Pastoral Notes for Sunday, December 16, 2018

Cornerstone Retreats

“Beginning the Year in the Presence of the Lord”

Saturday, January 5, 2019

 Life is not a walk in the park. It’s more akin to a battle. And truth be told, sometimes we’re on the losing side. When we’re hemmed in on every side and have exhausted our resources, instead of throwing up the white flag and retreating to fight another day, we too often just soldier on. Bruised and bleeding, we persist in entering the fray and fighting a losing battle.

Soon enough, however, the fight catches up with us, and the signs of spiritual PTSD begin to show up. Our joy dissipates and cynicism grows. We quit dreaming about the future and just try to survive today. Little conflicts send us through the roof with anger. Simple decisions become paralyzingly difficult. The deep loneliness sets in. We think to ourselves, “No one understands,” and as resentment swells, we tell ourselves, “No one really cares.”

Sadly, God’s included in the “no one cares” comment. You’d never say it, of course, but you feel it to be true. Or, maybe it’s gotten to that point where you actually do say it. The felt distance between you and God has grown so wide and the path back to Him has grown so thick that you’re beginning to wonder if there is a path back…

If any of this sounds familiar, then you’re past time for what Emilie Griffin calls, “strategic withdrawal” and what generations of Christians have called retreat. Contrary to popular opinion, retreat is not a spiritual luxury but a soul surviving necessity. If Christ be formed in us (Gal. 4:19), we must learn to pull away for an extended period time to take inventory of life and our relationship with God and others—to gain spiritual rest and replenishment. Instead of shredding the rhythms of work and rest woven into the created order, we must cultivate the priority and practice of Sabbath rest as one of God’s prescribed means for spiritual health, growth, and maturity (Exodus 20:8).

If Sabbath rest and retreat are this important, the church should make it a priority to train God’s people in how to rest well. To that end, I’m inviting you to come away with me for a morning of quiet reflection, guided fellowship, and prayer. At a beautiful retreat center on the edge of town, we’ll spend the first Saturday morning of 2019 seeking the face of God for the rest of God. I’ve entitled the retreat, “Beginning the Year in the Presence of the Lord.” Space is limited to 12 participants. The cost is only $15! For more information or to register for the retreat, contact Susan Bumpus at office@cstonepres.org.

Isn’t it time for you to take Jesus up on his standing invitation, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31)? I look forward to seeing you on January 5th.

Pastoral Notes for Sunday, December 9, 2018

I was nine years old when George HW Bush was elected president. He’s the first president I really remember. And like many things in life, the first of something becomes at some level the measuring stick by which you judge the others. He was a good first.

When on the campaign trail in 1988, Bush described the kind of America he hoped to see emerge under his presidency. He used the phrase, “a kinder gentler America.” In reading a number of the memorials written following his death, it was fascinating to note how often those same two words were used to describe him—and appropriately so.

In re-watching snippets a few of his speeches this week, I couldn’t help but be struck by the civility of his communication and manner. There was an endearing winsomeness in the way he spoke and engaged. There was a compelling ordinary grace about him. He was the everyman’s president.

And yet this kind, gentle man was, at the same time, a steely politician who let the business of politics get the best of him, at times. John Meacham wrote for the New York Times this week, “Mr. Bush was a gentleman, but he was a politician, too, and therein lay the great tension of his life. ‘Politics isn’t a pure undertaking—not if you’re going to win, it’s not,’ he [Bush] once told me. That’s the way politics is, unfortunately.”

The inherent impurity of politics led Bush to adapt principles—sometimes allowing ends to justify the means. This was particularly true when Bush’s success was threatened. Meacham notes how the “Competitor” within Bush often occupied provisional dominion over the “Conciliator” and doing what’s “best for the country” was often too tied up in his winning and succeeding.      

In noting this, I’m simply acknowledging that George HW Bush was a man in need of grace. That he, like all of us, compromised his beliefs and convictions at times in order to get what he wanted—in order to win. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone (John 8:7).

But in light of this, can you imagine how hard the presidential loss in 1992 was for Bush? Some of his darkest days came after he lost the bid for reelection, but you’d never know it publically. He handled the loss with grace.

In the now famous letter that Bush left for incoming President Clinton, he wrote:

“There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course. You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

In his eulogy this week, George W. Bush noted how his father became an adopted father to many, including his political opponent, the unlikeliest of all, President Bill Clinton. It says a lot when a man reaches out in love toward his opponent and forges a friendship. Surely we can all agree, that whatever shortcomings there were in George HW Bush, more of this kind of love is what we want to see in our public square.

But it’s not just in our public square where we want to see this. We want see this everywhere. For in such overtures of love, the outline of gospel story is glimpsed: the story of the Father’s perfect love reaching out toward us, His enemies, making us adopted sons and daughters through His Son, Jesus Christ.

It’s this love toward us—the unlikeliest of all—that we set our hearts toward this Advent until the whole world is remade in love.

Pastoral Notes for Sunday, December 2, 2018

At our particular juncture in history, preparing for Christmas has little to do with preparing for Christ’s coming. For the vast majority, the holiday season is marked by a flurry of parties and shopping sprees with little time for quiet reflection and heart preparation around the mystery of Christ’s incarnation.

Consequently, we enter this season with great anticipation and a fair amount of dread. We are glutted with social contact and yet feel alone. We are often frazzled, harried, and stressed in the midst of what is supposed to be a time full of cheer. Even when the flashes of joy do come, and they usually do, those flashes often lack relation to the baby boy born of a peasant girl in a stable in Bethlehem—the one Scripture calls, “the good news of great joy for all people” and “the hope of all the nations” (Luke 2:10; Matthew 12:21).

J.B. Phillips once wrote, “The towering miracle of God’s visit to this planet on which we live will be glossed over, brushed aside or rendered impotent by over-familiarity for many this Christmas. Even by the believer the full weight of the event is not always appreciated. His faith is in Jesus Christ—he believes with all his heart that this man, who lived and died and rose again in Palestine, was truly the Son of God. He may have, in addition, some working experience that the man Jesus is still alive, and yet be largely unaware of the intense meaning of what he believes.”

Could this be true of you? Has the wonder of Christ’s advent faded for you? Has the glory of the incarnation ceased to amaze? Is your hopeful expectation of Christ’s return being elbowed out by holiday brouhaha?

Take heart, today is the first day of Advent. A fresh opportunity for you to slow down, breathe deep, and commit to do things differently, to dive deep into the story of Scripture and the loving purposes of God and be restored to the joy of your salvation.

So, go ahead and shake off your guilty fears. Unite with the throng of sinners saved by grace in worship today and declare boldly that evil and death, pain and loss won’t last, for Jesus Christ will have the final word. Let faith, hope, and love rise again within you, as you watch and wait for the return Christ. For the saying is true and worthy of acceptance: “Blessed are those servants whom the Master finds awake when he comes” (Luke 12:37).

Pastoral Notes for Sunday, November 25, 2018

Dear Cornerstone Family,

As I reflected this week on our seventh-year anniversary, I found myself pouring out thanksgivings to God for our officers. Not simply for their ministry faithfulness, though that was part of it, but for the joy it is to call these brothers my friends. That’s a rare gift, and I thank God for it.

Now, such closeness can be a double-edged sword. For whenever you’re close to someone, transitions are harder. When a Cornerstone leader has stepped down or departed over the years, our hearts always break a little. Even when it’s the right thing, you never want to see a partner, a friend, go. That’s certainly how we feel about the three leadership transitions taking place at Cornerstone right now. Let me tell you about them.

First, there’s one thing we can all agree on—that one of the greatest gifts Cornerstone has ever received is Greg Wilbur. What some of you might not know is that Greg has served Cornerstone as both a staff person and ruling elder from the very beginning. During his regularly scheduled elder sabbatical, Greg wisely spent time considering the use of his limited time and energy, and although he still senses a strong call to the work of an elder, he decided in relationship with the Session to step away for this next season in order to give more time to other aspects of his calling like writing music and family. Now, don’t get worried; Greg isn’t going anywhere! He will continue to lead us in worship and discipleship on staff at Cornerstone. It’s his hope and ours that this transition away from the eldership for the next season might free him up to be even more effective in his daily calling of ministry at Cornerstone and beyond.

Second, due to some personal matters, our dear brother, Marty Smith, is taking a leave of absence from the diaconate. During this time of change in Marty’s life, it seemed wise both to him and the elders that he be freed from the weekly responsibilities of the diaconate to focus on the things most needful for the next season. Though we’ll miss having Marty’s eager, servant spirit on the diaconate, we rejoice that our brother will be worshipping with us regularly and serving the Lord in a variety of ways in our midst.

Finally, we’re sad to say goodbye to the Clint Branch family. Over the last couple of years, the Branches have felt their center of gravity move away from Franklin to Spring Hill/Thompson Station where they live. Then, due to a number of providential matters in the family, the Branches were unable to attend Cornerstone regularly on Sunday mornings over the last eighteen months. To fill the gap, they began attending a faithful Bible believing church in Spring Hill that had an evening service. Worshipping in Spring Hill for a season has led them to believe they should pursue membership in that local body. We are so very grateful for the many hours of service and contributions Clint made to the life of Cornerstone. Though sad to see the Branches go, we’re glad to send them to a faithful church in their community where they can actively serve the Lord.

Before I go, I should note on the positive side that we have four officer candidates in training right now for leadership at Cornerstone. They are just about to enter their third and final phase of training in a couple of weeks. Please pray that the Lord’s good and perfect will regarding the potential of these men to serve as officers at Cornerstone would be made plain to both them and the elders, as we trust the Good Shepherd to provide for us the under shepherds we need.

Your Servant,

Pastor Nate

Pastoral Notes for Sunday, November 18, 2018

Dear Cornerstone Family,

Today we remember with gratefulness the anniversary of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church. On November 20th seven years ago, we were received as a member church of the Presbyterian Church of America. In some ways it seems like yesterday. In other ways it seems like its been forever. In every way it has been a joy and an honor! Today we give thanks for how God has faithfully sustained and grown us as a local church and expanded His witness among us and through us. Surely, we have much to celebrate!  

In God’s good providence, our congregational birthday falls on the same week as our annual Thanksgiving worship service. To mark the Thanksgiving season in the life of our church, we’re taking the next two Sundays to explore a portion of Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:3-6. Today we’re focusing on vs. 3-5 around the theme, “Give Thanks: Remembering God’s Faithfulness in the Past.” Next week we’ll center on v. 6 around the theme, “Give Thanks: Hope in God’s Promises for the Future.”  

As is our custom at Cornerstone, in the weeks leading up to and in the one week following Christmas, we’re going to bask in the glory of the incarnation of Jesus Christ in a series I’ve entitled, “The Songs of Christmas.” To help you prepare for worship each week, I’ve posted the Scripture readings and sermon titles for the Sundays of Advent and the first Sunday of Christmas below:

·      Dec. 2, “Singing with the Prophets: Waiting for the Messiah” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

·      Dec. 9, “Singing with Mary: The Magnificat” (Luke 1:39-56)

·      Dec. 16, “Singing with Zechariah: The Benedictus” (Luke 1:57-79)

·      Dec. 23, “Singing with the Angels: The Gloria” (Luke 2:1-14)

·      Dec. 30, “Singing with Simeon: The Nunc Dimittis” (Luke 2:22-32)

In addition to worship, let me encourage you to break from the holiday brouhaha to refresh your heart with a good book. You’ll find several new Christmas devotionals available this morning on “The Book Shelf” on the second floor landing. Let me highlight two titles:

·      The One True Gift: Daily Readings for Advent to Encourage and Inspire – This work by British writer, Tim Chester, is a great addition to the growing collection of Advent devotional books. In Twenty-four bite size readings, Tim slowly peels back the layers of the beautiful Christ hymn, Philippians 2:5-11. With ideas for reflection, prayer, and applications these daily readings can be enjoyed individually or for the whole family.  

·      Love Came Down at Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent – This work is by one of my favorite pastor-preachers, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. Broken up into 24 biblical devotions, Sinclair takes 1 Corinthians 13 phrase by phrase and shows that “love is” the Lord Jesus Christ himself. This one is not to be missed! Keep it by your bedside or armchair and close each day during Advent with a simple, meaningful reflection on the love of God in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Have a great Thanksgiving! May the blessings of the gospel be yours this holiday season!  

Your Servant,

Pastor Nate