Pastors Column – October 2020

“Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” – Romans 5:5
Cornerstone Friends and Family,

          Why the wilderness? Some of you may be asking this. You may be thinking one or many of the following things: “Why are we in this wilderness?” “Why do we have to talk about being in the wilderness? I would rather ignore it.” “When can we move out of this wilderness?” I can only answer the second question. My decision to name and talk about the wilderness weekly as a church body was not random. Recognizing this reality allows us to grow, trust, and move forward together. It helps to remind us that we need one another and, most importantly, we need the guidance and provision of the Lord. This morning I was moved by a song written by a colleague of mine, Wendell Kimborough. The chorus is as follows: “But when the storm comes we will need each other // When the winds rise, we will need each other // When we’re picking up the pieces of the way things used to be // I will stand with you, will you stand with me?” (For those interested, the full song is posted on my Facebook page). These lyrics reminded me that my trust and faith in God call me to stand with the communities I am involved with when the storm comes and when the winds rise. I wonder how God is calling you each to stand with one another in the wilderness. (And to be sure, any one of us might identify our current wilderness differently: political division, continued racial injustice, a pandemic, church uncertainty, an inability to meet, the loss of loved ones… the list continues).
          For many of us, this is not the first wilderness we have endured. Many of us have experienced wilderness seasons either personally or communally in the past. Our world, nation, community, and church have all experienced some sort of wilderness seasons before. The question in the wilderness is this: “Where is your faith in the wilderness?”. Is your faith in the government? A vaccine? Legislation? A pastor? Knowing all the answers? Understanding the future? Or is your faith in the Lord, the God of Heaven and Earth who is with us, who goes before us, and who has a deep concern for the lives of His people? Consider the words of Moses to the doubting and afraid Israelites whose faith was in stability, not in the power of the Lord: “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still” (Ex. 14:13-14).
         The stillness requires patience, trust, and hope. If you look back at the Israelite’s complaint that Moses is responding to see, I truly believe that while the Israelites were certainly lacking faith, trust, and patience, the reason for their despairing cries was that they did not have hope. They found themselves in front of a sea with armies approaching and they believed that nothing good was in front of them. In believing that nothing good was ahead of them, they cried out in frustration, saying that they would rather return to the “stability” of their enslavement than die in the wilderness. Hopelessness made those two outcomes the only options, but God had plans to lead them another way. Moses reminded them that God was leading them, fighting for them, and delivering them. God is leading us, fighting for us, delivering us, providing for us! Hopelessness, without fail, will blind us from these truths. Hope, on the other hand, will reveal this truth like never before.
         As Christians, we are called to a hope that is beyond our current circumstances, beyond our current knowledge, and larger than our perception of the situations we find ourselves in. Speaking of the transformative power of faithful hope, N.T. Wright says, “People who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present” (Surprised by Hope, 214). I am urging you to not lose hope and to not give way to despair in this season. When the easy thing to do would be to spiral into despair, our Christian witness calls us to rise above in hope and to work with passion and expectation for all things to be made new, to be made right, to be made just, as the resurrection of Christ promises us is possible and as God’s deliverance of the Israelites shows us is possible. What might God be showing you in this time? What might God be calling you to hope for? How is God shaping, forming, and molding us during this season? Consider the call to hope we receive in the book of Romans, “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). Hope will not disappoint you. God has not abandoned us. Trust God, cling to one another, and look forward with a deep and rooted hope in the God who brings salvation, reconciliation, healing, peace, and justice, and follow our God, who also calls us to step forward boldly into that work.

Church family, I’ll see you at our Zoom service this Sunday, where members will share testimonies from wilderness seasons. The power of testimony is that it reminds us to have hope and faith. Let us be filled with hope together. May the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and minds this day and may hope lead and guide us all in this season.

Pastor Ashley

Cornerstone Church Family, – September 2020

Let me start by greeting you in the way that the Apostle Paul often greeted the churches he wrote to: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:3). As Paul greets this church, he offers them two things that are always readily available to them: grace and peace. I’m a person who is usually very aware of my flaws, so the idea that grace is always available to me is truly a hopeful message, one that is easy for me to understand. I know that as often as I breathe, I am in need of God’s grace. And even more often, God offers that grace to me. On the other hand, I’ve really been reflecting on that idea of peace lately. In Philippians 4 (and many other places in the scriptural epistles), Paul speaks again of this idea of peace. We read the following, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).
Two things have carried me in this past season: God’s presence and God’s peace. Undoubtedly, you’ve heard me speak of these things and pray for these things almost every Sunday. As we have encountered trial and difficulty, I have prayed for the peace that surpasses all understanding. Part of the reason this peace surpasses understanding is because it doesn’t make sense to those who don’t know Christ, who don’t find themselves in the presence of Jesus. Yet in this past week, I have started to realize that this peace is something more. A cultural understanding of peace sets peace in opposition to conflict. Consider two dictionary definitions I found simply by typing the word “peace” into Google: “a state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended” and “freedom from disturbance; tranquility.” Regardless of how much I pray for “peace that surpasses understanding,” I still think of peace as an end-goal. Peace will come when the conflict is over. Peace will come when the pandemic has ended. Peace will come when there is no struggle. Peace will come when my heart is no longer broken. Peace will come when justice reigns. Peace will come when I can join hands with my fellow believers again. Peace will come when I am no longer grieving. Peace will come when I no longer experience pain. Peace will come when…
Then I return to the verse from Philippians. “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. If peace were truly the end goal, the complete absence of conflict and struggle, why would this peace need to guard me? By guard, I don’t just mean protect us physically, but this peace actually guards our hearts and minds. Miraculously, this is the power of the peace that comes from Jesus. In the storm, in the turmoil, in the pandemic, in the grieving, in the pain, in the struggle, God’s peace guards us.
This Sunday, we will look at the story of Peter walking on water with Jesus in Matthew 14, as we conclude our series, “In God’s Presence”. No matter how many times I read the story, I still picture Peter walking on a tranquil, still lake, like in the scene from Bruce Almighty where he walks (dances around) on the calm water. But that is not how the story goes. When Peter steps out of the boat, the wind is strong and the waves are raging, and yet, through a peace that passes understanding, through a peace that is protecting him, Peter walks on water. In the presence of Jesus, Peter receives enough courage to get out of the boat and enough peace to take a few steps, even in a storm. Had he just allowed Jesus to keep protecting him, he could’ve kept walking. Had he just kept his eyes on Jesus, the protection would have continued. The miracle is that even when he took his eyes off of Jesus and began to sink, Jesus “immediately reached out his hand and caught him”. Jesus protected him, even when he was doubting.
Friends, I know these days are hard. I know your hearts may be weary. I know your minds may be racing and troubled. The waves feel tumultuous. The unknowns may be raging against you like a strong wind. Stay in the presence of the Lord and allow this miraculous peace to guard your hearts and minds. Even in the storm, you can walk on water. Even in the chaos, peace is guarding you. Even in the turmoil, you can be in the presence of Christ. My friends, we are there together. I am here with you, more in need of Christ’s presence and peace today than ever before. May we experience the presence of God and the peace of Christ in this month.

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Ashley

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