Last week we began a three-week sermon series entitled, “From Generation to Generation.” The aim of this series is simple—to awaken or reawaken us to the biblical priority of passing on the truth of the gospel to the next generation.
This priority—passing on the truth of the gospel to the next generation—has been a central value of Cornerstone from the very beginning. And it’s one of the reasons we’ve joyfully hosted and closely partnered with New College Franklin (NCF).
Beginning ten years ago in 2007, NCF exists to train up the next generation in the Lord. As noted on the NCF website, true education doesn’t merely train for the marketplace, though that’s critical. Instead, the focus is “… cultivating the physical, spiritual, and mental aspects of man into the image of Christ.”
For centuries, the curriculum for such holistic training has been the liberal arts or the freeing disciplines. NCF walks in this classical tradition, immersing students in the drama of history—that is, God’s story—by engaging deeply the great classics of literature, theology, philosophy, poetics, mathematics, science, art, architecture, music, and language.
What I love about NCF is that the academics, though important, are not the point. At NCF, it’s not just about being smart; it’s about being sanctified and ready to serve. As the mission statement makes plain, the study of the liberal arts is simply a means of pursuing “…godly wisdom in order to form students to be missionally equipped for lives of humble service wherever God may direct them.”
And the Lord sure has called and directed New College Franklin graduates in many different directions over the years. There are graduates in seminary, business, ministry, finance, education, graphic design, medicine, politics, marketing, and more.
As an adjunct faculty member, I’ve worked closely with faculty and administration at NCF. I’ve also had the privilege teaching students of NCF theology and other electives. From top to bottom, I’ve seen first-hand the commitment to growing in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom for the purpose of living ordinary lives of Christian loving service.
Further, as the Pastor of Cornerstone, I’ve had the double privilege of watching a number of NCF faculty and students become active members of our fellowship, attending and serving in so many ways within our body. Truth is, one of the big blessings behind, underneath, and running through the community of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church is the presence of NCF in our midst.
We want you to get to know New College Franklin better. To that end, you’ll hear reports this morning about the ministry of NCF, including ways that you can get to know, befriend, pray for, and support this important ministry. To learn still more about the college, take time to visit their website at www.newcollegefranklin.org and like them on Facebook.
With the start of Sunday School, I asked Greg Wilbur who oversees our Discipleship ministries to not only introduce the fall semester but to remind us of the discipleship vision for Christian Formation.
As the fall starts, we have a wonderful opportunity to announce, celebrate and join in with the specific aspect of discipleship that occurs on Sunday mornings between the services. Sunday School classes are available for all ages with a variety of topics designed to encourage spiritual growth and relationships.
Nursery—Under the leadership of Christy Shurden, the nursery serves our families with young children during services and Sunday School. Not only do we desire to offer a safe and fun location for the infants and toddlers, we also want to walk alongside parents as children make the transition to Sunday School and the worship service.
Elementary—We have more than 100 children in our congregation between the ages of three and twelve! Martha Brooks is organizing teachers to not only implement lessons that point our children to Jesus, but to also create opportunities for our children to get to know one another and build relationships.
Youth (7th-12th grades)—With Randy Allen at the helm, Youth Sunday School systematically takes our youth through the entirety of Scripture—7th-9th in the Old Testament and 10th-12th in the New Testament. Other youth activities occur during the week.
Adults—The Chapel class will be starting a 9-week study called The Gospel-Centered Community and the Koinonia Class is beginning a study of the Westminster Confession of Faith.
BUT, this is just one part of our overall Christian Formation plan. Our image for the formation is the growth seen represented by the green leaves within the structure/discipline of the surrounding square but infused by a field of blue representing grace.
As Nate preached last Sunday, “whatever one sows, that will he also reap (Gal 6:7)” and that we need to live in the light of the ultimate harvest. Weeds grow without help, but flowers need tending and attention. The Christian Formation Plan is designed to help provide intentionality, accountability, and tools so that we may tend our spiritual lives for the sake of bearing good fruit. As thoughts lead to deeds to habits to character to destiny, we long for the Church Body to be so saturated in the Word and prayer (and the other spiritual disciplines) that we think God’s thoughts after Him and that we be found and formed in Christ.
As this fall begins, we urge you to the “simple fidelity” of making the ordinary choices that encourage spiritual growth: come to Sunday School, join a Home Fellowship Group, consider the various options for Men’s and Women’s studies, and devote yourself to the Word, prayers, and the community of believers. We look forward to growing together in Christ!
“The constructs of the imagination tell us things about human life that we don’t get in any other way.”—Northop Frye
Last week in the Pastoral Notes, I took time to express the importance of the imagination for a strong and vibrant faith in Jesus Christ. The reasoning was simple. If we are going to see and live according to “…the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), then we must possess the ability to envision the invisible—we must be able to imagine.
Whether we know it or not, we imagine all the time. Every time I lose my wallet and my dear, patient wife asks me, “Where were you last time you had it?” she’s calling on my imagination. Simple questions like, “What did you have for dinner last night?” or “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” are imaginative questions. You’re being asked to mentally retrieve something in the past or cast a vision for the future. You’re being asked to see with your mind something that you can’t see with your eyes.
The imagination also has a deep-seated moral component. Little girls play house and want to dress up like Mommy, because Mommy is the hero they want to be like. Little boys dress up like a superhero, because that’s the vision of what it means to be great. We grow toward that which our imagination is captured by.
Any time we have expectations or hope or an idea for how something ought to be, we are using our imagination. For instance, “What’s your idea of a perfect Christmas morning?” That question is asking you to build a mental image. The person answering is likely to channel certain images and feelings that will evoke a “this is the way things ought to be” moment.
Anytime we’re thinking in the category of the “way things ought to be,” we’re employing to more or less degree the moral imagination. We’re conjuring in the mind a perspective or an image of the good and beautiful life. That image, however fuzzy, has the power to shape and direct a life. You will inescapably move toward it.
This is why we have to keep a close watch on what’s grabbed our imagination. Does our imagining align with God’s vision for the good and beautiful life? To keep our moral imaginations holy and healthy, we must have our hearts captured and then shaped by the narrative of Scripture.
For instance, when we read the story of Moses and the parting of the Red Sea or David’s clash with Goliath, we’re immersed into a (true) story that shows us God’s power to conquer what looks like unstoppable evil and to rescue His people in what looks like impossible situations and to do so in the most unlikely of ways. The imaginative power of the characters, events, and the storyline can “baptize” our minds (to steal a line from C.S. Lewis) and then direct our lives toward the good, right, true, and beautiful.
The more such biblical stories capture our minds, the more power they carry to strengthen our trust in God and condition our obedience to His call. In other words, as the Scriptures, through the power of the Holy Spirit, lay hold of our imaginations our moral lives are shaped according to God’s heart.
Over the course of our lives, we must be disciplined to stir up the imagination to the enchantment of the gospel story. We must remember time and again that not just Moses and David have come, but an even greater Hero has emerged. And He came conquering what looked like unstoppable evil, to rescue His people from what looked like an impossible situation and to do it in the most unlikely of ways. His name is Jesus Christ. He is the babe in the manger, the man on the cross, the resurrected Savior in the sky, and one day returning King of Kings who is remaking heaven and earth.
The more THIS story gets in you, the more power it will have over you, and the greater shape and direction it will give to the unfolding of your story—I mean God’s story in and through you.
“As a Christian, I am responsible for the furniture of my mind and imagination.”—Frank Gaebelein
I’ve taken time over the last several weeks to talk about the imagination, because I sincerely believe a healthy and holy imagination is critical, even essential, to a vibrant life of faith. God designed us to be drawn toward whatever it is we find beautiful or compelling. That is to say, what we see and love—real or imagined—possesses the power to give shape and direct our lives.
If, for instance, you’re imaginatively drawn to being a rock star, then your vision for the good life will be drawn in large measure by what it means to be a rock star. A certain dress code and attitude—we might even say character—begins to take shape as your life more and more falls under the influence of what it means to be a rock star.
Likewise, if you’re imaginatively drawn to being a cowboy, the very same principle holds true even though the image will form in an entirely different way. A different dress code and attitude are required to be a cowboy, and over time the shape and direction of your life will form around the “image” as it bears increasing sway over your mind.
Hopefully you can see through these analogies the particular power that the imagination has to direct our affections and then our life. If you pay close attention to your own internal world, you’ll likely find various images of the good life floating around inside of you. Those images possess immense power to cultivate virtue or vice in your life.
Remember, our everyday sins like greed and lust are little more than imaginative iniquities. But even the more egregious sins like stealing or adultery are really just greed and lust all grown up. Consider Eve’s imaginings about the fruit on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in Genesis 3. It wasn’t until she had imagined what fruit could do for her (“the good life”) that she was poised to eat it.
At the same time, if our imaginations are filled with visions of the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), then it’s likely our character and course of life will follow suit. What that means is that all Christ followers must learn both to properly guard and guide our imaginations.
To that end, a few practical instructions for pursuing healthier and holier imaginations:
1. Take time to identify the images that are exerting power in and over your life. What are the images that frame your hopes and expectations? What is the vision of the good life that you’re using to evaluate life and determine whether you’re succeeding or falling short? The more aware and attentive you are to the mental images at work within you, the better prepared you will be to protect against idolatrous imaginings and promote visions of the good life that are consistent with Scripture.
2. Monitor how different images or imaginings affect your heart. Ever noticed how going to someone else’s house will often effect how you feel about your own house? Ever noticed how a movie will inspire you to live differently or draw you into temptation? Take note of how your heart gets turned in various ways through images. Which ones encourage you? Which ones derail you? Establish parameters where your heart may be most susceptible to sin. Not everyone struggles with the same images. Pay attention to your heart.
3. Set good, true, and beautiful images before your eyes as often as you can. The German poet, Johann Goethe, argued that the best way to train our aesthetic sensibility is to have beautiful things always before our eyes. The point Goethe is making is that our taste for things is shaped by regular exposure to them. Repetitive influence is profoundly powerful. If we regularly and intentionally set the good, true, and beautiful before our minds, then the likelihood of those things catching hold of our imaginations and over time directing our lives is far greater than if we do not.