Pastoral Notes for Sunday, February 17, 2019

A few weeks ago, our sister, Rachel Warhurst, reported in service about the amazing work of Raising the Roof Academy in Uganda, Africa. Many of you were moved by her testimony and responded by joining RTR’s educate1 campaign. I’m pleased to report that we sponsored 23 children through RTR! Way to go church! Please continue to pray for Rachel and the ministry of RTR as the school year gets underway in Uganda.

Also, several of you noted how much you enjoyed hearing from Rev. Josh Reiger and the church planting efforts in Hexham, England, a few weeks ago. Josh sent me a thank you note recently; in it he raved about his experience at Cornerstone. He specifically noted the warm welcome he and Gina and the kids received from you, including your eagerness to pray for and support their work. Again, way to go church!

On the other side of this sheet, you will find a dozen different ways to draw closer to the Lord and in fellowship with the Cornerstone family. The February 28th Women at the Mercantile meeting, or March 2nd Men’s retreat, or Midweek @ Cornerstone starting March 6th are just a few of the many upcoming gatherings designed to nurture your spiritual life and tighten the bonds of fellowship. Please avail yourself of these opportunities, especially as we enter the high holy days of Lent and Easter. 

One particular opportunity I want to make sure you’ve circled on the calendar is Steve Green’s Concert for Cornerstone on March 31st at 6pm at the Academy Park Performing Arts Center next to the Williamson County Library. Steve is pulling out all the stops for us—inviting a host of his musically talented friends for a glorious night of singing, storytelling, and rejoicing in the Lord. This is a special Cornerstone concert, which is why YOU are getting first dibs on tickets. Can you believe the deal? Only $5! We’re waiting on Academy Park to give us the green light for ticket sales. As soon as they do, we’ll get that information to you. Seating is limited, and the tickets will go fast. So make plans to purchase your tickets as soon as they come available.

As fun as this concert is going to be (and it is going to be so, so fun!), it is tinged with some sadness. The Lord brought Steve and Marijean Green to Cornerstone in 2014. Then, almost three years ago, Steve was nominated and elected elder at roughly the same time Marijean became co-leader over women’s ministry. In the last three years, I’m not sure anyone has poured more into the life of Cornerstone than these two. Truly, they have been such a gift to our fellowship.

About six months ago, Steve and Marijean came to the office to talk about what the Lord was stirring in their heart, namely, moving from Franklin to Atlanta, GA, to be closer to and serve their family in the next season of life. As they recounted God’s providence, and their own prayerful walk through the decision, it was difficult to argue with their conclusion, though everything in me wanted to! Since that time, God has increasingly confirmed his direction—that He has a new mission for our brother and sister in Atlanta. We’re going to have the privilege of hearing from the Greens on Sunday, March 17 in worship as they share a testimony of God’s work in their lives. Please remember our brother and sister in prayer as they draw this season in Franklin to a close and make preparations for moving to Atlanta later this spring.

Pastoral Notes for Sunday, February 10, 2019

I was given the privilege this week of speaking to several hundred Dads on the subject of treasuring your children as a gift from the Lord. As I prepared for the talk, I was struck afresh by the expendable and exploitive treatment of children in our time. Whether it’s the New York Senate decision on abortion, or the Governor of Virginia’s comments on infanticide, or the media’s coverage of the Covington Catholic School incident at the March for Life, we’re being told over and over by the culture that children are disposable. 

When we turn attention to the Scripture, we couldn’t see a starker contrast. For instance, Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” The word “reward” and “heritage” speak to the fact that children are priceless heirlooms to be passed down to the next generation. Far more valuable than your grandmother’s china or your grandfather’s pocket watch, children are an inheritance given by God for us to treasure and train in love, truth, and grace and send out into a time we will not see (Prov. 22:6, Eph. 6:4).

When you realize the Bible’s perspective on children, it begins to make sense why Jesus spent so much time with children during his early ministry. In one instance, as the crowds brought their children to Jesus for him to touch and bless, Matthew tells us the disciples rebuked them (Matthew 19:13). Clearly the disciples didn’t think children were a good investment of Jesus’s valuable time. But Jesus stunned them all with his response, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

Even for those of us who believe the Bible’s teaching on children, it’s easy for us to lose sight of it in our daily lives, isn’t it? At different times and for various reasons, we may fall into a pattern of treating our kids like problems to be fixed, or projects to be perfected, or even interruptions to be managed.

I had to learn a hard lesson this week in this regard. As God would have it, I sinned against my children Wednesday night. I got angry and lost my temper over a situation involving one of my children. The whole family witnessed it and was negatively affected by it. Feeling justified in my anger, I didn’t admit my sin right away. I went into silent mode and brooded for a while. Later, I started back in on preparing for my talk—on treasuring your children as a gift from the Lord no less! I re-read Psalm 127:3 again. As I did, I cringed with guilt. Rightfully, my heart condemned me and balked at my hypocrisy, “You can’t speak on this when you’re not doing it yourself!”

I called the family together and confessed my sin and asked for forgiveness. One by one, they forgave me, and I soaked in the relief of being forgiven. I wound up adding a section to my Thursday talk. It was a section on how failing as a father is an excellent opportunity to train your children to trust in the one Father who will never fail them, the Heavenly Father (Rom. 8:15). For in the end, it’s neither my successes nor failures as a father that will make the difference, but their trust in the perfect Father that will make the difference. For failing fathers like me, that’s good news… Good news indeed.

Pastoral Notes for Sunday, February 3, 2019

I felt like a kid in the candy store this week when one of the professors of Biblical Theology at New College Franklin asked me to step in and teach on Jesus’s statement, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). It’s been argued that no word picture in the whole Scripture better encapsulates God’s redemptive mission than that of shepherd. Let me show you why.

Remember Abel in Genesis 4? He is the first shepherd mentioned in the Scripture. We don’t know much about him, but we know what’s important: he was the first person recorded in the Bible to bring a pleasing sacrifice to God (Genesis 4:4). A shepherd that brings a pleasing sacrifice to God, does that sound familiar?

In Exodus, we’re introduced to another shepherd, Moses. He was tending Jethro’s flock on mount Horeb when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a burning bush, calling him to shepherd God’s people out of bondage in Egypt (Exodus 3). A shepherd who leads God’s people out of bondage, does that sound familiar?

Later, God sends Samuel to Jesse’s home to anoint the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 16). Jesse’s sons come before Samuel, and one by one they are rejected. Finally, Samuel asks, “Is this all your sons?” Jesse responds, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping sheep.” Well, by now you know—he’s the one! The shepherd boy, David, becomes the next and the greatest king of Israel. A shepherd king who loves and leads God’s people, does that sound familiar?

As great as these shepherds were, this is not the whole story. In significant ways, both Moses and David failed in their shepherding of God’s people.

You will likely remember that God chose the shepherd staff of Moses as a powerful instrument for the leading of God’s people out of Egypt. With that staff, the greatest miracles in the Old Testament were performed—the changing of the staff into a serpent, turning the Nile into blood, parting the Red Sea to name a few. But it was also with that staff that Moses would sin against God. God tells Moses to speak to the rock in Numbers 20, so that the thirsty, grumbling Israelites might have water to drink. Instead, Moses strikes the rock with the staff twice and forfeits the opportunity to lead Israel into the Promised Land.

Likewise, after David committed adultery with Bathsheba and masterminded the murder of her husband, Uriah, the prophet Nathan confronted David’s sin with a story about a rich man stealing a poor man’s sheep. That’s right, it’s a shepherding story! In no uncertain terms, Nathan tells David that he’s not shepherded the sheep, the people of Israel, as he ought. Instead of sacrificing for the good of the people, he exploited them and used them for his own selfish ends.  

All this background and more leads us to Jesus’s statement in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd.” What does this mean? It means this:

·      Like Abel, but better than Abel, Jesus offers up himself as a pleasing sacrifice to God on our behalf.

·      Like Moses, but better than Moses, Jesus leads us out of the bondage of sin and into the freedom of salvation.

·      Like David, but better than David, Jesus rules over us with truth and grace and secures us a home with Him in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

When that day comes, I can’t wait to see what John saw in Revelation 7:17, “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to the springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”Truly, Jesus is our good shepherd.

Pastoral Notes for Sunday, January 27, 2019

I was gutted this week when I heard that the New York State Senate passed the Reproductive Health Act, giving women the right to abortion up to the point of birth. I welled up with grief imagining the thousands of boys and girls who will be killed as a consequence of this expanded abortion law.

Why am I experiencing such grief over this? The answer is simple. I believe in the sanctity of human life. I believe that human life is carefully fashioned by God as a reflection of Himself (Genesis 1:26-28) and is to be treated with dignity and respect—and that dignity and respect extends to the baby in the womb.    

The historic Christian perspective of life beginning at conception has been the position of the church throughout the centuries. Why has the church believed this? Because the Bible teaches it. No place is this more clear than in the Psalm 139. David writes, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:13-16).

Notice how David speaks of his preborn self as being personally and intimately formed by God Himself. Before he was born, God was intimately acquainted with all his ways and days. Even when he was an “unformed substance” (i.e. embryo), he speaks with the personal pronoun “me.”

The prophet Jeremiah uses similar language. Jeremiah writes, “Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4-5). Remarkably, before he was formed in the womb, Jeremiah was known by God and set apart as a prophet. His life and calling as a mouthpiece for God were in place before Jeremiah took his first breath.

These words from Jeremiah remind me of that wonder filled moment in Luke 1 when Mary visits Elizabeth. In utero, John the Baptist leaps at the presence of Jesus Christ, who is also in utero. It’s as if preborn John is already fulfilling his prophetic mission by preparing the way of the Lord with that leap inside Elizabeth (see Luke 1:39-43).

Behind David’s words, Jeremiah’s call, and John the Baptist’s leap is this settled biblical conviction: life and personhood exist before birth. And since that’s the case, every child in the womb deserves the respect and dignity of being treated like a human being made in the image of God.

Before I close, something needs to be said. I realize that for some readers, the topic of abortion is no mere morality issue or a piece of legislation. It’s a very personal part of your story. If that’s true for you, please don’t think I am condemning you for having an abortion. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s remember that the Apostle Paul was once named Saul. He was a persecutor of the church and responsible for Stephen’s murder in Acts 7. He wrote these words: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). No matter what you’ve done, if you are in Christ, those words are true of you. Walk in the freedom of knowing that your abortion is no match for the atonement won for you in Christ’s blood. Rejoice in knowing that your sin has been nailed to the cross, and you bear it no more. And let’s together praise the Lord.