Category Archives: wilderness

“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

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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.

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.

The Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes

I recently picked up a copy of the Puritan classic by Richard Sibbes – The Bruised Reed (1630).  

In fact, when I was in line to purchase the book (at a CCEF conference bookstore), the guy next to me leaned over and said – THAT is a comforting, incredible, gospel book.  I had grabbed it in the first place because in my devotional/reading life I am aiming to alternate between modern and historic works – and I was set for turning the clock back for my next read.  The Bruised Reed jumped out at me because it is ALL about the gospel and our self-awareness of our being weak “bruised reeds” whom Christ will not break (Isaiah 42:3).  So maybe it is research for this weakness project —- or, as I have come to find the past few mornings – it is a devotional well with fresh biblical water!

D Martin Lloyd-Jones said this of the book: I shall never cease to be greatful to Richard Sibbes who was balm to my soul at a period in my life when I was overworked and badly overtired, and therefore subject in an unusual manner tothe onslaughts of the devil… I found at that time that Richard Sibbes was an unfailing remedy.

Sibbes was apparently known among his contemporaries as “the sweet dropper.”  Give yourself 2-3 pages of his work, and you’ll feel the puritanical effect!  SO, I pass on to you a sweet drop or two… or five.

We see that the condition of those with whom [Christ] was to deal was that they were bruised reeds… not trees; but reeds; and not whole, but bruised reeds.  The church is compared to weak things: to a dove amidst the fowls; to a vine amongst the plants; to sheep amongst the beasts; to a woman, which is the weaker vessel.

WHAT IT IS TO BE A BRUISED REED:  The bruised reed is the man that for the most part is in some misery, as those were that came to Christ for help, and by misery he is brought to see sin as the cause of it, for, whatever pretences sin makes, they come to an end when we are bruised and broken.  He is sensible of sin and misery, even unto bruising; and, seeing no help in himself, is carried with restless desire to have supply from another, with some hope, which a little raises him out of himself to Christ, though he dare not claim any present interest of mercy.  This spark of hope being opposed by doubtings and fears rising from corruption makes him as smoking flax [a faintly burning wick – ESV]; so that both these together, a bruised reed and smoking flax, make up the state of a poor distressed man.  This is such an one as our Saviour Christ terms ‘poor in spirit’ (Mt. 5:3).

God’s children are bruised reeds before their conversion and oftentimes after…  After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks.  Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy…  The heroic deeds of the great worthies do not comfort the church so much as their falls and bruises do.

Hence we learn that we must not pass too harsh judgment upon ourselves or others when God exercises us with bruising upon bruising.  There must be conformity to our head, Christ, who was ‘bruised for us’ (Isaiah 53:5)…  Ungodly spirits, ignorant of God’s ways in bringing his children to heaven, censure broken-hearted [weak] Christians as miserable persons, whereas God is doing a gracious work with them.

As a mother is  tenderest to the most diseased and weakest child, so does Christ most mercifully incline to the weakest.  Likewise he puts an instinct into the weakest things to rely upon something stronger than themselves for support.  The vine stays itself upon the elm, and the weakest creatures often have the strongest shelters.  The consciousness of the church’s weakness makes her willing to lean on her beloved, and to hide herself in his wing.

More sweet drops to come.  Grace today.

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!

a culture crying out for the gospel

All truth is God’s truth.  Do we believe that to the extent that we look for the truth of the gospel in all things?  One of my favorite places to look for God’s truth is in the cultural mediums of our society.  For example – music (or the whole broadway play bit is another post).  One of my joys is being free in Christ to cautiously engage the music our culture promotes… and what I often find is that the gospel is everywhere in the secular music scene.  Not so much in the words of the lyrics but in the answer to the life-questions the lyrics prompt.  It never ceases to amaze me how keenly our culture knows that it is in desparate need.  Even more, the more authentic and honest the lyrics – the more the albums sell (if its good music).  I think we could go so far as to say that the subliminal articulation of gospel-need is what sells most culturally hip tunes.  Seriously. 

Check out the lyrics of “Wreck of the Day” by Anna Nalick.

“Wreck Of The Day”

Driving away from the wreck of the day
And the light’s always red in the rear-view
Desperately close to a coffin of hope
I’d cheat destiny just to be near you
If this is giving up, then I’m giving up
If this is giving up, then I’m giving up, giving up
On love, On love

Driving away from the wreck of the day
And I’m thinking ’bout calling on Jesus
‘Cause love doesn’t hurt so I know I’m not falling in love
I’m just falling to pieces
And if this is giving up then I’m giving up
If this is giving up then I’m giving up, giving up
On love, On love
And maybe I’m not up for being a victim of love
When all my resistance will never be distance enough

Driving away from the wreck of the day
And it’s finally quiet in my head
Driving alone, finally on my way home to the comfort of my bed
And if this is giving up, then I’m giving up
If this is giving up, then I’m giving up, giving up
On love, On love

OK, so its a song about love gone bad.  But is that a weakness that connects?  Yep. In relationships gone bad, how weak do we get: “desperately close to a coffin of hope.”  In layman’s terms what does most of our world feel numerous times a day?  “If this is giving up, then I’m giving up.”

And then she penned some lyrics that overtly scream gospel.  The gospel in weakness. 

“Driving away from the wreck of the day and I’m thinking ’bout calling on Jesus.  ‘Cause love doesn’t hurt so I know I’m not falling in love I’m just falling to pieces.”  All truth is God’s truth because that is the gospel.  When we are weak and falling to pieces, we call on Jesus.  To Anna Nalick, what is it to call on Jesus?  It is not a repeat of the cycle of love… it’s not about falling in love at all – just knowing where to turn when we have fallen to pieces.   That’s the gospel, and people in our world get to hear it whenever they listen to Nalick’s album that begins with her famous song “Breathe” (which by the way, screams gospel as well).

All truth is God’s truth.  Listen for it in our culture’s cries (and in the process enjoy the music).

taking gospel naps when we are weak

Today I was reading a work by Edmond Clowney, How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments.  I am on the chapter about the fourth commandment – “Remember the Sabbath Day by Keeping it Holy.”  I found some insightful things regarding my preoccupation with weakness.

I don’t know where you are in your wilderness of weakness.  Maybe neck deep in rising floodwaters.  Maybe knee deep in quicksand.  Maybe scratched and bruised as you bushwhack through life’s jungle.   Maybe frustrated with people who write in metaphor.  I don’t know your weakness – but I KNOW this: rest is possible here and now for those who are in Christ – no matter how exhausted you feel.

Clowney makes the point that not only has God called us to rest on the Lord’s Day… he has told us something about himself through the very Sabbath command.  “The Sabbath marks the fact that God delights in the presence of his people” – enough that he would command us to stop and sit down and just be with him in the middle of the desert (or floodwaters, or jungle) of life.  Say it slowly: “My God delights in me enough that he wants me to rest from surviving this world of weakness to be with him in my weakness as I am.”  Nothing more.  Not Sabbath performance.  Not Sabbath discipline (though it requires it).  Just Sabbath rest.  Can I do that for even 5 minutes without the TV on?  Hmm…

And here’s the thing: this is all more spiritual than it is physical!  Christ fulfilled the Sabbath rest for us – see Colossians 2:16-17.  The Sabbath day (when we rest and recognize our physical weakness) is but a shadow of the rest Christ has purchased and promised to his people (a spiritual rest borne out of our recognition of spiritual weakness)!  Jesus is Lord of your rest because He is Lord of the Sabbath.  This is speaking of gospel rest! 

So I guess we could say it like this.  God has called us to take gospel naps in the midst of our weakness in anticipation of the eternal gospel rest where we will experience the pleasure of God and will pleasure in God forever – no weakness to wake up to then.  “There still remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God”(Hebrews 4:9).

So, try God on this one.  Take a gospel nap in your weakness.  Set aside time.  Preferably on the Lord’s Day before or after all of God’s people gather in corporate gospel rest time (like kindergarten, I guess).  But do it.  Rest in your weakness.  We need physical naps when we are tired.  We need spiritual gospel naps when we are weak. 

When have you let the Lord of Rest recalibrate you for the weakness of this broken world? 

“Only united to Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, can we fulfill all our Sabbath duties, finding rest in God’s presence and entering into an eternal rest that satisfies all the hope of the original Sabbath day of rest.  Not only will we find rest for our bodies, as they are transformed in resurrection, but we will find in Christ both our place of rest and our time of rest…”  – Edmund P. Clowney

There is more here… so email me/comment if a conversation would help. 

Psalm 116:5-13

I am working on my project again – specifically on the chapter about a “theology of weakness.”  Any verses of Scripture that you hold dear that speak to your weakness and enable you to live in the power of the gospel?  Share them!

For example, this morning I saw the gospel engage my weakness yet again in Psalm116:5-13…

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful.  The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.  Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. 

For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;  I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. 

I believed, even when I spoke, “I am greatly afflicted”; I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars.’

What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?  I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord.

My turn

Tag I’m it.  Today I take my turn just to journal my filth… 

Today, my weakness is my thinking about and engaging other people’s struggles and afflictions and brokenness and sin and weakness for the sake of gospel discovery and dependence to the point that I don’t look in the mirror and take stock of who I am… and am not.  Today, right now – I am struggling and afflicted and broken and sinful and weak.

By God’s grace, I have seen transformation in a broken marriage (nothing but pieces on the ground 6 years ago).  But still – how is it that I haven’t figured out how to love my wife and let her share with me her ‘issues’ without my pushing back or being defensive?  Still weak.

By God’s grace, we have seen 3 kids grow and mature.  Nate turns 1 today.  Lina is taking school by storm.  Meggie still makes me laugh in between her 3 year old tantrums.  By God’s grace they’re alive and healthy and fun.  But still – how is that 5 years into the parenting gig I am unsure if I have matured at all in how I deal with my children’s disobedience or accidents or whining or crying?  Still weak.

By God’s grace, I have a job for which I get to study his Word.  I get to dream kingdom dreams (and not have it be daydreaming).  I get to learn about people.  I get to read.  I get to preach.  But still – how is it that I can get up on some mornings and not know how to pray or meditate or worship or love people?  Still weak.

There you have it.  My mini-journal that today I am still weak and will be as long as it is called today.  Point is: I am still not a strong Christian.  But thanks be to God I can be the weak Christian that I am who depends on a strong gospel for slow learners like me.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in ALL our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in ANY affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

praying…

For those of you who read this regularly… I just thought I should not write today.  Instead, I thought I’d let you know that, whoever you are, I am praying for your journey into the gospel through the weaknesses of your life/week/day/moment.  If you are in the wilderness of weakness, know that you are being prayed for today.

It is kind of scary to think that people read a blog and expect wisdom or insight or just something to do with their idle time…  It humbles me.  So today I break from searching for what to say.  Today I am praying for YOU.  You are not alone.  Feel free to comment on things to pray for.  I will be checking this post often.

Jim