Category Archives: confession

prayerless words – weak fool

I have spoken many prayerless words in the past 24 hours.  Words matter.  Hard reminder when I see the effect of my mouth on my family.  God have mercy.

When I consider that my words can wound as they do… I am suddenly struck by the words of the Ecclesiastes passage I am working through – “What is crooked cannot be made straight.”  Sometimes that’s how I feel about the parts of myself that don’t add up.   When I am angry, why do I speak.  I know not to.  I do anyways.  What a crooked part of this fallen world.  The things I don’t want to do I do…

Crooked words point to a crooked heart in a crooked world that I can’t make straight.  Once again, weakness as the catalyst for a gospel prayer, hope, dependence and love. 

Today I feel like a crooked pastor because I can’t make things straight in my home… and yet, somehow by grace (in spite of all I said last night) there was a familial experience of peace this morning.  Could it be the peace that God, in his time, will straighten what is crooked.  Will bend my words into obedience and blessing for his glory?  Please do O God.

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Keller on Isaiah 58

A week ago, I posted my contemplations on Isaiah 58.  I have some upcoming opportunities to speak on the nature of the West Valley church plant – and in honesty, the picture of true kingdom living from Isaiah 58 is burned into my soul and causing surreal ache and repentance.  I can’t even think about church planting without the hope of being ‘restorers of the streets’ – as Isaiah describes it.

This morning, I was reading more of Keller’s The Reason for God – Belief in an Age of Skepticism.  He directly alluded to and extrapolated from Isaiah 58 as he considered the skeptic’s frequent objection that “the church is responsible for so much injustice.”  With gentle biblical and intellectual prowess, Keller agreed, though he acknnowledged that the very reason we can critique the church’s actions in history is because Christ and the prophets did the very same thing.  They were the first to critique the oppression and blindness of the religious establishment!  According to the historian C. John Summerville, “even strong secular critics of Christianity are really using resources from within it to denounce it.”  For example, Jesus’s sermon on the Mount is a major critique of the religious, not the irreligious! 

Then Keller turned to Isaiah 58.  Remember, it’s a chapter that presents a relatively good picture of those who fast and humble themselves before God in personal devotion, etc.  THEN, the Lord rebukes such personal piety on the grounds that he required fasting that rather looked like “loosing the chains of injustice and setting the oppressed free…”

Timothy Keller: “What were the prophets and Jesus criticizing?  They were not against prayer and fasting and obedience to God’s directions for life.  The tendency of religious people, however, is to use spiritual and ethical observance as a lever to gain power over others and over God, appeasing him through ritual and good works.  This leads both to an emphasis on external religious forms as well as greed, materialism, and oppression in social arrangements.  Those who believe they have pleased God by the quality of their devotion and moral goodness naturally feel that they and their group deserve deference and power over others.  The God of Jesus and the prophets, however, saves completely by grace.  He cannot be manipulated by religion and moral perfomance – he can only be reached through repentance, through the giving up of power…  In Jesus’ and the prophets’ critique, self-righteous religion is always marked by insensitivity to issues of social justice, while true faith is marked by profound concern for the poor and marginalized.”  – p.60, The Reason for God, Dutton Press, 2008 –

Yes, the church has historically been stained by its involvement in (at worst) oppression of the weak or (more simply) blindness to the broken in deference toward its own happiness and image.  Yes, it happens due to sinful hearts.  BUT, that is where religion has been unfortunately gospel-less and filled with strength rather than an awareness of our constant grace-dependent weakness. 

SO, may the ‘restorer of the streets’ version of true fasting and true gospel-religion be all-consuming as we pray for the identity of a church that is in embryo and soon to meet the world.  Will we be concerned for all whom God has providentially placed in our demographic (hispanic, indian, hindu, goth, homosexual, historically churched, evangelical, young, old, transplant, PA Dutch, wealthy, poor, skateboarding, single parent, skeptic, angry, indifferent, happy, healthy, sick…)?

If we will, than we have no clue the kind of church that God will create!!!  All we know is that it’ll have something to do with the people on our street (Isaiah 58:12) and it will have everything to do with showing forth a gospel of a God who longs to weep with the weak and bind up the broken. 

Yes, the church has historically oppressed or ignored while clinging to personal piety… but that is not the end of the story!

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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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O you strong man… who me?

Recently I have been asked: How’s the book coming? 

Answer: I am on an unintentional indefinite hiatus. 

Life is more busy than I thought possible.  Churchplanting proposals are more complicated and real than I thought likely. (It was all supposed to be fun ministry-thinking-stuff, right?  Wrong.  There’s a little more to it than that.)  Cornerstone’s almost-live new website has been time consuming, though I have learned much.   I am reading more and more books that I might learn how to write just one.  Actually, the more I have read, the more I experience God’s reading to me about my heart even as he seems to be writing his new story on it.   Most importantly, I have been too busy learning about my weaknesses to write about them.  That is an understatement.

Most of you know that I am working on Why I don’t want to be a strong Christian: living the gospel in weakness.  Two months ago I gave the first 80 pages to some readers.  I haven’t written a word since. 

But I may pick it up again, and here’s why:  I was reading from the Book of Isaiah yesterday morning, ch. 22.   It is a ghastly chapter about God’s vindictive righteousness toward his own people… in the valley of vision (of all places).  In 22:17, he speaks of his people in the same way he has spoken about the nations from the first word of the book. 

A people of arrogance.  “Behold, the Lord will hurl you away violently, O you strong man.”

I wonder if the past 2 months have been for me the recognition that (though I claim to relate to God in my weakness, and though I constantly angle my gospel-preaching and teaching and counsel toward weakness) I, in reality, have been the condemnable strong man.   I have been the proverbial member of the people of God who finds arrogance in others… so I intentionally angle my ministry toward their latent weaknesses for the sake of gospel self-discovery.  But I failed to notice that I viewed myself as “too weak to be arrogant.”  I failed to realize that my transparent philosophy of ministry was about me the strong man helping others discover Christ in weakness.  No wonder I stopped writing.  No wonder my stomach has hurt due to stress (I have pretended I was strong enough to hold myself together, no matter what I said about weakness).

So yesterday the question was posed to me through Isaiah: 

Am I the strong man whom the Lord could hurl away (22:17) or am I the bruised reed who rests gently in Christ’s perfect grasp (42:2-3)? 

Obviously, I have been both.  I hate becoming weak and dependent (it requires addressing arrogance), but I like being here.  Yeah… that’s how I feel.  I don’t want to be a strong Christian.  I mean that today.

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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.

 

Sharing the bruises…

Isaiah 42:3 – A bruised reed he will not break… 

Some bruises are directly linked to the daily blows of your and my sin. Others are clearly caused by the sin of other people.  Even still, other bruises don’t seem to be connected much at all.  But, if we would take God at his Word, ALL bruising and weakness in life is a direct result of our living in a fallen world where sin has its effect.  Even the common cold.  Why do we think it’s so common!

Maybe it would be healing for us to share (for the sake of prayer) some of those bruises we are dealing with.  I start.  You continue.  We all pray.

My mom is in the hospital recovering from pneumonia.  Bruised lungs I guess – may she know how gently she is held and that she will not break.

My dad is recovering from ankle reconstruction surgery.  A bruised limb.

Kori and I are recovering from a bruising vacation – we had a great time that was, I think, personally glorious for both of us.  But having spent the whole week chasing kids in the opposite direction and, when there was time, conversing with other family members and not each other… we are now trying to run toward each other for the grace of community in our home (O, and it’s always hard for her to come back from family in TN… truly hard).  Some emotional bruises I guess.

There you have it.  Thanks be to God that we are held in the hands of him who will not break us by his grace.

Thanksgiving prayer…

I read this today…  What a prayer for a pastor on Thanksgiving.  May what I hope for when I declare the message of the gospel be the same thing I am thankful for when I consider my heart and its need – Christ!  

I do not ask that crowds may throng the temple,
That standing room be priced;
I only ask that as I voice the message
They may see Christ!
I do not ask
For churchly pomp or pageant,
Or music such as wealth alone can buy;
I only ask that as I voice the message
He may be nigh!
I do not ask
That men may sound my praises,
Or headlines spread my name abroad;
I only pray that as I voice the message
Hearts may find God!
I do not ask
For earthly place or laurel,
Or of this world’s distinctions any part;
I only ask, when I have voiced the message,
My Savior’s heart!
-Ralph S. Cushman (1939)

prayer of confession

Just in case you need a little gospel-balm for your sick and sinful soul…

I know, not a nice intro to a post – but then again, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”(Mark 2:17). 

Below is a historic prayer of confession that this morning enabled me to experience the steady hand of my Soul-Physician.  Sometimes old-school is soothing and powerful in a way that the here and now can’t muster.

O, I post this prayer of confession not because I think you are necessarily going through specific and visible sin-weakness struggles that warrant repentence… I post this confession because I KNOW you are.  Aren’t we all broken and daily in need of a gospel righteousness to heal our sinful weak selves? 

Take some time away.  Repent.  Pray.  And feel the eternal healing of the righteousness from God through Christ himself.

Forgive my sins, O Lord – forgive me the sins of my present and the sins of my past, the sins of my soul and the sins of my body; the sins which I have done to please myself, and the sins which I have done to please others.  Forgive me my wanton and idle sins, forgive me my serious and deliberate sins, forgive me those sins which I know and those sins which I know not, the sins which I have labored so hard to hide from others that I have hid them from my own memory.  Forgive them, O Lord, forgive them all.  Of thy great mercy let me be absolved, and of Thy bountiful goodness let me be delivered from the bonds of all that by my fraily I have committed.  Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Saviour.  Amen.

Now re-pray it and consider the depth of the weakness that would destroy us save the mercy of God!