Category Archives: need

new bible and a timeless assessment tool

I have this thing for new Bibles.  Kind of like a shoe fettish – as a man, I apparently have that too.  Well, yesterday I was in Westminster Seminary’s gargantuan book store and I found it.  The ESV has finally put out a small (smaller than the thinline) personal sized reference Bible.  One column, not two.  References in the middle.  Not excessively small print.  Fits in my computer bag without breaking my back.  Very nice. 

It is really very sad that I get excited to study from my new Bible, as if I expect to find anything new.  But I am.  I have been assessing Bibles for a time, looking for that ‘smaller computer bag-sized reference Bible.’  My assessment and patience has paid off.  OR has it? 

Interesting enough – I am not qualified as a sinner to assess Scripture.  I can assess Bible covers, but that’s about it.  What I can do is assess the world and its spiritual state with Scripture.  Even more, I am called of God to let Scripture assess me.  Daily.  All of me.  (Is this NOT a purpose for which God has effectively sent his Word – Isaiah 55:11?)

Which brings up another intersting point.  Assessment.  Most of you know that Kori and I went to the PCA Assessment Center in February.  We are still reeling and growing.  When I returned and shared with some close confidants all that God ‘assessed of me’ – many people said, “I wish I (or my marriage) could go through an honest assessment to discover much more of who I really am (not just who I think I am).”  My rersponse is – are you sure?!?!?! 

Assessment should be experienced by all of us in Christ’s body.  And, for one – Scripture is our assessment tool if we would let God, through his Spirit, convict us and show us ourselves in his Word.  But secondarily, I think it’ll work!  I have recently discovered some spiritual health assessment tools that, if combined with other things – might lend themselves to a local church personal and marriage proctology exam (I mean assessment). 

Wouldn’t that be something – for West Valley Presbyterian Church Plant to begin as a kingdom body that isn’t just the NEW and exciting thing (kind of like my new Bible) but rather a body that does something new with God’s timeless grace-centered assessment tool – his Word.  And we ACTUALLY intentionally create an environment where we help one another assess blind spots, and marital break-down points, and foundational-parenting-cracks as we all together – learning more and more of our weakness, depend more and more on the gospel that is only discovered through God’s assessment tool – his Word of LIFE.

I need to stop now.  I am not even thinking.   in,   sentences

 

 

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Sexual Brokenness and the Gospel

This weekend, Cornerstone PCA and Calvary Bible Fellowship Church are hosting Harvest USA’s

Sexual Brokenness and the Gospel Seminar

Unfortunately, the myriad of sexual-brokenness related needs have skyrocketed in our church and sexual culture.  The normalcy of pornography and image desensitizing has risen to epidemic proportions.  I could put statistics here, but that would only be shock valule about how many others struggle.  If you struggle with sexual brokenness – guilt from the past, addiction in the present, family exposure (perhaps you are a casualty of some else’s struggle) – and you live in our near the Lehigh Valley of PA, join us for this incredible gospel-centered weekend.  Email me for details.

It is not a conference on sexual perversion or sexual evil… but the reality of sexual brokenness.  How many of us break over the misuse of something God created to be good and beautiful and guiltless??!!  The weekend is for men and women, singles and marrieds, parents and youth.  All of us live in a sensual culture that leaves its wake of tears. 

Join us.  If you cannot or live outside of our target, pray for the Harvest USA speakers and the individuals/families who will be joining us.  If you personally struggle with an addiction and desire to discover release and resurrection victory but you don’t know where to turn, email me should you choose (jim@cornerstonepca.net). 

 The gospel of Christ’s righteousness given to us IS relevant to this broken need.  It is a safe solution that is no longer costly to you and me… Christ has borne the cost of your freedom from this enslavement.  There is hope!  There is freedom!  There is forgiveness!  There is guiltlessness!  There is a Redeemer who was broken for our brokenness, that we might be whole.  Soli deo gloria!

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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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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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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.

covet your prayers

I covet your prayers.  Though shalt not covet, except for things that God himself is zealous for. 

This Saturday, the session of Cornerstone PCA (elders) will be meeting for the express purpose of seeking clarity from God in regards to our specific strategy for launching out to plant a west valley church in the Fall of 2008 (Emmaus, Lower Macungie… East Penn School District and beyond).  We all covet your prayers.  Kingdom prayers.  Gospel prayers.  Unity prayers.  Fervent prayers.  Maybe, if any of you would be so able, some of you could simultaneously gather in community and pray together that we would sense God’s picture of a church plant in his place in his time with his gospel for his glory.   Yes, this has been in the works and discussed for some time (it is why we were called to PA in 2006).  But, this meeting is about specific structure and strategy and timing and vision.

Here’s the thing.  Cornerstone has never done this before – the whole ‘release a limb’ kind of a thing.  So pray not only for this church plant in embryo, but for the entire model by which we approach this plant – as it could be reduplicated time and again (probably tweaked time and again).  Pray for a church that is 6 years old, has no building, has only 200ish people and is still compelled by God to plant other gospel-centered churches in our Lehigh Valley even now.   I praise God to be a part of a church that does not want to be a big church, but wants to promote a BIG saturation of the Lehigh Valley with the gospel through numerous healthy and strategically placed church plants.

The gospel-need is great.  The gospel’s power is greater.  The Lehigh Valley cultural church-need is great.  The local church’s missional power in Christ is even greater.  So please PRAY!

please pass this on.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  Thy Kingdom come ON EARTH [through your church] as it is in heaven.

When my soul blows smoke rather than burns with fire…

A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.  – Isaiah 42:2-3 

Still reading the puritan Richard Sibbes, A Bruised Reed. 

Isaiah 42:3 makes the point that Christ will not blow out a faintly burning wick.  In other words, as we have been re-created to burn with a gospel light that evidences Christ’s transforming work through his righteousness and mercy, yet all of our soul-fires are attended with the smoke of corruption.  You and I blow smoke all the time, but if we would be in Christ (by grace through faith), we WILL NOT blow out.  And yet, we have days when the fire is wanting; when no heat seems to emanate.  We simply puff smoke.  That is the reality of our weakness. 

How does it enable us to live the gospel all the more?!  Let me just give you a puff or two from the puritanical pipe I have been smoking…

Some think, when they become more troubled with the smoke of corruption than they were before, therefore they are worse than they were [before].  It is true that corruptions appear more now than before, but they are less. 

For first, the more sin is seen, the more it is hated, and therefore it is less.  Dust particles are in a room before the sun shines, but they only appear then. 

Secondly, the nearer the contraries are one to another, the sharper is the conflict between them.  Now, of all the enemies the spirit and the flesh are the nearest one to another, being both in the soul of the regenerate man… and therefore it is no marvel that the soul, the seat of this battle, thus divided within itself, is as smoking flax (a faintly burning wick)… Therefore, none are so aware of corruption as those whose souls are most alive. 

Let such know that if the smoke be offensive to them, it is a sign that there is light.  It is better to enjoy the benefit of light, though with smoke, than to be altogether in the dark. 

It should encourage us to duty [obedience, worship, awe] that Christ will not quench the smoking flax, but blow on it till it flames. 

And so this day I pray the gospel with my new friend Sibbes:

‘Lord, I believe’ with a weak faith, yet with faith; love thee with a weak love, yet with love; endeavor in a feeble manner, yet endeavor.  A little fire is fire, though it smokes.   Amen.