Category Archives: exposition

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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Ecclesiastes – the treadmill of existence

Can’t wait.  I, a preacher wrestling with my scary dependence on God to cover my inadequacy and weakness and sin… get to preach from Ecclesiastes – where “the Preacher/Teacher (Qohelet)” gives a solid dose of worldly realism… about the spiritual depression that should befall us all apart from the mercy and grace of God in Christ! 

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” – or vapor or mist or meaningless or fleeting or pointless or dissatisfying or broken… call it what you will.  We need the grace of God to crash into our world because simply put, apart from God and his eternal mercy, “Life is full of trouble, and then you die” (Tremper Longman on the message of Ecclesiastes).

I will be blogging through Ecclesiastes as it is a book about weakness.  For those who are weak, it is thankfully confirming to their predicament… it affirms their desperate cry for the gospel.  For those who do not feel weak, it clearly shows us why we may be blind – the vanity of life under the sun is weakening, debilitating, deathly frustrating.  THAT is why we cry out for the gospel.

So pray for West  Valley PCA, as we publicly launch this Sunday, and as we (during Advent of all times) turn to this refreshingly depressing book about life in a broken and weak world where we NEED outside gracious redemption from God which he provided in Christ!  I look forward to combing through the Scriptures and cultural mouthpieces like music and art and literature to show how our world inherently KNOWS that Qohelet is right… it speaks the same language of spiritual depression that only finds its answer in fearing God who will set things right and has done so in Christ (12:7).

thanks be to God for his relevant revealing Word.

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A kingdom of humility, contrition and trembling

“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” – Isaiah 66:2

Smack in the middle of a vision of the New Heavens and Earth – the beautiful restoration of God that includes his judgment and justice and KINGDOM – is a beautiful description of the people to whom God’s grace and righteousness will rest.  THOSE WHO HUMBLY AND CONTRITELY TREMBLE AT HIS WORD.

Here we are, on the verge of planting a church in the Lehigh Valley of PA.  The thoughts (and methodological books) pour into my head.  Be relevant.  Be faithful.  Be risky.  Be patient.  Be holy.  Be original.  Be missional.  Be Spirit-led.  Be this or that or this or that.  Many of those things I DO want!  But O God, I want  most for us to be your kingdom on earth! 

What will that be like, I wonder.  One thing is clear according to Isaiah’s kingdom vision.  The kingdom on earth WILL be a place where the Word of God revealed to man is CENTRAL to life and ethics and obedience and worship.  We are to be “West Valley Presbyterian Church that trembles contritely at the word of God.”  Nice.

Whether I am seeing this because I am on the heals of a workshop on biblical exposition, or I am resting in it because it is God’s purpose for me to discover the centrality of his Word while outside of a bunch of crazy Word-centered preachers… I am not sure – except I love the Word.  Yes, it is hard to read.  Yes, it is often uninteresting to our visual and emotive culture.  BUT, it is the living Word and revelation of the Creator of the universe and Redeemer of my soul.  Is it not a powerful gift of grace around which ALL of our church plant should center?!

One thing I humbly had to confess at the workshop was this: I generally try to discern how the text of Scripture applies to me, or the congregation to which I preach.  But the problem with such a philosophy is that I am making myself, or others the center point of relating to God.  “How does this apply to ME?”  It is egocentric (though normal in our Western culture)!  The question is rather, “How do I apply my life to the Word?”  “How do I relate to the TRUTH of the text?” rather than “How does this text relate to my perceived reality?”

All I can say is that I can’t possibly imagine being in the New Heavens/Earth of Isaiah 66 and thinking, “How does this Kingdom fit into my reality?”  No, my reality will be defined by such a kingdom!  This is the reason that the kingdom is for those who humbly and contritely tremble at the Word – because IT IS the bar.  IT IS the barometer of reality.  IT IS the density of the gravity by which things float or fall.  How does my reality square with TRUE, GOD REVEALED REALITY?  That is humbling… it induces trembling.  What a grace – that those who are humbled and contrite and trembling at God’s Word are the ones to whom he will look in his kingdom (66:2)! 

SO, it must be Word-now, because it will be Word-then!!!  The kingdom is thus here and then through the Word revealed!

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Working on biblical exposition

In two days, I leave for a week-long journey to Chicago.  I get to see my grandma.  I get to watch the White Sox.  I get to hear gospel-centered preaching from my mentor, Paul Winters (Spring Valley PCA, Roselle IL).  I will be speaking to both the congregation and adult Sunday School of SVPC about our West Valley Church plant.  I will be meeting with former seminary proffs from TEDS.  I will be fundraising.  O, and I will be working on preaching.

One of the highlights of every year is attending the Workshop on Biblical Exposition, put on by the Simeon Trust.  It was Charles Simeon who said of preaching,

My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there.  I have a great jealousy on this head – never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding.

That is a high calling.  The workshop this year will be focusing on the minor prophets – which is exhilirating, because I have thought about beginning our church plant sermon series with a minor prophet.  God knows what is in store for me to learn this week.  I certainly need the exposure to excellent biblical exposition.  I certainly need some peer review of my own stuff.  I certainly need to begin preparing to be back in the saddle (pulpit) on a weekly basis. I can honestly say about this ‘business trip’ – that it will be a pleasure next week to “go to work.”  It is through weeks like this that I discover that God does POWERFUL things when his servants submit our weak and pithy efforts to his disposal!

Thanks be to God for his LIVING Word that interprets us and keeps giving us the GOOD stuff for life and kingdom, here and forever.

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“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

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.

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)

church plant update

Some of you who have started reading recently may think that weakness and the gospel are what this blog is all about.  True and yet incomplete.  It will pick up in the months to come, but this is also the place where I update YOU on progress toward the Lower Macungie/Emmaus (East Penn School District target area) church plant. 

So here’s the catch up with a few add-ons:

The timing for launching actual worship services (the church is birthed) is still hoped for in Fall 2008.  Sounds like a long way off – but that’s just when the life of the churchplant goes public.  Conception has already occurred.  What I mean is that the picking of a target area to pray over (East Penn SD of the Lehigh Valley) has already occurred.  Meetings with other pastors in the area to share in a bigger kingdom dream with Christ-centered unity has already begun.  Meetings with Lower Mac and Emmaus township managers has already begun to learn of germane community needs that we as  a non-existent church can hope to address with the gospel when God forms us in his time.  (Of course, due to last week’s local elections and the change in the Lower Mac city governement, I guess I need to start those meetings over).

In the months to come, here’s what’s up: 

First, the session of Cornerstone PCA (the sending body) is seeking God’s face over the model of churchplant that we will be.  Will we be a daughter church that some day becomes a sister church with no formal connection except a belly botton (sorry)?  Will we be a multi-congregational church where we are actually (according to the PCA) one church with two functional congregations – where John Kinyon pastors the Center Valley congregation and I pastor the West Valley congregation?  Please pray for the elders and John and me as we are in this key conversation/prayer stage.

Second, fundraising!!!  We are not sure how much fundraising will be needed (because we are unsure who will be with us and what our vision will be for the early years), but surely there will be some.  In order to help with the fundraising, Kori and I will be going to the PCA Churchplanting Assessment in Atlanta in February to be hopefully “assessed and approved” as called (though still weak and needy) church planters in the  PCA.  Then I will begin fundraising.

In the early Spring, I will begin looking for places to potentially worship come Fall 2008.  Also, I (given the sessions approval) will begin seeking a “launch team” made up of those who have a common kingdom-affinity and who long to be committed to the plant.  As the Spring progresses, that group will gather in prayer and vision consideration for the nature of the new church! 

Come summer, we will probably have some “vision barbeque” or whatever you want to call them to introduce the ‘yet to publicly worship’ church to the community and our friends. 

Then, come Fall, Lord willing we will be gathering on Sundays for worship!!!

So, what is far off is not so far away.  It most certainly shouldn’t be far from the center of your and my hearts, if we would be a part of it together.  If you are excited or interested – let me guide your actions and prayer:

1. Pray for a church plant that WILL fail unless God is the one driving it!

2. Pray for the Valley, specifically for God’s work in the hearts of west-siders.

3. Pray for other churches that are already declaring the kingdom-gospel – that they would be creatively faithful and fruitful!

4. Pray for the Cornerstone elders and John and Jim in this early ‘conception’ phase.

5. Pray for your family’s desire to be in a gospel-declaring church where we likewise live the gospel for the onlooking world by being a community that is transparent about our weakness and daily need for the gospel that has saved and sustains us.

6.  Get in a small group on the West Side right now (via Cornerstone PCA, Center Valley PA), as we are already experiencing unity and excitement and a common vision for where God has called our families!

7. Pray for a church that is culturally relevant even as it is biblically faithful – a missional body in a broken world where the gospel alone is our ‘relevant tool’ for ministry!

8. Finally, pray that a church most certainly WOULD be formed in the building God wants it at the time he wants it with the kind of gospel DNA that he wants for it – even if it ends up being a church that you wouldn’t want to stay at due to any number of your personal preferences (I have to pray this  prayer to!).

O God plant your church in your time in our place of life.

a hospital not a museum

My dad recently had surgery – though he’s not in the hospital… so this is not about him.  But get better dad. 

I recently had a conversation with a fellow-pastor.  In our banter, he referenced the adage, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”   Kinda goes with the “strong faith is for weak people.”  In fact, he had been told to use the word “strong” as many times as he could in our conversation just to see if he could tick ole weakchristian off.

Most of us have heard the statement before.  A nice saying.  Catchy and memorable.  But actually, it’s a harsh saying that won’t win many points among “strong Christians” if pastors/teachers/believers actually believe and declare such a thing.  It is one thing to say it (it sounds great to the strong and the weak) it is another thing to BE it.  It is anything but normal and expected and politically correct in the church.   Yet it is biblical – “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). 

Imagine the mess if the church were truly a hospital for sick sinners with no place (but the waiting room, I guess) for self-declared healthy people!

Think about it.  This kind of a church has to be oozing and gross and urgent.  It calls all of us to look BOTH at our wounds/weaknesses and those of others (not just our closest friends – would never work in a hospital).  It calls for that kind of self-discovery and divulgence!  We only know a wound if it is visible (external authenticity) and we only know an illness if it has manifestations (internal tranparency).  That is the description of the church.  Kinda like in Patch Adams, all patients are doctors, because no doctor is exempt from being a patient. 

The church is a gospel hospital where the balm is always the gospel and the patients are the doctors who are the patients. 

OK, so that was one conversation last week (about the church being a hospital).  Then this week, Kori (my wife) said to me – “I think I have it figured out.”  Figured what out, I asked.  She said, “Why life and relationships (etc.) often seem harder for believers than unbelievers.”  She went on: “Because if Jesus came to call the sick, not the healthy…  and those who are in Christ’s church are the ones he has called… then we’re all the messed up really sick ones who need his grace the most.”  And I think she’s not funny.  Nice.  (Not implying that those outside the church are healthy and don’t need the gospel – my wife is orhodox.)

So 2 recent conversations, both without Scripture reference, yet both pointing me to Mark 2:17.  THEN, I got up this morning and studied for my sick soul what I’ll be preaching in 2 weeks.  Go figure, Mark 2:13ff.    p-r-o-v-i-d-e-n-c-e.  These conversations will reappear from a pulpit near you.

gospel preaching

Yesterday I went to a church planting seminar that focused on gospel centered preaching.  If you read weakchristian regularly, you’ll recall that a few weeks ago, I posted about my philosophy of preaching.  Surprisingly – I received many comments evidencing your intrigue and/or thanksgiving for the post (even though preaching is not something most of you are passionate about).  So, that being the case, I figured I would pass on some ‘sermonic’ gospel-preaching quotes I received yesterday.  It helps me to type them out – go figure, my fingers help my memory.  Enjoy.

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From a sermon by C. H. Spurgeon: 

” A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done  he went to the old minister, and said, ‘What did you think of my sermon?’ 

‘A very poor sermon indeed,’ said he.

‘A poor sermon?’ said the young man, ‘ it took me a long time to study it.’

‘Ay, no doubt of it.’

‘Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?’

‘Oh yes,’ said the old preacher, ‘very good indeed.’

‘Well, then, why did you say it is a poor sermon?  Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?’

‘Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a poor sermon.’

‘Will you tell me why it was a poor sermon?’

‘Because,’ said he, ‘there was no Christ in it.’

‘Well, said the young man, ‘Christ was not in the text’; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.’  So the old man said, ‘Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?’

‘Yes,’ said the young man.

‘Ah!’ said the old divine, ‘and so it is from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ.  And my dear brother, your business when you get to a text, is to say, ‘ Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis – Christ.    And,’ said he, ‘I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.’ 

Tim Keller: “The Bible’s purpose is not so much ot show you how to live a good life.  The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome… religion is ‘if you obey, then you will be accepted.’  But the gospel is, ‘if you are absolutely accepted [by God in Christ], only then will you ever begin to obey.’  Those are two utterly different things.  Every page of the Bible shows the difference.” 

Steve Brown:  “If I have to tell people either how to be good or how to love Jesus, I don’t even question which to say.  If they love Him and mess up everything else, it’s no great loss.  If they don’t love Him and do everything else right, they can lose eternity.” 

C. H. Spurgeon:  George Whitefield and John Wesley may have preached the gospel better than I, but they could not preach a better gospel.” 

Martin Luther:  “Preach the gospel to yourself every day, because you forget it every day.” 

Jerry Bridges: “When I understand the gospel, I understand that there is nothing I can do to make God love me less, or to obligate God to love me more.” 

D. Martin Lloyd-Jones:   “It does not matter… if you are guilty of murder as well as every other vile sin, it does not matter from the standpoint of being justified before God.  You are no more hopeless than the most respectable person in the world.  Do you believe that?