Monthly Archives: March 2008

weakness for the glory of God

I have been weak lately. 

In honesty, it has been with a measure of intentionality as I have been asking God to show me who I am…  who I really am… which is different than who I think I am or who I want to be. 

Before we launch out with the West Valley church plant, this is a timely season to secure my personal life on the foundation of God’s gracious gospel… which leads me to ask (without a preformed answer): Who am I?  What are my blind spots?  What image do I work to keep up at the expense of authenticity?  (As most of you know, I don’t hide much.  I can be authentically me – transparent and the whole bit – but who is the “me” I am being transparent about?  If it is not the real me, it is hardly authentic.)  All this has  come as a result of church planter assessment and Kori and my desire to explore each other and ourselves in new and honest ways.  I am reading a book by David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself – a timely tool to plow the depths of my being.  In sum, Benner makes the point that true experiential gospel transformation cannot occur merely by applying new gospel ideas and truths to the old self.  We must first discover and know the image-bearing gift of our real selves – the self that God has created with unique gifts and characteristics… the self that does not find its identity in social/cultural ‘attachments’ or image-conditioning and maintaining. 

Before setting aside this time to dig deep, I was afraid.  Honestly afraid at the layers of self that I don’t necessarily know are even there.  The layers of the me I don’t know because I am consumed with the me I wish I was.  But there is nothing to fear.  Why would I not want to know more about the true sinful broken self that I am – because all I will find there is more of the nature of God’s gracious love in Christ which has always been for the real me, not simply the me I wish I was? 

Perfect love drives out all fear.

It is not a frightening process, though it is quite afflicting.  I am going through a season where I question everything about myself.  This too, shall pass, but hopefully not right away.  This morning, Isaiah 48 helped me make sense of it all and why this is a very good time. 

Speaking to his people Israel, in Isaiah 48:10-11, God says: I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.  For my own sake, for my own sake I do it, for how should my name be profaned?  My glory I will not give to another.

What I hear in my whole self is this: my “not-sure-who-I-am-for-this-season-because-I-don’t-know-why-I-do-what-I-do-or-why-I-care-about-what-I-do-or-why-I-say-what-I-say” season of life is the furnace of affliction simply because, at present, I do not bear the name of my Creator and Redeemer as I should.  I know this.  I do not bear his glorious name as a husband or father or pastor or man as I should.  His glorious name deserves more than the “me” I have been putting forward. 

I need no other reason for this season of question – soli deo gloria.  Weakness in the furnace of affliction for the glory of God.  Thanks be to God for sending his own Son into the costly furnace of affliction – the real furnace that the real me in my sin deserves.  My whole self has been spared… so now I pray with Augustine: “Grant , Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.”

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West Valley Presbyterian Church Plant

west valley church plant office

Check it out… there we will be.  The first floor office on the left (slightly hidden)!  We are so thankful for the opportunity to already be “in” the downtown as Emmaus is renovating its artsy center.  New retail spaces.  Newly renovated store exteriors.  A newly landscaped “triangle.”

We are in the process of painting and designing the space – such that it will be useful and warm and a place for community rest.  My hope is that we will be able to host the work of various local artists inside our office, such that we get walkthru traffic simply by saying: “come check out our local art.”  What an opportunity to display the creation of those in our community who are reflecting the image of their Creator.   What an inroad for conveying the gospel that redeems all things! 

I have spent the week working on my fundraising “packet” – letters and funding plans and demographic/personal bios.  If all goes as planned, we will mail many out next week!  If you know of anyone who would desire to participate in a kingdom church plant in the North East, please send them my way!  jim@cornerstonepca.net

God is at work in the admistrating this HUGE transition.  Pray for Cornerstone families who are praying about surrendering to the call of church planting.  Pray for a sacrificial spirit to suppress all of our “preferences” as we jointly prefer to plant a church to God’s liking!  A church OF the broken that is FOR the broken in our community BEFORE him who binds up the broken hearted! 

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my existence

There is only one problem on which all of my existence, my peace, and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God.  If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him. 

–  Thomas Merton

There is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God.

–  John Calvin

A humble self-knowledge is a surer way to God than a search after deep knowledge.

– Thomas a Kempis

Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.

– Augustine

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weakness quote

If dependence is God’s agenda, then weakness is actually our advantage.

-Alistair Begg

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Screwtape Letters, again

This is a terrifyingly real thought.  In the following section, Screwtape is impressing upon his nephew the entire point of tempting their “patients” – you and me.

Screwtape speaks about the importance of tempting people not with something enticing, but with Nothing…

Nothing is very strong; strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiousities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off. 

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness.  But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy.  It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.  Murder is no better than cards if the cards can do the trick.  Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,

Your affectionate uncle Screwtape

Kinda makes me glad for the pointed struggles of reality’s particular moments.  Better that than to “ease on down the road.”

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Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters is a correspondence between Uncle Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood, two demons setting about the deceit of their ‘patients’ – you and me – who they DO NOT want to be in the secure grip of their Enemy – Christ.

Last night I read something that is worth broadcasting:

Screwtape wrote to young Wormwood about you and me, his “patients”…

Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation – the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.  If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life – his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down.  As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty.  The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going are not, as fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merly a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it. 

Screwtape writes on:

To decide what the best use of it [this life of peaks and valleys] is, you must ask what use the Enemy [God the Father] wants to make of it, and then do the opposite.  Now it may suprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He [God the Father] relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else…   It is during the trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that the patient is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.  Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. 

But of course the troughs afford opportunities on our side also.  Next week I will give you some hints on how to exploit them,  Your affectionate uncle Screwtape

What an acknowledgement of the GOSPEL becoming LIFE for us when we are in the troughs of weakness.  What a warning on the necessity that we look to God alone in our times of trial – the “troughs of life” afford immense opportunity for the enemy as well.

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sick and tired

pray for the Powells as we are sick and tired.  The flu and the cold and the spiritual/relational/emotional apathy that comes with it. 

Honestly, I feel like we  (I) would choose temporary progress (starting with the head and sinuses and relational happiness and quiet kids) over real transformation from the heart outward (which clearly comes through physical and relational and spiritual weariness/sickness, which I have in abundance at the moment).

now you know. 

feeling under attack (ergo appropriately weak),  jp

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West Valley church planter(s)

At our initial West Valley PCA church plant gathering on Sunday night, I tried to be intentionally vague about most things while annoyingly clear about other things.  For example: where will we worship?  vague shrug.  When exactly will we begin? vague shrug (with clearly stated ‘launch indicators’)  What kind of music?  vague shrug.  Frequency of the Lord’s Table?  vague shrug.  Interestingly, I have my hopes and convictions about each of those things… but they are not for now… nor is this church plant enterprise about my hopes.

One of the things that I hope to make excitably clear is that the West Valley PCA project will NOT be about one church planter who (by God’s grace) ministers among core group, out of which a launch team is formed.  Rather, the kingdom prayer is that God would CALL church planters (plural) to engage our neighborhoods with the gospel and Christ incarnate through the body of the church.  I failed, in the midst of the details, to share a text that invigorates me in this regard.

Isaiah 32 speaks of the King.  God’s King.  The King whose kingdom we are to be praying would come to earth in justice and mercy and extravagant unconditional gospel-love. 

32:1 – Behold, a king will reign in righteousness.

But as the text moves on to describe his rule… it includes his people!  … and princes will rule in justice.  EACH will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like strams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.

Notice, it is not merely the King who is the hiding place from the wind.  His kingdom is made up of princes (plural) who shelter others from life’s storm and brokenness, who are like streams of water bringing satisfaction to the people in our dry and despairing world; our weary land!  The picture, for me, is one of Christ being the King of a kingdom made up of princes who PLANT the benefits of his glorious kingdom in our weary context (wherever that might be).

The translation into church planting is simply in the plurality of planters, much the same as the plurality of princes!  O God, would you call out churchplanters, such that “EACH will be like a hiding place from the wind (for their neighbors being blown like tumbleweed), a shelter from the storm (for their family and friends who are sick and tired of being beaten be the storms of guilt and family distress, etc), like streams of water in a dry and weary land (in Emmaus and Lower Macungie and all of the West Valley).  May your work be so ‘pluralized’ among church planter(s) that we embody one unified Christ-centered community!

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West Valley Presbyterian Church, PCA mission

Last night I enjoyed the presence of 33 friends and good coffee at our first West Valley PCA (mission church) gathering in Emmaus PA.  I am excitedly silent… or is it, silently excited.  (which makes you more excited?)  In sum, we hung out, went through the demographic gospel-needs of our target (East Penn area of the Lehigh Valley – specifically Lower Macungie and Emmaus) and I took the privilege to convey a bit of my philosophy of ministry – you know, that bit about being a church of weak people who depend on a strong gospel.  Otherwise said like this: Would that God create a church of the broken, for the broken in our community, before the One who binds up the broken

We talked about being a church that DOES CHRIST’S KINGDOM among our community, rather than just doing church among the churched and calling it kingdom.  What that will look like in human flesh (incarnate), we are yet to really know.   We trust these upcoming months will reveal gospel-opportunities where the kingdom is as stunning in Emmaus/Lower Mac as it was in Acts 2.

The cry is that the 33 people present would pray and begin to do neighborhood church planting as the gospel heals their brokenness and moves them into the brokenness around them.  A high calling.  Sacrifice.  (Yes, last night was as much about getting people excited as it was setting the bar of churchplanting high for the sake of surrender!  This is way too big for all of us, and only those whom God truly calls from the beginning should be involved)!  We said it like this: May this be a church plant of church planters (plural), rather than just a church plant with a church planter (singular) with a core group…  O God, would you call church planters out!  My friends in the West Valley – CALL them out to humble sacrifice, O God!

We also walked next door to the new office space of West Valley Presbyterian Church… we prayed.  Some wept.

I think I’d like to be quiet now. 

Stunned.

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vulnerability versus transparency

Let me share with you something that I was recently encouraged to read.  I did not write this, but it is uncanny in its autobiographical sound…  It IS what I have been quietly trying to think.

“Over the years I have found myself actually receiving recognition and praise for my transparency.  Transparency in itself, however, is not necessarily a positive attribute.  Transparency could merely be an attempt to selectively expose weaknesses that you are comfortable exposing because it actually brings you into a positive light – almost with a sense of false humility.  Even if your motives for being transparent are noble, it is not a place in which to reside.  Transparency must be tranformed into vulnerability.  Vulnerability is coming under another’s influence by submitting to the love they offer.  When we are willing to be vulnerable, we choose to trust God and others with our lives.  We cannot grow fully in Christ apart from community.  No man is an island.”