each other in the church (as regular and important as that is)?  How do we become an authentic people of transparency without just wallowing in the reality of our fallen world?  How do we give ourselves to something and yet hold it so loosely that God can do whatever he wants with it? 

How will we do this without crying out in prayer?! 

Please pray with me!  Please tell others you know to read this post and join us in prayer.  Then open your ears for more news from the west side.

preaching to the invisible listener

A pastor-mentor and friend of mine just passed along this quote from Kierkegaard’s Practice in Christianity.  Nice and necessary to hear time and again.

“Therefore it is a risk to preach, for as I go up into that holy place — whether the church is packed or as good as empty, whether I myself am aware of it or not, I have one listener more than can be seen, an invisible listener, God in heaven whom I certainly cannot see but who truly can see me.  This listener, he pays close attention to whether what I am saying is true, whether it is true in me, that is, he looks to see — and he can do that, because he is invisible in a way that makes it impossible to be on one’s guard against him — he looks to see if my life expresses what I am saying.  And although I do not have authority to commit to anyone else, I have committed myself to every word I have said from the pulpit in the sermon — and God has heard it. Truly it is a risk to preach!”  (XXII.215)

This quote ranks right up there with my favorite from Charles Simeon:

“My endeavor [in preaching] is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not thrust in what I think might be there.  I have a great jealousy on this head – nmever to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding.”

 I think I’ll go submissively and soberly work on my sermon.