March 4, 2021 Pastor Ashley’s Column

Church Family,

In our devotional reading yesterday, Rachel Dodd reminded us about the bread from heaven in Exodus 16 as she reflected on Jesus as the bread of life, the sustenance for our souls. Today, our devotional took us back to Exodus 16 to reflect on this story of manna from heaven in the wilderness. If you haven’t had a chance, go read it really quick! It’s a miraculous story of God’s provision for God’s people when things seemed grim. God provided in a way that the people never expected. Would you expect bread and quail to fall from the heavens? Me neither. I think that even though the Israelites had seen the miraculous ways in which God provided, they were quick to forget God’s provisions. God instructed them not to keep the food overnight, because more would come the next day. As the day wore on, their trust waned, and some hoarded food, not trusting in God’s provision for the next day and failing to remember how God had already provided.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the wilderness this week. The wilderness we find ourselves in as we grapple with the realities of COVID-19, mental and physical health challenges, grief, change, unrest, injustice. I’m not sure if each one of these is its own wilderness, or if compiled together they are what make the wilderness we still find ourselves in. But I know that from where I stand, I see glimpses of hope, change, and resurrection. Yes, this is because I look forward to Easter with great anticipation during this Lenten season, but it is also because I feel encouraged about the possibility of a future when it is safe to gather again. This is also what I know: we aren’t quite there yet. Like a child who rounds the corner to see the park come into view or the Israelite who finally glimpses the promised land, I want to take off sprinting to that new reality, the long-awaited hope and joy, the return to “normal”. In my eager desire to run off to the next thing, I can miss the provision of God right here, in this moment. It is even more scary to think that I could forget God’s provision altogether, thinking that the only way in which God would provide would be in the “promised land” or in the future.

Why did we spend the whole fall talking about the wilderness? It is because I truly believe that in the wilderness God is forming us, providing for us, and walking with us. Provision is not some future, distant reality. God is providing for us now. God is with us. In Psalm 78, God’s people challenge the question of God’s provision, asking “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness? True, he struck the rock, and water gushed out, streams flowed abundantly, but can he also give us bread? Can he supply meat for his people?” It’s a silly question, because if you’ve read the testimony of Exodus 16, you know that God already has set a table for his people in the wilderness. Manna fell from the sky and they were provided for. God gave them ample instructions on how to live, grow, and worship in the wilderness. They didn’t merely survive the wilderness, but they were formed, changed, discipled, and cared for in the wilderness. The wilderness, which seemed barren, dark, and empty, offered bread falling from the sky, new life from the dust, and hope for an even better future to come. Not to mention, the wilderness was the Israelites refuge from bondage and slavery.

So today, I am asking something difficult of you. I know this ask is not easy, and I’ll affirm that it is not easy for me, either. I’m asking you to sit down at this table that the Lord has set for us in the wilderness. I am asking you to allow God to provide for us right where we are, in the ways that only the Lord can. I know the return to “normal” is coaxing us, but as we sit here at this table in the wilderness for a little longer, take a moment to consider how God has formed you. What has God been teaching you, teaching us? How has God provided for you? How has this wilderness been a refuge from ways of living that were dominating and controlling your life? What further provision and teaching might God have for you at this table in the wilderness? What will we carry with us from this wilderness season into what is to come next? What will change in you, in us, because of this wilderness season? These are not just hypothetical or rhetorical questions. I challenge you to grab a pen and write down some of your answers to these questions. If you feel like sharing, I would be overjoyed to hear some reflections from you. I want to hear how God has been forming you, and also how God has been forming our church during this journey in the wilderness. I want to sit down at a table, in the wilderness, and spend some time reflecting with you as we look forward to the hope that is to come.  

Thank you for walking with me through this wilderness,

Pastor Ashley

P.S. As an additional note, I will mention that I am grieved to be walking through another Lent and Easter season under COVID restrictions. I know many of you are grieved as well. There is no band-aid to fix this grief. I must continually remind myself that loving my neighbor and protecting others is something that has taken immense sacrifice in this season, so I just want to thank each one of you for continuing to sacrifice on behalf of others. I also want you to know that I am working on re-establishing our team to make plans for further church re-opening, which will be implemented when it is safe, and the guidelines allow. If you are interested in serving on this team, please let me know. I look forward to seeing your faces this Sunday for our Zoom service, as we welcome four new members into our congregation!

February 4, 2021 Pastor Ashley’s Column

My friends in Christ,

Grace and peace today! Though many of you may have already heard this, I wanted to take a quick moment to give a few important staffing updates for our church. Elliott Rinehart and his family have made the decision to move back to California and be closer to family. While we are so sad to see them go (and especially grieved that we had to meet at a distance the whole time they were here), we are supportive of their journey and continue to pray for Elliott, Kessa, and Abraham. They have already made the move back to California and Felicia Johnson has agreed to step in and support High School youth group as the Interim Youth Director in this season. She will, of course, continue on in her great work with Club 56 and Middle School students and is excited to deepen her relationships with the high schoolers in our church and greater community. Thank you, Felicia!

Speaking of Felicia, I would encourage you to follow one of our Youth Facebook pages (either CSYG or Cornerstone Middle School Youth Page) as Felicia will be sharing #BlackBiblicalHistory in honor of Black History Month every Thursday in February. Today, she shared an honest and vulnerable post that talked not only about her experiences and insight, but also interesting Biblical facts that lift up the importance of black folks in the Bible. This month, I hope you will find new ways to explore and learn about Black History. Here is an excerpt of Felicia’s post this morning that presses us with that challenge even more clearly: “So I challenge you to continue to listen but at some point ask God what role do you play in changing the way things are happening… We must do more to educate and effect change.” Thank you, Felicia, for your bold and clear voice this month. I also want to invite you to join me for a webinar hosted by Seattle Pacific Seminary this month, where we will welcome Rev. Dr. Esau McCaulley, author of Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope. This is another opportunity to celebrate Black History month and learn more about the African American experience in the United States as it intersects with our faith. The webinar will take place on February 24th at 7 PM. Please contact me if you need assistance registering for this free event.

As another staffing update, I wanted to let you know that I have agreed to stay on as your Interim Pastor through the rest of the appointment year. This means we have about five more months together, and I will transition out of this role at the end of June. Cornerstone will receive a newly appointed, full-time pastor on July 1st, 2021. I encourage you to be praying for this person, for their leadership, and for the next season that Cornerstone will embark on together. In the months I have left serving with you, I hope that we can continue to have conversations of healing and growth. My prayer is that you will reach out to me with your concerns and questions so that we can work together in this season.

Last week at our leadership meeting, I shared the following passage with our group. It comes from Colossians 3:12-17:“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

I will be the first to admit that this past season has had its share of difficulties. As we stated time and again, it felt as though Cornerstone was (and is) enduring a significant wilderness season. Yet as I read these verses, I imagine what it would look like for us to truly take them seriously, how we might be transformed in the wilderness. What if our faith and relationships with one another were truly clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, because these are the garments which shield us from the harshness of the wilderness? What if we truly bore with one another in love, even when things got tough and the terrain felt difficult to navigate, because bearing with one another in love is the only way we are able to traverse through the wilderness.

I do believe that this church has been a testament to love binding us together in harmony, but there have been and will be difficult seasons in which that love is tested, harmony feels like a distant memory, and thankfulness feels harder to come by. In those moments, it is our rhythms of allowing the “word of Christ to dwell” among us, our ability to teach and admonish one another in love and grace, the desire to sing together in community, and the decision to commit all our words and deeds to Jesus that will carry the body of Christ and the people of Cornerstone through difficult terrain and wilderness seasons. Did you catch that we are not only to teach one another, but also admonish? This is a word that is synonymous with reprimanding or warning someone. It is only in a community in which the peace of Christ rules and love binds us together that we can look at one another and say: “What you are doing is harming the community. It is harming my brothers and sisters, it is breaking apart the fellowship, and it is jeopardizing the love that binds us together.” Only when we are truly bound together in love can we say these things in grace and humility, while expecting them to be received with understanding and humility. And only when we are looking at ourselves clearly and open to also receiving admonishment are we able to make these statements in love. Make no mistake; this work will take everyone. It will take humility, compassion, kindness, meekness, and patience. The reward for this work is a body of believers that are bound together even more tightly in love as they step out of the wilderness.

This group of believers, the faithful people at Cornerstone Church, continues to amaze me. You have stuck with one another through trial and uncertainty, through difficult seasons and the inability to meet, and you look at one another in love. I challenge you to take this mutual affection for one another into the coming season, with a desire to love one another and our community even more fervently through the love which we have received from Christ. And be thankful, because when I look around at all of you (usually on a Zoom screen, these days), I see so many reasons to be thankful in the faces of my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. May God bless these comings days, weeks, and months in the life of our Cornerstone family.

In the Love and Grace and Christ,

Pastor Ashley
ashley.skinner91@gmail.com

Pastor Ashley Newsletter Column Jan. 7, 2021

Cornerstone Church Family,

My hope for my newsletter article today was that I could write a message of encouragement for 2021, but instead I write to you the day after shocking and tragic events took place in Washington, D.C, during the presidential certification in Congress yesterday. As I scrolled through social media and watched the news yesterday, I felt overtook by the weight and gravity of all that was taking place, and has taken place, in our country over this last year. I suspect that many of you, as well, are feeling this way. Perhaps you resonate with one (or more) of these words: burdened, grieved, distraught, fearful, angry, sorrowful. We hold these things with the weight of many others, including the ongoing heaviness of the COVID-19 pandemic, the difficulty of loss, the uncertainty of the future (both personally and communally), troubled hearts for those who are sick and struggling in this time, and likely many other burdens that you can think of. In the Christian faith, there is a word for this – for what it means to bring these things to the Lord. That word is lament; it means to feel or express sorrow or regret, to mourn. In fact, there is a whole book in our Bible expressing lament, the book of Lamentations. I’ve always been particularly drawn to Lamentations 3, which moves back and forth between words of trust and hope and words of honest lament and sorrow. You see, when we lament, we’re not complaining, but instead we are being emotionally vulnerable and honest with our merciful and loving, gracious and good Father. We speak honestly about the state of ourselves, our communities, and our world.

In our staff meeting today, I took our staff through a practice of lament that I have become familiar with through a friend. I would like to take all of you through this, as well. So, if you have time, prepare to pause. Grab a pen and paper, as well as your Bible (I won’t be writing out the Scripture text for you, so you will need your Bible). Turn off the distractions. Find a somewhat quiet space. Mute your email notifications, put your phone down (unless, of course, you are reading this on your phone), turn off the news, silence twitter and Facebook. If you don’t have time right now, I would encourage you to come back to this at some point when you have about fifteen minutes to spare. It will be time well spent with the Lord, an anchor for your soul, I hope. Open the Bible to Psalm 13. This is a very short psalm that I am certain you have heard me speak about before. I constantly go back to this psalm because of its simplicity. Visually, and thematically, this psalm is broken into three parts.

  • Verses 1-2 are clear words of lament. As David cries out repeatedly, “How long”, you hear the anguish and sorrow in his voice. He is expressing his sorrow for his current situation. He is being emotionally honest with the Lord about the things which are grieving him, about that with which he is struggling.
  • Verses 3-4 are words of petition. David does not simply pour out his heart and walk away, but instead he asks the Lord to act. He boldly tells the Lord what he needs, asking to hear from the Lord, to receive the light of God.
  • Finally, verses 5-6 are words of hope, faith, and remembrance. Most importantly, these words remember God’s past faithfulness and goodness to stir in his heart faith and hope for the current circumstance. David recalls how he always trusts in God, because God’s love is steadfast. He remembers the joy of his salvation, the ways that God has “dealt bountifully” or been good to him in the past.

And this is David’s prayer. So, I want you to do the same. I want you to take ten minutes and simply write to the Lord. You could choose to follow the Psalm very closely, writing your words in a psalm-like form, or you could simply just journal freely through each of these stages:

  • First, write your words of lament: what are you grieved by, burdened by, overwhelmed by, angered by, confused by? What sorrows are you carrying? Write these words down. God longs to hear from you, to heal the deep hurt in your heart.
  • Second, write your words of petition. Boldly ask for God’s presence in your circumstance, for God to guide your path and light the way, for God to offer mercy and step into our brokenness, both personally and communally. Write these words down. God longs to hear your needs and provide for his people.
  • Finally, write your words of remembrance, your words of faith and hope. How has God been good to you? What truth from the Lord do you cling to? Where do you remember God’s faithfulness in the past so that you can have faith and hope for today? Where can you see God’s faithfulness and action in Scripture that gives you hope for how God will deal with the circumstances of our time? Write these words down. Not only does God long to hear from you but writing these words can be a balm to our own brokenness.

I hope that in this time you heard from the Lord, that you were able to breathe out the mix of heavy emotions swirling within and breathe in the goodness of God’s faithfulness and guidance. May you experience the peace of Christ as you continue in this week. I will see you Sunday at our Zoom lobby!

Blessings,

Pastor Ashley

ashley.skinner91@gmail.com

Pastor Ashley Creek December Newsletter Column

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Happy Advent! As I mentioned in a variety of different ways during last Sunday’s service, 2020 has been quite the year. It has been rocky and there has been a lot of waiting. Amidst all of that, there has been beauty, light, and creativity. Even in seasons of waiting, God is working. A few weeks ago, we gathered on Zoom for our annual All-Church Meeting. Towards the end of our time together, we celebrated the many ways God has been faithful to lead and guide us this year. Like the Israelites who broke out in song and dance in the middle of the wilderness, we took a moment to lift up thanks and praise for all that God has done in and through Cornerstone this past year. Kimberley put together a great video of some of those moments.

Now we find ourselves in Advent. The temptation is to rush through Advent and allow 2020 to fade away in the rear-view mirror as though it never happened. We must not do this. Instead, we have to look at what 2020 brought out of us, how it revealed who we are, and how God showed us who we need to be. I’ve had conversations with some of you about how you have connected with God more deeply in this season than ever before. Many of you have strengthened your dependance on and trust in God in this season. Our homes have turned into places of worship, living rooms have become appropriate places to break out in song and go to the Lord in prayer. Through our Zoom lobby, new connections have been made between people across generations and among people who normally go to different services or don’t see one another on Sunday.

At the same time, 2020 has also shown us the places where we need refining and growth. A group gathered this summer to talk honestly about how we, as individuals, and the church can engage in the work of racial reconciliation. One of the most politically divisive seasons I can recall challenged us to decide whether we would engage in difficult conversations or simply assume the worst of our brothers and sisters with whom we disagree. COVID has tested how we love our neighbors and protect and serve one another. The pandemic has also led us to evaluate our relationship with the Lord, our commitment to worship and community, and our ability to trust God and engage with one another even when things are less than ideal. Crisis within our church has required us to rely on one another, step into new roles, and depend on the Spirit to guide us. As I write these things, I recognize that there are some areas in which I have done well, and others in which I have fallen woefully short. Perhaps you feel the same way, too. That’s the funny thing about being human; no matter how much we try, we all fall short of perfection. Times of great trial often reveal both our strengths and the area where we are being called to grow. This is why we are continually reminded in the Scriptures to be putting on Christ. In clothing ourselves with Christ, we clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” and “we bear with one another… and forgive each other” and most importantly, we “clothe ourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:12-14).

In Advent, we don’t wait idlily, but we are also called to prepare. In preparing, we honestly examine ourselves and consider where Christ is calling us into greater holiness and deeper acts of love. Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains this quite boldly, “God comes in the midst of evil, in the midst of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And in judging it, he loves us, he purifies us, he sanctifies us, he comes to us with his grace and love.” We can look truthfully at our imperfections because we have the knowledge of Christ’s grace and love; we know that God’s desire is that we would be made new. As we fully lean into the season of Advent, we would be remiss to simply wait for Christ to deliver us out of a dark year. We are also challenged to “prepare him room” in our hearts and allow Christ to sanctify us further so that we may be a people who are more ready for what is to come not only in 2021, but also for Christ’s ultimate return in glory. May we not be like the ones in Bethlehem who had no room for Christ (Luke 2:7). Instead, may we intentionally consider how we are being called to make more room for Christ within our hearts in this season and in seasons to come. My hope for you is this: While we may look back and see how 2020 has challenged us beyond belief, notice also how it has refined you, sanctified you, revealed truth to you, and encouraged you to grow.

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,

make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,

and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

and the rough places a plain.

The glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

and all people shall see it together,

for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

  • Isaiah 40:3-5

May we prepare faithfully together. See you at 10 AM this Sunday for our Advent Zoom service!

In Christ’s Peace,

Pastor Ashley

Pastor Ashley Column November 5, 2020

My Dear Friends at Cornerstone,

Grace and peace to you from God, this day. On Tuesday, I read the following from another Pastor I know:

*inhale*

“The Lord is our refuge and strength”

*exhale*

“A very present help in trouble”

It reminded me of our first Zoom service, where we used this response to read the words of Psalm 46 together. I would encourage you to go back and read this Psalm today. In Psalm 46, we hear the Psalmist proclaim the truth that regardless of what might come, God will be our: refuge, strength, and very present help. So often, we can end up tokenizing Scripture. What do I mean by that? Well, by tokenize, I mean that we have a Scripture printed on a shirt, tattooed on our arm, or hung in our home and, while the words are comforting or encouraging, we forget to let those words actually sink to the deep places of our souls. We don’t always let them truly transform the way we live. What does it really mean for you that God is our refuge and our strength? How does it change your outlook when the Psalmist reminds us that because God is our refuge and strength, we need not fear, even though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea? Change, turbulence, shaking, trembling: these are fitting words for 2020. Don’t allow the words of this Psalm to just be something you read or say but let them sink deep into your soul: God is our refuge and strength, throughout time God has been the refuge and strength for all of God’s people. Through famine and plague, war and peace, unrest and stability, in all the many things this world and the church has been through, God is the refuge. God is the strength. Right now, God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.

Now, we might identify the “trouble” differently, but we gather our hearts together knowing that God is our refuge and our strength. The trouble may be election anxiety, uncertainty about the future, the weight of COVID stress, the hard situations our church has been navigating, or something else. But I want to urge us to remember this: that at this time and in this season, we first and foremost need the Lord as our strength and refuge, AND we need one another. We need to show up to hard conversations with grace, curiosity, and hope. We can do really do this, because the Lord is our strength and makes this possible. We need to lean into the truth that we are a church family. That means caring for the vulnerable in our community, praying for one another, coming together in the highs and the lows, and making the decision that come what may, we will lift one another up as brothers and sisters. On our hardest days, we can do truly do this, because the Lord is our refuge and strength both individually and communally. We must remember and recognize this truth.

I remain steadfast in believing that God is alive and active in this community. Last week’s Zoom service was a celebration of the faithfulness of God. We joined for prayer, we lifted up those who passed into God’s care this year, we heard powerful words of testimony from Missy Kuester and Lorena Saxton, we rejoiced as our 3rd graders received Bibles and had a word spoken over them, we sang together, and we broke break together. We did these things together, as a family. So, I want to look forward to what is coming up in the next season for worship, the opportunities to engage in worship together even though we may be apart.

Here is a glimpse at our upcoming services through Advent, including where you can access each service:

  • November 8th (on YouTube & Facebook) – “Moses’ Intercession” in Exodus 33:12-23; Pastor Ashley Creek
  • November 15th (on YouTube & Facebook) – “Missed Opportunity” in Numbers 13 & 14; Pastor Jerry Ableidinger
  • November 22nd (on YouTube & Facebook) – “Covenant Renewal” in Exodus 34; Rachel Dodd
  • November 29th (on YouTube & Facebook) – First Sunday of Advent
  • December 6th (Service On Zoom) – Testimonies in Advent & Communion
  • December 13th (on YouTube & Facebook) – Cornerstone Christmas Pageant
  • December 20th (on YouTube & Facebook) – Fourth Sunday of Advent
  • December 27th (Service On Zoom) – Christmas Worship!

Additionally, Christmas is upon us and we are excited to be offering a variety of unique and safe opportunities this Christmas. Above, you’ve already seen some plans for Advent, including our Christmas Pageant on the 13th! Be sure to keep an eye out for more details from Mrs. Karen. For Christmas Eve, the Believe team was excited about how we could plan safe and special opportunities for worship together.

Here is the Christmas Eve Schedule:

  • Facebook Premieres of our Christmas Eve Service at 4 & 7 PM so you can watch at the same time as your church family (the service will also be uploaded to YouTube, in case these service times don’t work)
  • A special Christmas Eve Zoom service with carols and communion at 9 PM. The Zoom service is in addition to the Facebook/Youtube services and will be an opportunity to sing together, share in communion, and end the night with Silent Night by candlelight. This is a different service than the ones on Facebook and Youtube.
  • We are also preparing Christmas Eve kits that you will be able to pick up at the church on December 20th. More details to come.

You will be able to celebrate Christmas at home from wherever you are this year. Together, as a church family, we will join our hears for worship virtually, knowing that God connects us in Spirit. We will remember the night in which Jesus was born, alone with only his parents, in a stable in their hometown. Though it will be different than usual, we do believe that God will move within our Church family this Christmas season and in these upcoming Sundays. We pray that you will commit to this journey with us, as a family. May it be so, and may God bless this season for our church.

In Christ,

Pastor Ashley

ashley.skinner91@gmail.com Sign Up to Meet with Ashley: https://calendly.com/skinnera3/pastoral-meeting

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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Hope – October 2018

Pastor’s Column

Hopelessness.

The belief that there isn’t possibility. That things cannot get better. That life cannot be good.

Despair seemingly so prevalent in our world today.

The two beautiful teens who took their own lives last month.

The monstrous issues of homelessness and poverty, right in our own backyard.

Political divisiveness with no end in sight.

So many loved ones we all know fighting unfair illnesses, both physical and mental. Or saddled with terrible grief. Or brokenness inside hearts, or couples, or families.

From environmental issues to human rights issues to the break-neck pace of life, to so many, many people who live out their days seemingly without knowledge of the love God has for them.

Hopelessness is everywhere.  If you’re like me, which is to say human, you probably experience it from time to time yourself.  Maybe even a lot, when life gets hard.

That’s why, as Christian peoples, it’s so important we keep our eyes, hearts and minds fixed on the message of God’s love in who Christ is.  In a world with so much suffering, and darkness, and death, to remember that God cares – and Jesus is the proof. That God cares so much He sent His own life into the world, to take our place in death, and to restore to us what we have lost in this sin-sick world: hope.  Hope of new life. Hope of reconciliation with God. Hope and a future.

And hope that God’s Holy Spirit is here with us, right now, in the thick of things, not distant from hurt or suffering or shame, but gifting us with grace and mercy and truth and empowering us toward holiness – those good choices God invites us all to make.

God gives a resounding answer to our despair. And His answer is to restore hope.

Because when we use that word “hope,” it’s not an uncertain hope, like, “I hope the Seahawks win,” or a fleeting hope, “I hope the ‘check engine’ light in my car goes out on its own,” but rather it’s a certain hope:  “Jesus died and rose. And so shall we.” “Jesus defeats sin, and lives in me.” “God loves me, and Jesus proves it.”

Where do you need to be reminded of that hope we are offered in Christ? Where is despair unchecked in your life?

And who around you needs some help, to have someone point a little light into their darkness?

Where might the Holy Spirit be tugging at your sleeve, or your heart, encouraging, “Talk with that person! See them in their plight! Pray with her! Share with him! Show them you care! Show them I care!…”

For God has given us a sure and certain hope. And our community, our world, the people around us – they need to hear and see that there is hope to be found.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

            For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  Romans 8:24-25

            Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and 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 5:1-5

What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.  Luke 18:27

Grateful to be on the journey of hope with you,

Pastor James Murphy

Pastor’s Column – September 6, 2018

 

“Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me,

and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me”  Luke 9:48

 

Pastor’s Column:  More Than Welcoming

In late August our Church Leadership Team (CLT) gathered for our fall program review to cover all God has before us as we move into the last four months of 2018.  There was much to highlight, from annual events like Friendsgiving and the Vine Maple Place Christmas Party, to class kickoffs like the three Women’s Studies, new seasons for Children’s Church, Youth Groups and Club 56, and a renewed emphasis on a food drive and some new fellowship opportunities.  God has a lot before us!

But one of the critical conversations among leadership that night was how we as a faith fellowship are doing when it comes to welcoming newcomers and indoctrinating new people into the life of our congregation. It has been suggested by some recent newcomers that Cornerstone is friendly, that we feel like “home,” but that we’re also a pretty hard group of people to get to know beneath the surface.  We’re welcoming, but we’re not great at going deeper – that is, creating relationships and friendships and growing in connection with the people around us.  Rather, as is the case with so many churches, singles, couples or families can come to us, come to our services, worship and pray and sing, and then go home — and come away without feeling like they got to know us better. And vice versa.

Currently we rely heavily on newcomers plugging themselves in to our ministries.  We host open fellowship gatherings (we just had a season full of them, from the Block Party, to the Softball BBQ, to Lazy F retreat), we ask for folks to “sign up” to serve or to gather.  But as was pointed out at CLT – not everyone is comfortable taking those steps.

Meanwhile, other than our pastors and our hospitality team, we do not have any designated outreach people.  And if Pastor James is the only one to learn someone’s name, folks figure that out pretty quick.

Once upon a time Cornerstone actually had a paid position to assist with this work, and we discussed whether that would be a good move going forward.  It could also be a volunteer with a heart for getting to know both the people we have and to spot folks who are new.  We recognize we MUST improve in this area – both in welcoming, and in indoctrination.

I invite those with a passion for growing our church to reach out and talk with me.  How has your experience been in connection here at Cornerstone? Do you know the people around you on a Sunday morning? Can you identify who is new? Would you like to help us in the vital work of growing our community? I’ll point out under this umbrella that our Ministry Fair is coming this Sunday the 9th – that’s a great opportunity to plug into our greeters/hospitality team, or Share team who does more community outreach.

We are known as a friendly group who love God, love worship, and are trying to be more active in serving our neighbors.  But we also need to develop a culture where any of our people can become ambassadors for the Church – reaching out to those around us we don’t know. This cannot be the work of a small team or of a select few. Welcoming, drawing in and creating new relationships – that is the work of all church members.

This is a real need for us.  I hope you’ll join me in developing a new approach, and taking intentional steps in changing our culture from just friendly – to becoming a true center for disciple-making.

Grateful to be on the journey together,

Pastor James Murphy

Pastor’s Column:  Women and our Denomination

Pastor’s Column:  Women and our Denomination

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  Genesis 1:27

Friends, we shouldn’t have to say it, but it needs to be affirmed:  The Holy Spirit has worked through women and men, from the Old Testament to the New Testament to today, loving and growing and empowering a wide diversity of peoples.  An important testament of the Scriptures is God’s great caring for and empowerment of women in His kingdom.  Which includes a very long list of servants and examples. From Eve, whose name means “mother of all living beings.”  Deborah the Judge.  Tamar and her craftiness.  Sarai and her laughter. Ruth and her faithfulness. Rebecca. Rachel. Miriam. Rahab. Hagar.  Step into the New Testament and the emphasis continues with servants like Priscilla, or Lydia, Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene and the first evangelists at the tomb, and of course, Mother Mary – the Christotokos, or Bearer of Christ.

Look at the Gospels and Jesus’ interaction with various women are vital expressions of God’s interest and compassion for everyone.  But what stands out is how often those women go unnamed… a sad testament to a time when one gender was viewed as less noteworthy.  The Cannaanite woman who humbled herself to help her daughter.  The Samaritan woman by the well. The poor widow who gave to God her last two pennies. The woman with hemorrhages, who yearned for just the barest touch of the fringe of Jesus’ cloak.  Peter’s wife, who jolted out of illness and into service. (Really Peter? Couldn’t have gotten your wife’s name into the New Testament – even in her own story? And you wrote two letters? Come on, brother!)

An important verse for me, one I set to memory long ago, is Galatians 3:28. It’s a moment where Paul summarizes the liberating grace of Christ – that is, how Jesus sets us free from the world, its chains, its prejudices, its constrictions – and instead in Him we are “set loose” in God’s Spirit producing good fruits for this Kingdom.

That verse:  “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Again, this is a moment where Paul takes us to the mountain top, and in one sentence, blows through the sorts of societal barriers that have been overcome and broken down in the victory of Christ over sin. That whether one was of Jewish descent, or a Gentile (a HUUUUGE deal for Jewish-Christians), whether you were in servitude, or of wealth and security, whether woman or man, we all share unity together in the body of Christ — not in classes or divisions, but in equality, respect, health and wholeness.  That’s what Jesus wins for us – the former impediments of a sin-sick world fall away at the victorious feet of Jesus!

Why this build up about gender equality?

I want to encourage you to take a few minutes and watch a video produced by the leadership of our Conference and the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area, speaking to the recent failure of a pair of pieces of denominational legislation aimed at underscoring our church’s commitment to the equal status of women and girls in our congregations. There are several good articles that will articulate this legislation better than I do here (I’ll link a couple below), but the gist of that legislation was to add a pair of amendments to our constitution, one affirming “men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God” and that the UMC will “seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large,” and a second amendment stating no member of a UMC shall be “denied access to an equal place in the life, worship and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status or economic condition.”

Both amendments came out of the General Conference held two years ago in Portland, and required 2/3 support subsequently by all Annual Conferences in our denomination to be ratified.  Each passed with ease in the PNW, but more conservative conferences, such as in Texas and Georgia, as well as international conferences in Africa and SE Asia, opposed the legislation. It is believed that the language refusing to exclude anyone on the basis of their marital status somehow would become a loophole for the inclusion of gay peoples, and that is the likely reason why these amendments failed (it’s worth noting, sexuality is not listed in the new amendment).

The Council of Bishops issued a statement of disappointment on the two amendments’ failure, saying, ““While we are not completely clear concerning the motivation that caused them to miss the two-thirds required majority by slim margins, we want to be clear that we are unequivocal in our commitment to the equality of women and their full inclusion in our church.”

The failure to support this language on equality, particularly gender equality, appears rather tone-deaf in a moment in society where sexual harassment in the workplace has been exposed across the national stage, and the #MeToo movement has reminded us how common these offenses are.  We continue to grow in awareness and response to domestic violence issues as a culture, and of course, the awful reality of sexual abuse suffered by so many women and girls in our nation and our world is common news. So much of this suffering stems from a corrupt view insisting on gender inequality.

But that’s not what Jesus grants us.  He welcomes us in, regardless of race or nation, gender or social status.  Jesus’ constant message is the value God places on each person – everyone invited into God’s embrace as a daughter or a son, welcomed and affirmed as sharing in the image of God in which we all have been created!

A final word – I was grateful that some at Cornerstone noticed these amendments’ failure – and voiced their disappointment!  One member caught me right at the doors post-worship, and I could see the fire in her eyes.  I also shared this news with our Leadership team, so they were aware.  For that’s my purpose here – to grow awareness about the issues and struggles happening within our larger denomination.  Cornerstone is not an independent parish – but we are connected and connectional, and I am quick to affirm that all women and girls are welcome in the life of our congregation. I am grateful for so many of the women who serve in our midst as leaders, past and present.  Ours is a church that affirms God’s work and ministry in and through women – the same as men. But again – better to consider, read, pray and discern, than be in the dark about these issues.

An article first reporting on these amendments’ failures can be found here:

http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/church-ratifies-3-constitutional-amendments

An article of response:

http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/women-grieve-amendment-failures-vow-to-work-harder

And the video by our Bishop and leadership can be found here:

https://www.facebook.com/GreaterNW/videos/2112725905420727/

Thank you friends, for keeping in the know – and thank you for the ways we work together to allow different peoples to come in our doors, to be part of the life of this Church, and to make room for God to move and work as the Holy Spirit sees fit.  As I have preached before, “God uses whom God chooses!”

Grateful to be on the journey together,

Pastor James Murphy

Pastor’s Column for February: The Intentions of the Season

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Pastor’s Column:  The Intentions of the Season 

A tradition for the Murphy children at Christmas has been the creation of gingerbread houses.  Walls and roof of hard gingerbread decorated with icing and candies ranging from M&Ms and licorice ropes to sprinkles and sour patch kids.  In the end each of our three children produce their own sugar masterpiece of seasonal art… which they are then strictly forbidden to eat. “It’s for display,” they are told… or so has been our tradition.

Our children’s stance being that this misses the point: a gingerbread house is made for eating.  All those sweets. About a pound of icing for the faux snow. They drool over them every year.

Yet Mom holds fast. And the confectionary structures sit on a shelf, pretty if slowly going stale, until they are unceremoniously tossed with the withered greenery come about January 3rd.

All of which, at the risk of mixing ecclesiastical seasons, reminds me a great deal of the season of Lent now before us, and the journey toward Holy Week to be traveled here in 2018.

Lent is a season of purpose: much like the aforementioned Advent it is a season rooted in acts of preparation – to get ourselves ready (heart, mind, soul and personal planner) to witness, receive and celebrate both the death of Jesus upon the Cross on Good Friday, and the enormous joy of His resurrection on Easter Sunday morning. Again, the purpose of highlighting this time is to prepare ourselves – to be mindful, intentional, and to produce good fruits (outward or inward) over these six weeks.

However, just as often – if not moreso – Lent can also be something ignored or misunderstood or just missed all together – a misuse of the weeks before us. An outcome which, to me, looks a lot like an uneaten gingerbread house… something pretty, sure, but also stale and empty and missing its purpose.

The traditions behind Lent being rooted in themes of repentance, spiritual discipline, self-denial and a deep gratitude to Jesus for all He undertook to reconcile us back to God. The forty days of Lent are most commonly celebrated via “giving something up” — something you deny yourself as a modest reflection of the many ways Jesus denied Himself in putting us first, leaving the thrones of heaven, emptying Himself of His glory, being born in human flesh, and of course suffering the passion, crucifixion and bitterness of death for us and for all the world. When you deny yourself something, and you miss that thing, the invitation is to consider how much more Jesus gave up for you – and to be grateful. That is why some people give up a modest form of pleasure during Lent – they give up television, or chocolate, or desserts, or their morning run through Starbucks – maybe even paying the proceeds forward to a charity or ministry. But when they do, the idea is to turn heart and mind to Jesus – and be thankful for His much-greater sacrifice.

Others take the practice a step further, “giving up” their time and talents through acts of service during the season – if not daily acts, then weekly volunteerism, that sort of approach.  And so Lent becomes a time of increased and intentional service – often among the less fortunate and marginalized.

Still others take a modern approach of “adding something in,” often among the spiritual disciplines.  If not a regular practice already, Lent is a great season for daily “TAG” time – that is, “Time Alone with God.”  That can be prayer.  Reading a Scripture. Studying a devotional. That prayer walk in God’s creation. Many forms – but the point being, to add more focus and time with God than had been your routine.

Still others mix the two – say, they fast from a specific meal each week, and take that extra time and use it for extra devotional focus, or extra volunteerism and service.  So it becomes a practice of both “giving up” and “adding in.”

Each of which represents a form of intentional change. There’s a season coming, there’s space for something new, and all it takes is a little organization of self and the desire to stretch and grow.

But what can make Lent empty and meaningless, like those dusty, untouched gingerbread houses on my shelf, is when we fail to engage it at all.  If Lent is just a word we use to describe a few dates, then that misses the purpose. Or if it involves giving something up without connecting that practice to gratitude to Jesus – that can miss the purpose too.  If it only adds in busyness for the sake of busyness, or cuts something out without a purpose for that change – that misses the reason for the season.  You get the idea. And ultimately, if that change is not about cherishing and prioritizing our own relationships with God in Christ… then that misses Lent all together.

Friends, my purpose here is to encourage you to be intentional in your purpose when it comes to this season:  our Christian tradition is gifting us with 40 days (plus Sundays) between now and Easter, all beginning so appropriately on Ash Wednesday, February 14th – also known as Valentine’s Day.  Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about love – and God’s love is at the heart of Ash Wednesday, and this Lenten season.  The love of God we witness in Jesus – who becomes incarnate, is born, lives, teaches, heals, includes, suffers, dies, rises and reigns all to forgive sin, beat death and sow life. And He does it all for you. And me. And this world.

That’s the kind of love no valentine can convey.

So sisters and brothers be encouraged – take action this Lent.  Cut something out, or add something in. Use it for why we have it: to prepare ourselves. To prioritize Jesus.  To make more space in our lives for God. And to be “methodical” (denominational pun!) in how we approach the work of growing in God’s Spirit.

Grateful to be on this Lenten journey together,

Pastor James Murphy