Tag Archives: PCA

galatians – Christ who lives in me


The book of Galatians is ALL about identity.

What is our identity when it is defined by God in the gospel?

What was the identity of the apostle Paul when he wrote these words?

What did he long to define the identity of the Galatian church, of our church?

Essentially, in the book of Galatians, Paul passionately reveals how finding our identity in Christ changes EVERYTHING for his church in the world.

Our identity IS Christ who lives in us.

It is only this.

The patristic fathers (the earliest Christians in the post-apostolic era) and reformational church (1600s to present) oft looked to the themes of freedom and righteousness within Galatians as being the definitive description of “essential Christianity.”   Duncan called Galatians “the Magna Carta of evangelical Christianity.”  Luther so loved Galatians that he called it “my own epistle, to which I have plighted my troth; my Katie von Bora” (the name of his wife!).  Richard Longenecker aptly put it: “Paul’s Galatians is like a lion turned loose in the arena of Christians.  It challenges, intimidates, encourages, and focuses our attention on what is really essential as little else can.  How we deal with the issues it raises and the teachings it presents will in large measure determine howe we think a Christians and how we live as Christ’s own.”

Likely the earliest of the apostle Paul’s letters, Galatians was written to churches within provincial Galatia within 15 years of the cross of Jesus (AD 49).  As such, the content of the letter reveals the earliest collisions and conversations amidst the church – what is our identity NOW, as Jews and Greeks, as a recipients of THIS “gospel”?

While not an easy read, Galatians yet contains the gospel in its purest and most unadulterated form.  The gospel (lit. “good news”) is the message of Christ who lives in us for our salvation and transformation, now and forever (2.20)!   This gospel is from God not man (1.6);  it is not to be merely believed, rather it MUST become us (4.19).

In clarifying the gospel, Paul posits many questions to the Galatians,which we must ask and answer.

He engages these questions by way of CONTRAST.

How does God’s saving work in Christ work? By faith, NOT works (2.15-16); by promise, NOT law (3.21-22).

Who do we become when our identity is rooted in the gospel?  We become sons/daughters of God, NOT slaves (4.6-9).

What does that mean for our daily life?  It means we are free, NOT enslaved (5.1)!  We are at liberty to love, NOT in bondage to legalism (5.1-13)!  It means we are playing host to an internal civil war – flesh versus Spirit.  While the flesh does not bend easily, it will NOT prevail over the Spirit of God in us (5.16-24)!

From the beginning of the letter, Paul writes with urgency and attitude.

Having recently delivered the simple gospel of Jesus to believers in Galatia, he was astonished that they could so quickly turn to a different gospel… a performance-rooted pursuit of God that was no gospel at all (1.6)!  O foolish Galatians, who bewitched you?  Did you receive the Sprit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun with the Spirit are you now being perfected by the flesh? (3.1-3)  Paul evidently knew the Galatian people.  Even more, he knew the content of the gospel he had delivered to them as being about CHRIST’S completed righteousness for our salvation.  However, it appears that Paul did not know the false teachers who emerged to push the Galatians past the simple truth of Jesus to a works-based identity (from the first act of circumcision to a worldview and system of self-defined external righteousness).  This piped Paul!!  5.10 – The one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is!  These infiltrators had one platform – to turn Christianity into “making a good showing in the flesh” (6.12), totally challenging the essential CORE of the upside-down truth – that we boast “only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to us, and us to the world.”  Our selves and our works and our “showing” have nothing to do with it at all!  This led Luther to define Christian righteousness as “passive righteousness – a truth Galatians and Romans drive home with ruthless precision.

When comparing Galatians to the narrative of Acts, we understand it to likely have been written some time around the end of Paul’s journeys in Acts 14, but before the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 (AD 50).  The Jerusalem Council dealt definitively with the circumcision/works/righteousness conversation as it related to Jews and Gentiles.  Had that council already taken place, Paul would have surely brought it into his letter to bolster his case!    Thus, the churches to whom Paul is writing are probably the churches in Acts 13-14 (in the towns of Lystra, Derbe, Iconium, etc) that were a part of the Roman province of Galatia through which Paul travelled early in his ministry.  Thus the term Galatians is provincial in nature, versus ethnic (the Galatian people derived from the Gauls who had settled further north, where we have no record of Paul traversing).

Thus, in an effort to place the book of Galatians within the narrative of Paul’s journeys in Acts, it is likely that the first Jerusalem visit Paul references in Galatians 1.18 corresponds with his journey in Acts 9.26; while his second visit (Galatians 2.1-10) corresponds with the briefly mentioned visit in Acts 11.30.   The Jerusalem Council was soon to happen which would BLOW these issues up for the glory of God and the IDENTITY of his church.

The outline we will use at wvpc.

1-2a the gospel – whose it is

2b-3 the gospel – how it works

4 the gospel – who it makes

5 the gospel – what it means

6 the gospel – where it works

There is no better time than now.

Your identity is always at stake, always being expressed,  always being formed.   Amidst all the competing influences in your life, both internal and external, what if your identity was sure?  Not at risk?  Not in question?  Not circumstantially derived?  THAT is the POINT of the book of Galatians.  Your identity must be, well, not yours…  It is Christ who lives in you.  It is not more or less than that.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (2.20).

*for weekly thoughts on Galatians, continue to check back to: www.weakchristian.wordpress.com


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Would you attend a church with this ad (with clear digital graphics assumed)?


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west valley prayerletter (July 2008)

Below you will find West Valley church plant’s July newsletter… sorry to those who also received emails with the pdf version (and you came here for something creative to read – not today!).  – Jim


  west valley PCA church plant – lehigh valley PA

a historic place     a new place. 

a historic Church       a new church.


The above duality adequately describes the nature of our church planting context in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania.  Our target area is both historic and new, from the gentrifying ‘buy local’ Borough of Emmaus (settled in the 1740s) to the suburban sprawl of Lower Macungie Township, the fastest growing municipality in the Commonwealth of PA in 2005-2006. 


 How do we faithfully and relevantly contextualize the gospel in such a place as this?


 We believe it can only be through the historic Church – the very “dwelling place of God by his Spirit” – being incarnated as a new church, a new community of broken-but-redeemed, weak-but-strengthened people who contagiously communicate and celebrate Jesus Christ as their only hope.  Just as the apostle Paul confirmed the new status of the Ephesian church, we believe that we – 40 adults and 40 children from Cornerstone PCA in Coopersburg PA – are “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit”(Ephes. 2:22).  That dwelling place is a new church plant.  More particularly, it is a church in the west valley of the Lehigh Valley.  God is birthing West Valley Presbyterian Church (PCA).


Much has happened since we have corresponded with many of you:

1.       We have incorporated as West Valley Presbyterian Church, Inc.

2.       We have travelled from Chicago, IL to Florence and Columbia, SC fundraising and visiting friends and speaking at churches.

3.       We have vacationed, trying to manufacture the calm before the storm (Lina, Kori and her dad, Doug/‘papa’, biked across Georgia – not exactly rest).  

4.       We have “gone to the mountain” with other West Valley church-planters to seek the Lord’s vision for West Valley PCA, and are in the process of honing and owning that vision now.

5.       We have found a local artist for logo and web design.

6.       We have begun regularly gathering on Sunday evenings for ‘prayer/planning’ – eighty adults and children prepping for a Fall public launch, Lord willing.

7.       We have continued to probe our target area for a place of worship that will be accessible, functional, strategic and aesthetically apropos for the purpose of beautiful, God exalting worship.

8.       We have an office, thanks to numerous hands and feet (and sweaty brows) that worked to ‘flip’ our Main Street space – where we anticipate being a gospel-incarnating blessing to our community for years to come.

9.       We have begun cutting the umbilical cord, as my duties at Cornerstone are tapering off so that I might focus on West Valley.  Thanks be to God for giving CPC a vision to release people for the extension of Christ’s kingdom!

10.   We are resting on the power of Christ to extend his kingdom and build his church amidst our weakness and brokenness, even as we are struck by the lengths Satan has gone in effort to undo us.

Please pray:

1.       Pray for a hedge of gospel-protection around Kori and myself (our marriage), and on Lina, Meggie and Nate (our parenting) – as well as on the families who are launching out with us.

2.       Pray for our vision/values/mission process as we are clarifying (by Word, Spirit and community) the identity that God would give us for his glory and for the West Valley.  I look forward to sharing more acutely who we are in the next prayer letter.

3.       Pray for a worship facility within the target area of Lower Macungie or Emmaus.  Pray for wisdom as we network to discern options – whether churches, community centers, colleges, etc.   Pray for a space and lease term that will provide us with consistency and flexibility.

4.       Pray for our Sunday evening ‘prayer/planning’ meetings.  Pray that God would grow us in unity and maturity.  Pray that a culture of refreshing transparency and prayer will define us prior to our launch of public worship. 

5.       Pray for the children of the West Valley church planters.  My children frequently ask, “Daddy, are we going to church with the same people but in a different building again?”   “Yes girls, ‘cause the church is not the building”… yada yada yada preacher-man.  Actually, with serious intentionality we are seeking to craft an environment where the 40+ children participate in the kingdom calling of their church-planting parents.  From day one our children must be a centrality, not a casualty.

6.       Pray for the formation of ministry teams – from Children, to Worship Arts, to Hospitality, to Community Groups, to Administration and Finances.

7.       Pray for the formal establishment of a “provisional” session of elders (through presbytery).  Rather than starting with our own elders, we will begin with oversight and accountability provided by a select group of presbyters – pastors and ruling elders from sister churches.

8.       Pray for the “skeptics studies” that we intend to hold at our new church office in late July and August.  Our hope is to provide a safe place for the un-churched and non-believing to engage and question a biblical worldview as it relates to their own presuppositions about life/God.

9.       Pray for the budgeting process along with my continued fundraising, as we will be on our own as a church (living off of tithes/fundraised money) beginning September 1st.  Pray for wisdom in forecasting the ministry opportunities of the year in light of anticipated local tithes and outside gifts.

10.   Finally, please pray as Christ taught us:


Our Father in heaven,

thy Kingdom come in our West Valley as it is in heaven.


We are excitedly docile as we pray, knowing that this is the Lord’s work alone. 

Our hype and strategies and zeal and winsomeness will not build Christ’s church. 

He does not need us to bring his kingdom to the West Valley (Acts 17:25)!  We are set free! 


I  will  build  my  church

Matthew 16:18


What a privilege of grace to get to participate in Christ’s work –

a work for which we ourselves are indebted

a work that our efforts cannot impede

a work that we cannot do alone


Confident in Christ and in you,




Tax-deductible contributions, send check to: 
Mission to North America,
1700 N Brown, Suite 101,
Lawrenceville, GA 30043-8122
(write Jim Powell on memo)
online debit/credit cards:
under ‘church planters’ menu, select “Powell, Jim / West Valley”








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processing the gospel amidst the process of churchplanting

I am becoming delinquent.  God has been gracing me with deep lessons on his gospel and his Church – lessons that I am processing amidst the busyness, but not as much over the blogosphere!  I do intend to keep writing… (I apologize as if I have regular weakchristian readers who have missed me – prideful man that I am.)

an update on how I am processing the gospel amidst the process of churchplanting:

I am reading in Ecclesiastes.  Enough said.  If you have a Bible and time, check out the parallel-but-contrast between Ecclesiastes ch.1 and Psalm 104.  What an amazing difference in the heart and soul of one who has a God-centered view of reality (Ps. 104) and one who rightly conteplates the vanity/meaninglessness/emptiness/vaporish-ness of life under the sun apart from awareness of the glory of our Creator!  I am chewing on that as I prepare to perhaps preach through Ecclesiastes as our opening exposition series at West Valley PCA (launching this Fall – hence the craziness)!  What a culturally apropos book, with HUGE gospel flashing lights to give us hope!

The other thing I am chewing on is the nature of the CHURCH as part of the Gospel, not just as the collection of “recipients” of the Gospel.  God has chosen to dwell among a people that he has formed by his Word and Spirit – we are his incarnated good news to our culture and neighborhoods!  See Ephesians 2:11-22.  We are a central tenent and irrevocable part of the gospel message… an awesome biblical truth to rediscover and ponder in an age of increased spirituality, yet decreased churchiality (ecclesiology).  I will share more of this – thanks to some studying I am doing on “the Sacramental Gospel” – by Preston Graham, Jr., pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New Haven, Connecticut.  Preston, you’ve got a new disciple.

Tomorrow (or soon thereafter) I will paste my July Prayer-letter to update you on the progress of West Valley PCA (a churchplant in the 3rd trimester, but still in embryo).

Grace and transformation amidst your brokenness and mine, your community and mine – solely through the gospel of Christ’s kingdom manifested in his church by his Word and Spirit!


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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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West Valley Presbyterian Church Plant

west valley church plant office

Check it out… there we will be.  The first floor office on the left (slightly hidden)!  We are so thankful for the opportunity to already be “in” the downtown as Emmaus is renovating its artsy center.  New retail spaces.  Newly renovated store exteriors.  A newly landscaped “triangle.”

We are in the process of painting and designing the space – such that it will be useful and warm and a place for community rest.  My hope is that we will be able to host the work of various local artists inside our office, such that we get walkthru traffic simply by saying: “come check out our local art.”  What an opportunity to display the creation of those in our community who are reflecting the image of their Creator.   What an inroad for conveying the gospel that redeems all things! 

I have spent the week working on my fundraising “packet” – letters and funding plans and demographic/personal bios.  If all goes as planned, we will mail many out next week!  If you know of anyone who would desire to participate in a kingdom church plant in the North East, please send them my way!  jim@cornerstonepca.net

God is at work in the admistrating this HUGE transition.  Pray for Cornerstone families who are praying about surrendering to the call of church planting.  Pray for a sacrificial spirit to suppress all of our “preferences” as we jointly prefer to plant a church to God’s liking!  A church OF the broken that is FOR the broken in our community BEFORE him who binds up the broken hearted! 

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West Valley Presbyterian Church, PCA mission

Last night I enjoyed the presence of 33 friends and good coffee at our first West Valley PCA (mission church) gathering in Emmaus PA.  I am excitedly silent… or is it, silently excited.  (which makes you more excited?)  In sum, we hung out, went through the demographic gospel-needs of our target (East Penn area of the Lehigh Valley – specifically Lower Macungie and Emmaus) and I took the privilege to convey a bit of my philosophy of ministry – you know, that bit about being a church of weak people who depend on a strong gospel.  Otherwise said like this: Would that God create a church of the broken, for the broken in our community, before the One who binds up the broken

We talked about being a church that DOES CHRIST’S KINGDOM among our community, rather than just doing church among the churched and calling it kingdom.  What that will look like in human flesh (incarnate), we are yet to really know.   We trust these upcoming months will reveal gospel-opportunities where the kingdom is as stunning in Emmaus/Lower Mac as it was in Acts 2.

The cry is that the 33 people present would pray and begin to do neighborhood church planting as the gospel heals their brokenness and moves them into the brokenness around them.  A high calling.  Sacrifice.  (Yes, last night was as much about getting people excited as it was setting the bar of churchplanting high for the sake of surrender!  This is way too big for all of us, and only those whom God truly calls from the beginning should be involved)!  We said it like this: May this be a church plant of church planters (plural), rather than just a church plant with a church planter (singular) with a core group…  O God, would you call church planters out!  My friends in the West Valley – CALL them out to humble sacrifice, O God!

We also walked next door to the new office space of West Valley Presbyterian Church… we prayed.  Some wept.

I think I’d like to be quiet now. 


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church plant gathering

It’s here.  Finally. 

On Sunday, March 9th, from 5-7pm, we will hold our initial west valley church plant meeting at Mas Cafe in Emmaus PA.  This gathering will be for the sake of burden inculcation and kingdom anticipation in the West Valley through a PCA church plant.  We will not be vision casting or planning… but rather discussing the unique needs of our demographics in the East Penn area of the Lehigh Valley.  What are the needs?  What are our responsibilities before God if we would be his church in our target area?  Who should be involved?  How will things unfold in the next 6 months?  What is it to be a church plant that is wide open for the sake of kingdom and gospel ministry among our neighborhoods and communities?  Why is there a need for a church plant? 

Ray and his wife Courtney, owners of the new Mas Cafe, will be providing a full slate of coffees and cappacinos – in addition to snacks.  Childcare will be a block away at the Powell home where we will have a handful of college/career age adults watching our children during our gathering.  If you know you and your kids will be joining us, it would help if you would leave a comment or let me know.

If you are curious as to the nature of the church plant, the needs of Emmaus/Lowermac, or the sacrifice involved for those God will call to be ‘church planters’ – then join us!  Will you consider DOING KINGDOM and planting a church that will be for the renewal of the West Valley (west side of the Lehigh Valley) – for the renewal of our broken, sinful hearts – for the renewal of our families and neighbors – for the renewal of our secular culture and its comprehensive need for mercy and worldview transformation through Christ and his BIG gospel!

Mas Cafe

332 Main Street, Emmaus

Sunday, March 9


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my life on paper

One week from this Sunday, Kori and I will be flying to Atlanta for the PCA Church Planter Assessment Center.  Our marriage, sense of call, giftedness, and contextual placement (i.e. in the North East) will be assessed and reassessed.  They tell me it is like marriage counseling on steroids. 

Here’s the thing – we’ve already been assessed just to be accepted at the Assessment Center.  I haven’t liked what I’ve learned.  It is actually quite funny: my life and personality don’t translate that well on paper.  We have each filled out questionaires and personality tests (which will be interpreted for us on site).  We received most of the results already, so that we might digest who we are on paper before we show up and discover who we are in person

My wife is incredible… especially on paper.  She received a personality report that sounded like this: “Quiet and discerning.  Not needing to be the center of attention.  Likely to enter a room and recognize people and needs.  Unlikely to talk about herself before inquiring of others.”  It went something like that.  If you know Kori – that is right on.

I am not so incredible, especially on paper.  My personality report sounded like this: “Energetic and strong in personality.  May prefer to be the center of attention.   Likely to enter a room desirous of sharing about himself before inquiring about others.  Willing to persuade people that they might follow.  May unintentionally offend others or step on toes as he engages in conversation.  Prefers to lead independently.”  OK, so maybe it wasn’t that bad – but it is no overstatement that I now have documented proof that I married way over my head.

It is sobering to read an accurate assessment of yourself in ink that cannot be erased.  Maybe the qualities I read are normal/good for a leader, but it’s still sobering. 

To be honest, I am used to reading an accurate self-assessment.  Every time I read God’s Word it happens with acute clarity.  I am a sinner.  I am desperately wicked.  I am gloriously redeemed.  I am weak enough to need a Savior every moment for every breath throughout every day.  Sobering but beautiful. 

So I guess I am saying that I enjoy and presently prefer sober assessments, because in the newfound awareness I find myself thanking God all the more that he would give the grace of salvation and ministry (and a woman with the personality of Kori) to someone like me, even me.

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laying it all out there

I recently met a new friend, a PCA gospel friend, who started out our conversation by saying: “I’ve read your blog and you really lay it all out there.”  Do I?  Or maybe I’m holding back much more, and my heart – like yours – is darker and more corrupt than could ever be shown?  Perhaps I do do lay it all out there. 

Then a church attendee told me last night that if I ever stop sharing the struggles of my own life when I preach that she will stop listening. She said the same: “Thanks for not holding back.”  To which I said, “Well I do hold back some things.  I don’t tell people how often I beat my wife.”  JOKE.

I don’t even know what  it is to lay it all out there.  But I know that this blog is my place to honestly divulge that I am the worst of sinners with the most need for dependence on Christ.  I really do feel that way. 

Last week was horrible.  Scary thing was – I started the week with multiple announcements to my family that it was going to be the best week ever.  Work on Monday.  Then New Year’s Eve.  Bowl games on Tuesday.  Fiesta Bowl on Wednesday night (atta boy Papa).  Les Miserables on Broadway on Thursday.  Day off on Friday.  Wedding party on Saturday.  The best week ever.

Not really.  See, I have always known that, even on the good days, I have isolated moments of selfishness.  Just moments so I thought – until last week.  Then last week I realized why my life is often a string of selfish moments (you know, with the good life being the links on the chain)… it is a string of selfish moments because I am as self-absorbed as Satan was before he his Fall.  Maybe an exaggeration.  Could be.

I’ll leave the actual selfish tantrums for you to imagine… but I say this to those who know me.  I am a sinner.  I am a husband who fails to love his wife.  I am a dad who is often interrupted by his kids – not because they do a lot of interruptions – but because I am constantly preoccupied with my life that I don’t want to have interrupted!  I am a wrecking ball of dispassion and myopic vision (I am so nearsided I see only me).  Last week, rather than mending the broken or being broken with the broken – I tended to tell the broken to get over it and quit messing up my good week.  O, and then I would go and preach or lead a Bible study or pray with people at the office… 

I am weak.  I need the gospel.  I hurt.  I hurt others.  I am not even laying it all out there… nor do I care if I have laid out too much.  Praise be to God that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.  Praise be to God that when we are weak, he is strong.  Praise be to God that he will finish the work that he has begun in us. 

O, and I’m glad its a new week.  Nothing to hide.  Nothing to fear.  Nothing lie about.  I am the worst of sinners, but he gives more grace. 

O to plant a church where people as unilaterally messed up as me gather to worship and depend on the God of glorious grace for the weak. 

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