With God All Things Are Possible (Nov./Dec. 2010)
Every year as the holiday season approaches you have the choice to either survive it or thrive in it. When Thanksgiving dinner is barely cold and the pressure of Christmas looms on the horizon, it is tempting to resent the expected pace and emotional stress that’s coming. What should a Christian do? This year why not try to approach Thanksgiving and Christmas with something new that will carry you down the road rejoicing? Here’s one thought that might lift you to a new vista: Christmas teaches us that all things are possible with God.
If God wants something done, can it be done? A more personal way of asking this question is: If God has a goal for my life, can it be blocked, making its fulfillment impossible? Imagine God saying, “I’ve created you and given you life, I’ve made you my child and now I have something for you to do. I know you will not be able to do it, but give it your best shot.” That kind of reasoning makes God appear heartless and ludicrous. Imagine yourself as a parent saying to your child, “I want you to go out and mow the lawn. Unfortunately, the yard is full of rocks, the mower does not work and there is no power. But give it your best.” Once again, such reasoning sounds crazy.
Now here comes Christmas…God gave a staggering goal to a little maiden named Mary. An angel told her that she would become a mother while she was still a virgin, and that her son would be the Savior of the world. When she inquired of the angel about this seemingly impossible feat, the angel simply said, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37) You would never dream of giving your child a task he/she could not complete; and neither does God. His goals for you are achievable, certain, and possible, no matter how large or difficult they might seem to you. When Mary was faced with what seemed to her life an impossibility, she responded, “Behold, the bond slave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Now that’s faith in the face of overwhelming circumstances!
Think of the overpowering assignment that confronted Mary: She was to have a baby without being with a man. She was to raise the boy who would save the world from their sins. The entire course of history would change because of her son. The eternal destiny of untold millions was on the line! The fact that we celebrate Christmas is proof that Mary’s faith in God to do the impossible was all she needed to complete God’s will for her. Here’s the lesson: We need faith in God for whatever impossible challenges face us.
What struggles do you face this holidays season? The first Christmas without a loved one? Health issues? Broken relationships? Financial strain? Uncertainty? A broken heart over a child? When you feel overwhelmed with responsibility or overcome with pain, remember that God is able to do above and beyond all we ask or think. Christmas teaches us is that God is still looking for humble servants who are willing to trust God to do the impossible. Let’s give thanks that with God all things are possible!
Cornerstone... The next generation
Are you old enough to remember the opening lines from the original Star Trek series? It is arguably the most famous opening television monologue ever: “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
It turns out that the last line of that memorable speech delivered by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) nearly four decades ago came from a White House document produced in 1958 to help calm post-Sputnik hysteria. At that time the world was locked in the deep freeze of the cold war. The Soviets were the first to put a satellite into orbit and America was worried about being overtaken by the godless dogma of Communism.
The 21st century, fifty years after Sputnik, is still an uncertain and dangerous world. College graduates in 2010 enter a world with nearly double-digit unemployment, a sagging worldwide economy, trillions of dollars in debt, oil spills, a nuclear Iran, terrorism, threats to marriage, Twitter, iPads and Lady Gaga. What a mix!
If you were (are) entering college today, what would you be thinking? What values would you hold? What beliefs would you be certain of? What fears would trouble you? Like the days of the cold war, today’s collegian feels the weight of our global problems.
Into that frightful mix God has called Cornerstone to take the gospel to a new generation and “boldly go where no man has gone before.” This fall Cornerstone entered into a new chapter of ministry to the next generation. From our beginnings we dreamed of a day when the thousands of students who live, study and work around our neighborhood would relate to a vibrant ministry that calls them to intelligently and fervently follow Christ. That piece of our vision is being put into place even as I write this article. After a year of searching and over 150 résumés and multiple interviews, Aaron and Gina Mascaro have been selected and have answered the call to lead Cornerstone’s next generation of young adults. This is a great moment in our history because the Bible tells us that God is faithful to all generations. In Psalm 45:17 we find our hearts echoed: “I will cause Your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore the peoples will give You thanks forever and ever.”
As our campus and young adult ministry gets rolling I’m trusting our faithful God for the coming generation. I ask you to join me in praying over this next chapter in Cornerstone’s history. The next generation awaits!
Summer Rest (July 2010)
I just returned from a week of vacation with my family which will rank as the best week we have experienced since moving back to California in 2000. We spent an entire week celebrating the blessings of God to the Rueb family! Sue and I joyfully marked 40 years of happy marriage; for Kristin, our eldest, we rejoiced in her persistence to push forward in the face of a disabling brain injury; for Jon, our son, we rejoiced in his entry-level business success and his growing ability to defend the faith to his generation; for Jana, our youngest, we commemorated her achievement as a graduate with high honors from UCLA; and for Chica, our son’s Weimaraner, we gave thanks for our faithful canine “best friend.”
And how did we celebrate these blessings? We rested, reflected, recreated and rejoiced in one another’s company at the beach, in the surf, around the table and in deep and sometimes hilarious conversation. Every family needs experiences that remind each member of our high value, our common history and our future destiny. Time off with our family that has faced our share of unexplained trials, the usual frustrations of life and more than a few painful self-inflicted wounds, was refreshing water for the soul.
While on this vacation my son reminded me that in God’s economy, we are living in the seventh day of God’s creation. Genesis 2:2-3 says, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” God finished creation and rested not because God was tired, overworked, or frustrated by the outcome. God rested because He wanted to point us, His creatures, to a greater “rest” that He had already ordained for us before the foundation of the world. Later under Moses, God reinforced the concept of rest by giving mankind the fourth commandment making the seventh day a holy day of rest, and worshipful reflection. Exodus 20:8-11, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” The Old Testament Sabbath day with its many regulations was still not the fulfillment of God’s promise of rest but a powerful sign pointing to a “rest” God had originally intended.
God’s original promise of “rest” was royally announced by Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 when He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The fulfillment of God’s promised “rest” was not to be found in creation, nor in the Law of Moses but by coming to Jesus Christ! What a great message for over-stressed and over-worked humanity! The way to access our Creator’s exclusive promise of never ending “rest” is found in a personal redemptive relationship with God’s only Son.
This summer as you take time to rest, to reflect and to recreate, don’t forget to rejoice in the blessed “rest” you have in Jesus. Here and only here you will find rest for your souls.
Shamgar’s Three Rules of Success (June 2010)
People who know me understand that I am a straightforward guy who likes to keep it real. So I absolutely love it when God’s Word connects to daily living. The current sermon series in Judges allows for a wide range of connections to everyday life. I find life in the 21st century comparable to the ancient period described in the book of Judges.
One of the first characters we meet is a judge who has only two verses connected to his legacy. Yet his story is both interesting and highly implicational for us. His name is Shamgar. From only 42 words we learn that God used an unlikely man to impact an entire nation. The Bible says that Shamgar “killed six hundred men of the Philistines with an ox goad and he also delivered Israel.” Judges 5:6 tells us that he lived in difficult times not unlike the difficulties we face today. Crime and fear gripped the villages and the clogged the routes people traveled.
Shamgar was not a likely candidate for leadership because he did not come from a believing household. His is not a Hebrew name but a Philistine pagan one likely meaning “stranger or drifter.” His father’s name is Anath, which is the name of the Canaanite goddess of sex and war. Shamgar was the product of a racially- and religiously-mixed home. Judges 3:6 reveals that in striking disobedience to God, the Israelites intermarried with the surrounding pagan nations. As a half-Jew, half-pagan man, Shamgar didn’t seem to have the family background to prepare him for the task God called him to do. But remember, there is no partiality with God. He will use anyone who completely trusts Him.
Shamgar was an unlikely candidate for leadership because he was poor. He struck down six hundred Philistines with an ox goad. No fancy spear or sword. No powerful chariot or blazing fast horse. He was just a poor farm boy with an ox goad. God turned Shamgar’s poverty and lack of sophistication into a powerful victory.
So armed with a steadfast faith in God and courageous obedience to God’s will, Shamgar rescued Israel from its enemies and turned a nation back to God. Let me suggest three very practical lessons for success that we can take from Shamgar’s life:
First, start where you are. Shamgar didn’t wait until every condition was perfect to take action. He didn’t wish he was someone else with more talent or resources, nor did he make up an excuse about why he didn’t need to step up to lead. Shamgar didn’t use his mixed family background as reason to bow out of responsibility. Shamgar just started with reality and knew God could take him forward.
Second, use what you have. Shamgar‘s solution was creative and innovative because he used what was already in his hand…an ox goad. What a weird weapon! Recall how God used the staff in Moses’ hand? But first God asked Moses to throw it down. Letting go of what we have and surrendering it to the service of the Lord is a step toward solving most problems we face. Shamgar understood that he would never have a chariot, never wield a forged steel sword or throw a well-balanced spear. What he had was a farm implement that had a sharp point on one end and a small blade for breaking up clods on the other end. Using what he had Shamgar won the victory. God never calls us to use what we don’t have; He calls to use what little we do have to win the victory.
Third, do what you can. If you compare Shamgar with the other judges you will discover that Shamgar didn’t destroy a huge army of the Philistines; nevertheless, he was very effective for the Lord. One of the ways we get ourselves into a defeatist mindset is to compare our output for the Lord to someone else. God does not intend for everyone to have the same scope of ministry. Some are called to cover smaller details while others are called to visualize the big picture. Size is not the measure of success; obedience to do what God call us to do is the truest measure of success.
Shamgar committed all that he had and all that he was to the one true God. God used an ordinary man, an awkward tool, and limited abilities to impact an entire nation. When something is completely given into God’s hand for His use He will cause it to go further than it is supposed to go and do things it is not supposed to do.
So remember Shamgar’s three rules of success: First, start where you are. Second, use what you have. Third, do what you can. Then leave the rest up to God.
A Ground Breaking Resurrection Day (May 2010)
My Easter message reminded us that Christ’s resurrection is the pivot upon which our faith turns and our destiny hinges. Jesus proved once again that He is very alive at Cornerstone Church! Here is the living proof of great things He did during the recent Holy Day celebrations:
· On Palm Sunday our children sang and spoke with clarity of how Christ Jesus came, lived, died,
and rose again for our sins. Their music was inspiring.
· Good Friday night service was the largest single service attendance in our new facility. Next year we will have to schedule two Good Friday services.
· On Easter Sunday Cornerstone offered three service times. A first for us.
· The total attendance for the three Easter services was 1259. A record!
· People received Christ on that day in the service. One father led his young adult daughter to the Lord later Sunday evening. Praise God!
· Our youth broke new ground by serving as ushers, greeters and musicians.
· Worship was alive with powerful renditions of uplifting music by our musicians.
I want to thank the scores of volunteers who stepped up to help facilitate the events of Palm Sunday and Easter weekend. You caught the vision of reaching out to guests who came from our surrounding community.
Long Beach heard about Cornerstone this Easter. Early in the planning process it was decided that it was again time to tell our community about our church. Not since the move to our new facility in December 2008 did we expend such effort to broadcast our presence to the Long Beach community. Ads placed in four area newspapers, postcard size invitations printed and yard signs planted in your yards invited people to come and worship with us. Good feedback and record attendances confirm that God blessed our plans.
As the spiritual momentum gains speed and Cornerstone grows, I can foresee a day when we will look back on Easter 2010 and remember when we were just beginning.
Touching the Resurrected Jesus (April 2010)
If you were given a special audience with Jesus, what would be your first reaction? Would you dance for joy, fall down in awestruck wonder, step back with a quizzical look or run over and hug Him? The Bible tells us the stories of two very different responses to meeting Jesus after His resurrection.
Mary Magdalene was one of the first women at the tomb Easter morning. After the disciples saw the empty grave they went back to their homes, but Mary stayed at the tomb to grieve. Then Jesus, who Mary assumed was the gardener, approached her and called her by name. At the sound of Jesus speaking her name, Mary turned and embraced Him. Jesus said to Mary, “Do not hold on to Me.” (John 20:17) If you are the kind of person who naturally gives and receives hugs you might wonder why Jesus didn’t want a hug from Mary. Was this an unreasonable response to seeing the resurrected Christ for the first time by one of His most devoted followers?
In another incident Jesus appeared in the upper room a second time, one week after His first appearance on Easter Sunday. Thomas, who was not there to see Jesus at His first appearance, doubted the resurrection reports of his fellow disciples. Now Jesus stood in front of Thomas and said, “Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side.” (John 20:27) Jesus invited Thomas to personally examine His wounds. Upon examination Thomas fell down at Jesus feet and exclaimed, “My Lord and My God!”
There is a seeming incongruity between Jesus’ statements to Mary and to Thomas. On the one hand Jesus does not want to be touched by Mary; on the other He invites it from Thomas. What can explain this? Jesus’ inconsistent responses are resolved when we examine the language Jesus employed and consider the basic difference between the two situations.
In John 20:17, the Greek means “to cling to, to lay hold of.” This wasn’t just a touch; it was a grip. Obviously, when Mary recognized Jesus, she immediately clung to Him. Matthew 28:9 records the other women doing the same thing when they saw the resurrected Christ.
Mary’s reaction was motivated, possibly, by several things. One is simply her loving devotion to the Lord. Mary is overwhelmed by the events of the morning, and as her grief turns to joy she naturally embraces Jesus. Another motivation is Mary’s desire to restore the fellowship that death had broken. She had lost Him once, and she was going to make sure she didn’t lose Him again—she wanted to keep Jesus with her always. Also, Mary may have been thinking that this was the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to return (John 14:3), in which case He would take her (and all believers) with Him to heaven.
However, it was not Jesus’ plan to stay in this world always, and His resurrection was not to be seen as His promised return. That is why He tells Mary of the ascension. His plan was to ascend to the Father and then send the Holy Spirit (John 16:7; 20:22; Acts 2:1-4). Fellowship with Jesus would continue, but it would be a spiritual communion, not a physical presence.
In loosening Mary’s hold on Him, Jesus was in effect saying this: “I know you desire to keep Me here, always present with you. I know you want everything to be just the same as before I died. But our relationship is about to change. I’m going to heaven, and you will have the Comforter in My place. You need to start walking by faith, Mary, not by sight.”
When Jesus spoke to Thomas, it was not to counter a misplaced desire but to rebuke a lack of faith. Thomas had said he would not believe until he had touched the living body of Jesus (John 20:25). Jesus, knowing all about Thomas’s declaration, offered His body as living proof of His resurrection. This was something He did on another occasion as well (Luke 24:39-40).
So, both Mary and Thomas needed more faith. Mary needed faith enough to let Jesus go. Thomas needed faith enough to believe without empirical proof. Mary needed to loosen her grip; Thomas needed to strengthen his. The resurrected Christ gave both of them the faith they needed.
How’s your grip on the resurrected Christ? Are you struggling with doubt? Then reach out and touch Him, because He is there. Are you insecure and frightened that you might lose your grip on Him? Relax, He will never leave you. Jesus sent you the Holy Spirit who will never leave you nor forsake you.
Easter Power Everyday (March 2010)
Easter is not too far away! Retailers are already gearing up to turn a uniquely religious holiday into another shopping opportunity. At Cornerstone we expect multiple services with overflow crowds to celebrate the resurrection of our Savior and Lord. I expect it to be a glorious day! But when the lights go out and the church doors are locked, will Easter be over? Shouldn’t Easter be more than just a one day event? Apparently so! Apostle Paul believed that theresurrection of Christ was more than a one day holiday when he wrote these amazing words: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Philippians 3:10). Is there a secret about the Resurrection and its lasting power that Paul longed to experience? Is it possible for us to discover this secret and use it to impact our lives every day of the year?
Let me give you seven power-packed reasons why the Resurrection is important to you and every other believer every day of every year:
First, by the Resurrection we are certain that Jesus is the Son of God. Romans 1:4, Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.
Second, by the Resurrection we are sure of a right standing before God. Romans 4:25, He (Jesus) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (righteous standing before God).
Third, by the Resurrection we claim victory and power for daily living. Galatians 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Fourth, by the Resurrection we have motivation to live a selfless life of service. 2 Corinthians 5:15, And he (Jesus) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
Fifth, by the Resurrection we are filled with hope regardless of life’s circumstances. 1 Peter 1:3, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Sixth, by the Resurrection we are assured of our bodily resurrection after death. Romans 8:11, And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
Seventh, by the Resurrection Jesus guaranteed us eternal life. John 11:25-26, Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
This Easter, make it a year-long event where each day brings another wave of resurrection life and power to your life! You have God’s Word on it. Now believe it and power up!
The Practical Side of Believing that Jesus is Coming Again (February 2010)
Preaching through Revelation each Sunday has been exciting for me to present and, from what you have said, it has been a great blessing to hear. This is not surprising. God promised a triple blessing to anyone who will read, hear and, most importantly, obey the book. (Revelation 1:3)
What does it mean to obey the message of the book? Another way of asking the question is this: How can I take what I am learning of God’s plans for the future and put it to practical use today?
There are ten practical applications in the Bible that reveal whether we really “get” the message contained in Revelation. Check yourself to see if they apply to you.
1. Refuse to judge others, because there is only one Judge - Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 4:5, “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.”
2. Remember the Lord’s Table. 1 Corinthians 11:26, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.”
3. Respond to life with a heavenly viewpoint. Colossians 3:2, 4, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
4. Relate to others in love. 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else…so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”
5. Restore those who grieve. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, “The dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”
6. Recharge your dedication to the ministry. 2 Timothy 4:1-2, “In view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season.”
7. Refuse to miss attending church. Hebrews 10:25, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
8. Remain faithful. James 5:8, “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near.”
9. Repent of any sins. 1 John 2:28, “Continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.”
10. Reach the lost. Jude 21-23, “Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them.”
A careful examination of the Second Coming is our “blessed hope” but it is also our “blessed help” every day this side of heaven.
New Beginnings and Fresh Starts 2010 (January 2010)
The turn of another year signals the passage of time and reminds us that we live within the time/space limitations set by God. Three thousand years ago, King David understood the boundaries of life on earth when he said in Psalm 139:16, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Nobody has an unlimited account in the bank of time. Since everyone has a finite amount of time to spend, on what should it be spent?
Allow me to give you a spiritual check list of what you could do to make 2010 the best year to date. Many people look forward to the New Year for a new start on changing old habits. Here’s how you can break out of the norm and take a new step forward.
1. Maintain a regular prayer time each day.
2. Read through the Bible in 2010.
3. Make practical plans to show love to your neighbor.
4. Release someone who hurt you from their wrongdoing and tell them so.
5. Forgive yourself and don’t turn back for another look.
6. Choose to be thankful in every circumstance.
7. Take a risk and learn something new.
8. Trust God for what you cannot see.
9. Keep a journal.
10. Suffer affliction without complaint.
It’s been said that an optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves. Join the ranks of forward thinkers who are filled with hope because they know the secret of Romans 8:28: “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Making 2010 the best year yet is in your hands. God will certainly not fail!
A Thankful Heart in the Face of Giants (November 2009)
“Because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and
follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land.” Numbers 14:24
Life was not easy for the nation of ex-slaves in the desert. The good news was that they didn’t have to
labor in the hot sun making clay bricks for their Egyptian slave masters. The bad news was that they were walking through a parched wilderness. Moses had as many as one million people in tow as they crossed the Sinai wilderness marching toward the Promised Land.
The euphoria of the Exodus and the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea quickly faded under the hot and penetrating sun. The Bible tells us that they people began to murmur and complain against Moses, God’s appointed leader. Even Miriam, Moses’ sister who protected him as a baby boy in the Nile bulrushes, turned on her brother. The scene was miserable, not happy. Imagine camping with thousands of other people in the desert without water or easy access to food! Not exactly a picnic.
Days passed in that desolate wasteland but God faithfully provided just what they needed until they reached the entrance to the Promised Land. Moses sent twelve spies into Canaan to check out the conditions in the land of their inheritance. When they returned, ten spies reported seeing “giants” in the land and advocated retreat. The remaining two spies reported seeing a “land flowing with milk and honey” and advocated claiming the land as God promised.
The people believed the majority report and a violent rebellion broke out. “If only we had died in Egypt.” “Let’s stone Moses.” “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Defeat and complaints ruled the hearts of God’s people to the point that they actually wanted to give up and die or go back to slavery. Neither option sounds too attractive for those of us who look back from our vantage point thousands of years later.
The trip that should have taken a few weeks ended up taking an additional forty years because of a fatal flaw in the unbelieving hearts of God’s people. They refused to believe God for what He promised and for what they could not fully understand. The result was a defeated nation wandering around until one generation died off.
The application is not far from Christians living in prosperous America. We have been released from slavery to sin by the precious blood of Jesus, the perfect lamb. As we journey toward heaven, the ultimate Promised Land, we can grow weary and unbelieving. When trouble strikes and life gets hard we are tempted to adopt the same kind of ungrateful reasoning that plagued ancient Israel. “If God is leading me, why am I here in this painful circumstance?” “Why doesn’t God deliver me out of my tribulation?” “What good is it to be a Christian if I have to suffer like this?” If we continue down that path we soon discover that our two closest companions are grumbling and complaining.
However, the Bible gives us the examples of Caleb and Joshua to show us a better path. These two men experienced the same wilderness sufferings as their countrymen and they saw the same “giants” in the Promised Land but they believed God instead of complaining. The Scripture records that the entire rebellious generation of adults died off in the desert except two men, Joshua and Caleb.
How did God rewarded these men who had a different heart and a different view of the same hard circumstances? God said, “I will bring him into the land.” (Numbers 14:24)
If you have been called to live through a long and difficult ordeal of suffering or need, learn from Caleb and Joshua. They looked beyond the lesser giants challenging them and saw a bigger Giant…God!
As I See It (October 2009)
Most Christians would agree that life is an uneven journey with God’s unconditional guarantee that it will ultimately end well. This side of heaven some days seem more ragged, while other days abound with blue skies and clear sailing. I’ve discovered that how we experience life equates nicely with how churches make progress, too. Some days require heavy lifting while other days the burdens seem like a thing of the past.
As I look at Cornerstone Church’s brief eight-year history, it could be said that God has provided us with days of testing as well as days of unparalleled opportunity. Those who were there during our first years can recall unpacking the trailer and setting up “church out of the box.” Dropping off infants and toddlers at the band room was not a convenience but a necessity, because it was the only room with a carpet! Teachers carried and wheeled in their own teaching equipment and props because there was no place to store them. Preaching in the round with the video café looking at my back was always a challenge…mostly for them! However, those days provided us with a look into the heart of what the church is all about.
What were some of the earmarks that made our formative era so exceptional? Let me enumerate a few thoughts as a review for some and a fresh introduction for others. At our beginning these were our earmarks: Leaders were known for their humble service, vision and dedication to the mission. The congregation was known for grass roots involvement and commitment to be a community. Children were highly valued, not merely numbers on a class list. Teens were regarded with special honor. People were called by name and welcomed as friends. The worship was not ornate, but honest; and the preaching was clear and biblical. There was a fresh awareness and expectation that God was doing something extraordinary, and no one wanted to miss the boat. The vision for the world starting at our doorstep was cast with boldness.
Just in case you haven’t noticed…Cornerstone is growing and developing into a larger church with a broadening scope of ministries. Today our infants and toddlers enjoy a clean, welcoming nursery; our children learn God’s Word undistracted; our teens who were bounced around from place to place now have a well-equipped youth center; and our worship center is welcoming and ready for the praises of God.
Growth is normal, desirable, and a sign of the blessing of God on our church. But as we make our way down what seems like an easier part of the uneven journey, let’s not forget what got us here. Allow me to review: a commitment to prayer as the base for any decision or direction; leaders that are best known for their humble service; people who reject spectator Christianity in favor of authentic involvement; hard work; vision that compels; a strong commitment to world missions; a vital connection to be missional in the community beyond our doors; being real with God and real with people; affirming that hurting people are attracted to a loving community where they will be accepted; believing in and building the next generation of Christian leaders; and courageous obedience to the unwavering foundation of God’s Word as preached from the pulpit, taught in every class and lived out in every home.
What makes a church great does not begin with what most people see on the outside but what God sees in every heart. That’s how I see it.
Using Everything to Win the Battle (September 2009)
I was once a guest preacher at a historic church in Rome, Georgia. When I arrived on Saturday, I met the pastor who took me on a tour of his early American church. As we walked through the famous church grounds I could almost hear the voices of early patriots echo off the old red brick walls. The church’s celebrated history included an episode that I will never forget. During the civil war the church building was used by the Union army as a marshalling area. The harsh and bloody war raged as brothers sometimes fought to the death on opposite sides in the Confederate or Union armies. At a crucial turning point the Union armies needed supplies. Supply wagons were stopped at the bank of a nearby river without a ferry. In a creative move that rivals any war story, the commanding officer ordered that the wooden church pews be used to float the vital supplies to the starving Union soldiers on the other side of the river. Pews that were meant for sitting were now serving.
That story reminds me that Cornerstone Church is engaged in a spiritual battle for the eternal souls of every living person within our sphere of influence. Ephesians 6:12 reads: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world.” The Bible reveals that the church is not a playground but a battleground. Our mission is clear and the stakes couldn’t be higher. To win the battle we need soldiers who are willing to use all means at our disposal. Stated another way, we need to literally throw everything we have into the fray…our energy, our resources, our time, our talents, our prayers. The apostle Paul spoke of the creative commitment that should adorn the church. “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 9:22-23)
Cornerstone Church has been growing at a rapid pace. We are sharing in the blessings of the gospel as we witness the transformation of new believers who are following Jesus for the first time in their lives. To keep our growth well supplied we need to stay connected to Jesus who is the Vine (John 15), pray fervently and remain engaged in ministry. I am inviting you to come along with me and our gifted staff and dedicated volunteers to make this Fall the best we have ever experienced. Join a Community Group, volunteer for a ministry, lend your talent to the mix, give generously to resupply the efforts, pray without ceasing and expect great things from God. We already know how the story ends. “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)
The Road To Hope (August 2009)
Americans love to take to the open road during the summer. I’m not sure if it is a leftover from pioneer days of “manifest destiny” when our forefathers traveled west in search of new adventures or it is just the need of 21st century people to disconnect from the daily grind. Packing up the family car with all the camping gear is a familiar sight across this great land. America’s diverse beauty makes any postcard publisher smile with delight. Have you ever come to one of those moments in life when you are at a loss for words to describe your blessings? When that happens remember to read Ephesians 3:20, that says, Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory. A deeper work of God’s Spirit through the preaching of God’s Word
But taking to the open road is always an adventure because of the uncertainty that lies ahead. Perhaps that’s part of what makes summer vacations in the car so memorable. Who could forget a flat tire in the desert, engine trouble in the badlands or navigating a road washed out from a summer thunder storm? I vividly remember the day when our car slipped off the muddy road into the ditch. Yikes!
The Bible speaks of life as a road or path that we are called to travel. Here are a few examples of the truths we can find in Scripture about the road of life:
Matthew 7:17, “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life,
and only a few find it.”
Acts 2:28, “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me
with joy in your presence.”
Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge
of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”
2 Corinthians 6:3, “We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that
our ministry will not be discredited.”
John 14:6, “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes
to the Father except through Me.’”
According to Scripture, the road of life is narrow, is not easy to find, is sometimes mysterious, teaches us to care for others, and begins with knowing Jesus who is the way to heaven…our ultimate destination.
In the recent series “A Handle on Hope,” I tried to capture the road we travel in a few words. So many people asked for a copy of this description I decided to put it in print so you can keep it and ponder its message no matter where summer 2009 is taking you:
“THE ROAD TO HOPE IS NOT STRAIGHT…THERE IS A CURVE CALLED FAILURE …A LOOP CALLED CONFUSION…SPEED BUMPS CALLED TRIALS…RED LIGHTS CALLED ENEMIES…CAUTION LIGHTS CALLED FAMILY…AND FLATS CALLED SUFFERING.
BUT…IF I HAVE A TANK FULL OF LOVE…A SPARE CALLED DETERMINATION.. AN ENGINE CALLED PERSEVERANCE…INSURANCE CALLED FAITH…
MY GPS FIXED ON THE SECOND COMING…AND A DRIVER CALLED JESUS…I WILL MAKE IT TO A PLACE CALLED HEAVEN FILLED WITH HOPE!”
Blessed Beyond Imagination (July 2009)
God delights in showering us with more than we ever expected because His love for us and His grace toward us flows freely from His generous heart. The Bible gives us a glimpse into our eternal future when it paints this beautiful picture: And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6-7) Who could argue with that magnificent destiny for all who believe in Jesus!?
2009 is an Ephesians 3:20 year for Cornerstone. We have every reason to see ourselves through the lens of Ephesians 3:20. Who could have predicted on 9-11-01 when the founding faithful few met for prayer that God would raise up a church like the one we are today? The miracles God did along the way must always be remembered so that we never grow callous or proud and fall into the trap that ensnared O.T. Israel. In Deuteronomy 8:2 Moses said, Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way. Unfortunately, history records that ancient Israel forgot where their blessings came from and found themselves enslaved once again. Here are just a few of the many blessings we can count this past year:
First full year in our new facility - Hallelujah!
Explosive growth necessitating a second worship service
A worship life inspiring everyone to enthusiastically praise God
Significant growth in young families and children’s ministry
Satellite seminars for women and couples
Engaging ministries to youth and college students
Worldwide impact through our missions outreaches in Sudan, Uganda, Honduras, Thailand, Jordan, Haiti, India, Malawi, Mexico and more
Local impact in Long Beach through ministries like Urban Youth Workers, CSULB, Precious Lamb preschool, Wow Jam, Long Beach Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, National Day of Prayer, Hill Middle School, Kettering and Prisk Elementary Schools and more
Faithful giving so that Cornerstone more than met its budget requirements
A dedicated staff that is ready to serve
Elders who are unified, have a heart for God and who love to serve
Have you ever come to one of those moments in life when you are at a loss for words to describe your blessings? When that happens remember to read Ephesians 3:20, that says, Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory.
A deeper work of God’s Spirit through the preaching of God’s Word
Pass it along…that’s Cornerstone’s mission.
Secrets of Fruitfulness (June 2009)
“A fruitful life is a life of good deeds and pure speech that arises from Christ-like inner character that results in the spread of the gospel and the glory of God.”
There are four secrets to fruitfulness found in John 15. Let’s take a look at them.
Secret 1: Fruitfulness requires regular pruning. Verse 2, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes.”
Pruning sounds painful because it is painful! Who would be expert enough to know just when, how and where to prune? Prune too little and disease and weakness sets in… prune too much and the shock will stunt growth and limit production. Verse 1 says, “My father is the Gardener.” The skilled and loving hands of God the Father are perfect.
A fruitful life must be shaped by God’s pruning. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) What can God use to prune us?
|• Loss of health
• Broken relationships
• An unreasonable boss
• Death of a loved one
|• Financial problems
• Sudden tragic news
• Constant stress and pressure
• Marital struggles
What kinds of “dead wood” does God want to cut away from our lives?
• Seeking a life of pleasure
• Substance abuse
• Sexual sins
• Anger or rage
None of these destructive dead wood sins have any place in the life of a fruitful Christian.
Secret 2: Fruitfulness requires moral purity. Verse 3, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”
The garden must be disease-free in order to be fruitful. Unconfessed sin in your life is a disease that will choke the spiritual life out of you.
In God’s household, moral purity is a necessity for usefulness. Listen to what 2 Timothy 2:21 says: “If a man cleanses himself…he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared for any good work.” Sinless perfection is not required in order for God to use you. The fruitful Christian steers clear of sin and pursues a life of righteousness, but immediately and honestly confesses sin to God and even others when it occurs.
Secret 3: Fruitfulness requires power. John 15:4, 5 says, “No branch can bear fruit by itself…If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.”
When is the last time you saw a branch severed from a tree grow fruit? A stem severed from the plant grow a vegetable? These things never happen in the natural world; neither do they happen in the supernatural world.
Jesus is the inexhaustible source behind a fruitful life. This is why it is so important to stay disciplined in Bible study, worship, and prayer. These are the means of grace that God uses to connect us closer to Jesus and to the source of power to be fruitful.
Let me ask you: Where is God’s power operating in your life? Where can you see His power sustaining you, giving you encouragement, motivating you, giving you courage or lifting you above your human weaknesses? If you have nothing to point to, then you need to check your connection to Christ.
Secret 4: Fruitfulness results in answered prayer. Verse 7, “If you remain in me and my word remains in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you.”
The biggest word in this promise is the smallest word, “if.”
“If you abide in me”-- Prayer is not just saying the right words; it is having the right relationship with Jesus so that when you ask you will already be in His will.
“If my word abides in you”-- Prayer is not getting what you want, but taking hold of God’s promises until you receive God’s best for you.
Too often prayer is taken to be a “wish list” of things. God is our Provider but He wants us to seek Him for more.
God stands ready to make your life fruitful; it is His purpose for you. Is there any dead wood in the way? Has the disease of sin choked out the life? Is your prayer life flat and barren? Tap into these four secrets. Abide in Christ…remain in Him…get totally connected to Jesus.
Growth is Normal - Stagnation is Abnormal (May 2009)
Every year, Springtime makes a powerful statement around the world. God created the world with a built-in need to grow and reproduce. It doesn’t matter whether you are in Long Beach, U.S.A. or Lilongwe, Africa, Spring is a time when nature accelerates with new life.
I believe Cornerstone is entering a time in its history that is analogous to spring. Every ministry is experiencing increased life and growth. To borrow a word from nature; we are “blossoming.” Jesus taught His followers about the secret of growth in John 15. What can we learn about spiritual growth from Jesus?
Three general laws of the garden:
Law 1: The purpose of life is bearing fruit (John 15:16). “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” In numerous places in the Bible, life is compared to a garden. The purpose of the garden is to produce fruit. How frustrating it would be to till the soil, plant the seeds, tend and water them, weed the garden and then have no return. God’s plan is that your life would produce fruit that will last not just for a season but forever. Fruit bearing is God’s life plan for you.
Law 2: A plant is recognized by its fruit (Luke 6:43-44). “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.” There’s an old saying that “you can’t fool mother nature.” A sour apple tree produces sour apples. A thorn bush produces prickly thorns. A sweet peach tree produces sweet peaches. The point of this: Other people know you by the fruit you produce. Spiritual DNA is a fact. Sour people with a negative attitude are drawing that bitterness from deep inside. Prickly people who wound others with their harsh and piercing words and actions are bad-tempered because they are drawing from a belligerent source. Angry people who lash out are feeding themselves on a sick source. People who exude love and grace are drawing that sweetness of disposition from a source deep inside. People are known by their deeds.
Law 3: A fruitless plant is a worthless weed (Luke 13: 5-7). “Then he (Jesus) told this parable: A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’” There is no room in God’s garden for fruitless Christians. In the end, all fruitlessness is judged and discarded. 2 Corinthians 5:10 tells us that everything we do on this earth will be evaluated by Jesus and either rewarded or discarded. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” That is not meant to be a threat as much as it is an encouragement to build your life with the right things. The point of our earthly life is to end it and stand before Jesus to receive a “well done” from Him.
So if the point of life is fruitfulness, how does a Christian become fruitful? Before I answer that question, let’s define what fruitfulness is from God’s perspective.
Definition of fruitfulness:
1. Relevant Scripture where the word “fruit” is used of the Christian life gives us the clues we need to understand what it means to bear fruit. Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Hebrews 13:15, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of our lips, that confess His name.” Colossians 1:6, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you.” Colossians 1:10, “That you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work.”
a. The fruit of Galatians 5 is a list of Christ-like inner character qualities – the character of a fruitful Christian.
b. The fruit of Hebrews 13 is a mouth that speaks language that glorifies God – the language of a fruitful Christian.
c. Rhe fruit of Colossians 1:6 is the growth of the church through the spread of the gospel – the mission of a fruitful Christian.
d. The fruit of Colossians 1:10 is a life of good deeds done in service to God – the business of a fruitful Christian.
So what does it mean to be fruitful? A fruitful life is a life of good deeds and pure speech that arises from Christ-like inner character that results in the spread of the gospel and the glory of God.
How can a Christian become more fruitful? Jesus used an analogy in John 15 to teach His disciples the secrets of living a fruitful life that will reap rewards for eternity. These secrets are the evidences that mark a disciple as connected to Jesus the true vine. Next month’s newsletter will give you the secrets of being fruitful.
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