Monthly Archives: March 2009

west valley pca march 2009 prayerletter

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 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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don’t feel bad for your self, just contempt

I am reading a newly published biography/collection of essays – John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine and Doxology (Reformation Trust, 2008).  I have read and re-read a particular statement by Sinclair Ferguson with regard to Calvin’s view of himself and God’s kingdom.

Calvin sought, personally, to develop a balance of contempt for the present life with a deep gratitude for the blessings of God and a love and longing for the heavenly kingdom.

This is killer.  As the Sonship (World Harvest) curriculum teaches us about the gospel… we only magnify the cross as we grasp the magnitude of our sin.  And therefore if we minimize our sin and stuggle, we shrink the cross.  SOOOO – contempt for my life and this broken world it is… contempt for my perpetual struggle to control my tongue, my rash anger, my attitude. Contempt for my struggles to listen to people, to have my heart break with/for people.  Contempt for a broken world of oppression and ignoring people who hurt and disease and death and broken relationships.

Only by that contempt comes a CROSS magnified comprehension of all for which Christ came to live and die!  Only by that contempt comes KINGDOM passion and desire and surrender. 

Should I feel bad for myself when life does not work out the way I want, when my weaknesses in my flesh get the best of my body, mind or soul?  No, not bad… just contempt, whereby I might have a contemptuous comprehension of a comprehensive cross.  Amen.

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a few thoughts – leadership and the gospel

for those of you tracking with the Powells and West Valley PCA, I owe you a blogreport.

God is at work and challenging my heart, soul, mind and body.

I am reading leadership books – trying to learn my strengths to lead a congregation that is a body of the Spirit in need of the Word… as well as a Leader!  Yep, a weakchristian seeking to know his gifts and strengths so as to lead others in their God-given gifts, even as we are all weak, and broken and in need of a gospel that is stronger than we are weak.

If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything.  While our society encourages us to be well-rounded, this approach inadvertently leads to mediocrity.  Perhaps the greatest misconception of all is that of the well rounded leader…. paradoxically, those who strive to be competent in all areas become the least effective leaders of all. – Strength Based Leadership, Rath/Conchie

While the best leaders are not well-rounded, the best teams are.  – Strength Based Leadership, Rath/Conchie (my friend Stosh Walsh was a contributor to this book by Gallop)

I am reading a biography on the life and heart and passion of John Calvin.  O God reform us by your Word/Spirit and revive us!  Bring reformation through your church being true to your Word.  What words Calvin penned that have lived on in the church… and yet, as I am learning – no mere words of mere men live on apart from the work of God to revive the heart.  Calvin had a heart for God as much as a mind for truth!  Make me a servant who, like Calvin, knows his sin and need and exposits Scripture in truth and power…

As the surest source of destruction to men is to obey themselves, so the only haven of safety is to have no other will, no other wisdom, than to follow the Lord wherever he leads.  Let this, then, be our first step, to abandon ourselves, and to devote the whole energy of our minds to the service of God.  – John Calvin

Let us, then, unremittingly examine our faults, call ourselves back to humility.  Thus nothing will remain to puff us up; but there be much occasion to be cast down.   – John Calvin

And so… what to do with the combination of pursuing to be a good leader that utilizes the gifts/strengths God has given me.  To train and raise up leaders in a church that is growing and needs a LEADER.  And yet, to do this while examining and asking for the Lord’s help to see ALL my faults ALL the time to cast my weak and needy self on Christ and him alone (not, after all, on my style of leadership, or even progress in it)

Go at it God.  Go at it in the West Valley.  Train and equip and lead us into the gospel in a way that is faithful, effective, and humble.  Continue to bring the broken and poor and needy to our doorstep that we may show them YOU.

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Would you attend a church with this ad (with clear digital graphics assumed)?


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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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