Category Archives: worldview

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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the zeal of the Lord ALONE will do this

We are back from the PCA Church Planting Assessment Center.  Words cannot encapsulate the experience.  It was the most gruelling, honest, beautiful, unifying (Kori and me), enjoyable, corporate (new friends) and mexican (nice restaurant across the street) week I can remember.  I heard the Word declared with particular application to a person like me. 

Kori and I then went to a Bed and Breakfast in PA (Glasbern, Fogelsville PA) for processing and cool white robes – sorry, had to say that.  This was my assessment of our experience at Assessment:

I was found out.  Kori was found.  Both of us are now driven to the gospel in new ways AS ONE COUPLE.

Anyway, one thing I will share (most of our experience I will not): I am zealous.  Excessively.  Apparently my zeal can be of good kingdom use, but it can also have its people-effect that is less than desirable.  I see it now.  This morning, I was reading from Isaiah 37, and I came across a powerful statement that I have read thousands of times in the prophetic books. 

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this (37:32)

I read it.  Then again.  Again.  The assessed-self was seeing something powerfully apropos.  Ministry is about the Lord’s zeal, not my zeal.  In my zeal I am either winsomely “effective” (at best), OR deceptively manipulative (at worst).  Because of that, my zeal is NOT the means by which I hope the Lord will do this church plant or any other ministry.  Rather, there will be a church in the West Valley of the Lehigh Valley ONLY if the zeal of the Lord does this.  

Why was the recognition of my zeal such a focus of assessment?  Partly because I was blind to it.  Partly because it affects people in ways I don’t intend.  But mostly, I think I see the reason in Isaiah 37:32 – my zeal is NOT the zeal by which kingdom things will be accomplished.  No, only the zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish his purposes in my home, my life, the church plant or any other locus of his work.

O God, even now I am excited because this makes so much sense and will have its impact…  but may my excitement be about YOUR safe/powerful ZEAL, and not my own.  I can control my zeal about as much as my son (18mo) can control himself when he sees food he wants.  This HAS to be about something BIGGER than my zeal.  And it is.

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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

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.

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!

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.

community of weakness

“Community” is not just a loaded postmodern word.  It is biblical and should be life for believers – “for we are members of one another”(Eph. 4:25).  Thought I’d share a quote or two once again.  Challenging to be sure, and right up the weakness alley for good reason.

  

   

“Community is the place where our limitations, our fears and our egoism are revealed to us.  We discover our poverty and our weaknesses, our mental and emotional blocks, our affective or sexual disturbances, our seemingly insatiable desires, our frustrations and jealousies, our hatred and our wish to destroy…  An experience in prayer and the experience of being loved in community, which has become a safe place for us, allows us gradually to accept ourselves as we are, with our wounds and all the monsters.  We are broken, but we are loved.  We can grow to greater openness and compassion; we have a mission.  Community becomes the place of liberation and growth.”Jean Vanier

   

  

“We grow as we commune.  Because information has been the sacred cow of the Protestant tradition, we have minimized the importance of community growth out of fear that the information will be compromised.  Sadly, in doing so, the church has allowed the greatest stumbling block to be put in the path of the believer – the demand for growth without the support of community.”  – Kyle Strobel

passing on the wisdom…

This post is less for people reading and more for the one writing (me). 

Kyle Strobel briefly attended TEDS (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) while I was there.  Yep, his dad is Lee Strobel.  His book, Metamorpha is challenging me – not just in the sense that I think the worldview of the church needs to be challenged (I do, continually…), but how my own worldview is often calcified and solidified and I have my own presuppositions about everything.  Yes, I’ll say it – even this weakness thing.  So here are some of his words from Metamorpha by which God engaged me in a devotional way (O, and for me, it helps that Kyle and I are the same age, writing from a similar demographic in the same generation).

 It may sound strange, but I believe much of Jesus’ ministry was about worldview development.  The disciples had a very solidified understanding of what the kingdom would be like (political, military, religious)…  [Jesus helped them deconstruct their worldview.]

We should have some beliefs that we hold strong against critique.  But we must not allow our way of looking at reality to permanently set, and this is just what many of us have been taught to do…  Our worldview can become so inflexible that we see our personal views about the Bible as authoritarian and certain, and we regard any new or different information as dangerous and wrong.  Sadly, what we call “faith” is more like self-trust because it is rooted in our ability to wrap our minds around the things of Christianity and is not oriented toward God himself. 

The longer we live as Christains, the easier it becomes to have rigor mortis of the eyes – to solidify our presuppositions about the Christian life so that we only see the text through our worldview.  In this way, to a very real degree, we fail to see the text at all.

We need an entirely new way to engage reality – one that refrains from arrogance and seeks God’s redemption.  The Christian life is a journey of redemption, a developmental process of growth.  Our visions of life [worldview] should constantly be changing and re-forming [via the Word, Spirit and community];  the enemy of a healthy faith is a worldview that is static and “complete.”

May Kyle’s words not just be used by the younger evangelical generation to critique our spiritual parents’ worldview… but as a critique and challenge for ourselves as God would transform us anew (metamorphosis) through his gospel.  May the weaknesses of our inexperienced-yet-often-dogmatic-worldview be exposed and redeemed.

If interested, Kyle is a cofounder of an online Christian community for transformation: www.Metamorpha.com