Why iServe?

Part of the DNA of Cornerstone Fellowship is a quarterly event called iServe.  During this Sunday morning we cancel our regularly scheduled activities and partner with New Birth Fellowship and other groups to impact our community for the Kingdom of God.  Why do we do this?  Why give away a Sunday when we could be preaching the Gospel to rake leaves and fix houses?

The simple answer is because Jesus tells us to.  In Matthew 25 we have a picture of the Judgement seat of Christ and the truly terrifying prospect of standing before a perfect and holy God with nothing but the evidence of our lives before us.  In the depiction Jesus gives us all of humanity is divided on his right and left.  To those on his right he will offer commendation because of their lifestyles.  To these people he will open the doors to his kingdom and welcome them in because “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”  The natural response of these people will be “When?”  Jesus’ answer is the truly telling part.  “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”  Those on his left will not fare so well.  Why?  Because they didn’t do anything for the “least of these.”

So what does this mean?  Are we justified before a holy God because of the things we do.  Certainly not.  We are not saved by our works, but for them.  In Ephesians 2:8-10, Paul tells the church in Ephesus that we have been saved by grace.  It is God’s grace because of the sacrifice of Jesus that saves us.  But we have been set apart for good works.  We haven’t been saved by our works, but instead for them.  So a Christian’s life will be characterized by good works not because we are trying to earn God’s favor, but because we have already received it.  Our works prove that we have been saved.  They show the world how amazing and loving God is.

In Ephesians 4:1, Paul urges the church in Ephesus to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”  Notice he doesn’t say “walk in a manner worthy to earn the call” but “to which you have been called.”  The calling precedes the walking.  Again, this simply tells us that we don’t do anything to earn God’s grace.  It is given freely.

So we live out lives of service because God has saved us.  We do good deeds because God has saved us.  We tell people about Jesus because God saved us.  Why iServe?  Our goal is not to establish a quarterly event that will last for years to come.  It is also not to guilt you or others into service.  Our goal is that we might establish a lifestyle of service among each of our members.  Our attempt is to provide opportunities for service that will then create a desire and an ability to spot areas of need individually.  We want you to love to live the way God has called us to live.  We want you to raise your family to serve others.  We want the body of Christ to be the body of Christ, that all may come to salvation.

That’s why iServe.  Why do you serve?

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Spiritual Receptivity and the Pursuit of God

A. W. Tozer in his book The Pursuit of God spends a portion of the text writing about spiritual receptivity.  I would love to write out his whole argument, but that would simply take up too much space.  I will attempt to summarize.  His general argument is that a Sovereign God desires for us to know him.  Therefore, he does not hide himself in riddles and shrouded mystery, but is available to all.  The difference in two individuals’ closeness to him, then, is their spiritual receptivity.

Simply put, when people of profound faith encounter a spiritual longing or urging, they do not discount it, but pursue it vigorously.  They develop a “lifelong habit of spiritual response.”  The pursuit of God becomes a life goal, something which requires patience and perseverance.  Tozer, writing in 1948, says this about the culture of the day:

“Failure to see this is the cause of a serious breakdown in modern evangelicalism.  The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture.  It is too slow, too common.  We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action.  A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals…The tragic results of this spirit are all about us.  Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit: these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.”

The point in all this is that when we relegate the pursuit of God to professionals or radicals, we remove from our lives the responsibility and the joy of the struggle.  Knowing God is more than what we have made it.  It is a pursuit.  It is labor.  It involves trial and tribulation.  Faith is more than a belief, it is a fight.

I can say personally that my faith struggle over the past weeks has been just that, a struggle.  I have dealt with self-doubt and a lack of confidence in my ability to preach the truth.  I have wondered at my effectiveness and influence.  I have even at times doubted by call.  But always there has been God.  I believe that through these struggles he has been ever-present, not taking pleasure in my stumbling, but taking pleasure in my effort.  And for all the doubt I still struggle with, the joy I realize when I glimpse God will surpass all the heartache I’ve felt during the struggle.

The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

The responsibility of knowing God is up to you.  It is a responsibility we each face and we cannot escape.  I can’t know God for you, you can’t know him for me.  It should also be noted that since God is a relational being, and since you and I are individuals, our relationships will each be different.  As unique as our talents and abilities are, our relationship with God will manifest itself uniquely as well.

In closing, I will leave you with another quote from Tozer:  “What God in His sovereignty may yet do on a world-scale I do not claim to know: but what He will do for the plain man or woman who seeks His face I believe I do know and can tell others.  Let any man turn to God in earnest, let him begin to exercise himself unto godliness, let him seek to develop his powers of spiritual receptivity by trust and obedience and humility, and the results will exceed anything he may have hoped in his leaner and weaker days.”

Happy pursuit! 

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Through the Veil

There is a cloud hanging over us called modernity.  We’ve been lulled to sleep by Google, GPS, and smart phones.  There is literally nothing that is not available to us.  If we have the resources we can travel anywhere (even space!) and have anything.  But this is deceiving.  We think we have become our own masters but in reality we have become more enslaved.  We suppose that since we have higher-order thinking skills we are not slave to our animal nature, but I believe Scripture bears out that our animal nature is what is most prevalent in us.  If provoked we will retaliate, our appetites determine our course, and relationships can be cast aside at will.

With God this is not the case, however we have become so enamored with our supposed superiority we have sought to craft God in our own image rather than seeing ourselves as made in his.  It is the folly of the first men.  God is not like us, however.  He is absolute authority and perfect love at the same time.  He is just and merciful.  His anger is righteous while ours is arbitrary.  His love is complete while ours is fickle.  He is the one true rock upon which everything finds its foundation.  Even the most majestic mountains on earth will one day crumble.  If we would find salvation we must leave behind everything we thought we knew and cling to the only one who is.  His covenant name even declares this:  YHWH, I Am.

The Sermon on the Mount lays out the theology of Jesus perfectly, setting the stage for his miraculous life, death, and resurrection.  God will not be defined by our attempts to capture his nature.  He is completely other.  Jesus implores us to look through the veil that clouds our judgment, that seeks to capture and divert our attention from the Maker of all things.  He beckons us into deeper relationship with God Almighty.  We have not made God to be like us, instead he has fashioned us in his likeness.  It is an easy thing for us to forget that.  The veil would attempt to obscure our view and focus our attention on those things which are temporary.

For all the progress we claim to have made as a people, we still have the same problem of the first man.  We think we have control.  Clearly we do not.  Even in scripture we see the essence of control and the fear it brought to the disciples.  When confronted by a raging storm, the disciples were terrified while Jesus slept.  Then, roused from his slumber, Jesus spoke to the storm and commanded the winds and seas to be calm, and they were!  This is control.  This is power.

Would that we could see God for who he is!  If only we would turn our backs on those things we think are substantial and meaningful to seek the one who is significant.  I’ve mentioned a couple of times that we were created in the image of God.  This is significant because we were created for intimacy and relationship.  We see an example of intimacy within the Godhead itself.  The Father, Son, and Spirit commune with one another in perfect relationship and glory in the fact that they are all God.  In like manner, we were created to also glory in God, for he is worthy.  We were created to value God because he is valuable.  We exist for the purpose of worship.

That concept is misleading to us, though, because we are human and temporal.  I think when we hear those words we immediately conjure up an image of a large arena with hundreds of millions of people in the stands singing with hands lifted high and God standing at center court.  Worship is a bigger thing, though.  Our very lives are meant for worship, yet we have different talents and abilities.  We have different likes and dislikes.  We have passions that drive us to create, to manage, and to do.  Why?  Because we were created in the image of God.  God creates, he manages, he does, so we should do so, too.

Your desires and abilities were given to you by God for the purpose of worshiping him.  That’s what’s so dangerous about the veil.  It is porous, we can see through it.  But like a chain-link fence or a mesh screen, we don’t get the whole picture.  This is one of the greatest deceptions of the Enemy.  Instead of being a joyous thing done as an act of service, work becomes despised and tedious.  Instead of pursuing our passions and our skill-sets, we seek that which will provide the largest income.  Rather than being happy where we are, we long for a step up the ladder.  We have the illusion of control.

Oh that we might see through the veil, that we might lay aside those things which hinder and the sin that so easily entangles and run the race marked out for us not despising the fact it was set before us but counting it all joy that we have a race to run according to the talents and gifts we’ve been given!

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The Gospel

In light of our current series as well as the approach of the Easter holidays, I thought I’d take a moment to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys, as it were) and say a couple things about where we’re going in our Sunday morning messages.

In the course of preaching The Gospel and dealing with the depths of God’s grace I think we sometimes forget there actually is a standard of holiness to which God has called us that is made possible for us by the Cross of Christ and his miraculous resurrection.  (It should be said that I don’t think I could ever over-emphasize the grace of God.  If I were to preach on God’s grace every week for the next seven years I would barely scratch the surface of grace.)

God’s grace is such that we have not been saved so we might hold down a pew (or chair in our case) in some church building.  However, it is also true that we have not been saved to hold down a beach chair under a cabana while we sip drinks with umbrellas, nor are we called to simply debate theology in ancient classrooms with ancient professors.  Corporate worship is important, as are times of rest and times of study, but if we limit the grace to personal freedom and consign worship to Sunday mornings, we miss why we were saved in the first place.

Christianity is not sedentary; it is alive and moving forward.  The kingdom of God is advancing and we have been called to be a part of that advance.  The Cross of Christ is a powerful thing.  The perfect life of Jesus is what enables us to be holy.  In order to stand before a holy God, we must be perfect and holy ourselves.  Jesus lived the life we could not live.  Jesus’ sacrificial death is what brings us salvation by substituting himself for us and appeasing once and for all the wrath and justice of God.  Christ’s miraculous resurrection is how we can be confident in a new life ourselves.

More than a new life someday, however, or a rescue from the trials of this life, the resurrection of Christ is what calls us to action.  Jesus was resurrected bodily from the grave.  He didn’t ascend immediately into heaven.  I believe this was not only to comfort the disciples or to teach them a couple of last-minute lessons.  I think this represents for us the new life we have in Christ right now.  The kingdom of God is advancing and we get to be a part of that advance.  The transformation doesn’t simply take place in the afterlife, it has taken place now.

There is a standard of holiness to which God has called us that starts with us embracing Jesus and laying aside everything else.  It continues with us taking up arms, if you will, against the kingdom of darkness.  This is not to imply a battle in the manner with which we have become accustomed to seeing battle portrayed.  It is not a fight against flesh and blood.  It is not a political war.  It is a fight for the souls of men and women.  We are armed only with the truth of God, but that is all the armament we will ever need.  We have been summoned to the cause of Christ that we might take the love and the light of Jesus into the world and draw attention to him, that we might proclaim the excellent mercies and grace of God so that all may know and worship him.

It’s fun to talk about the grace of God, but if we neglect the reason we have been saved in the first place, we miss the point of salvation.  The Cross of Jesus Christ is what sets us free, but it is also what compels us forward into battle.  May we never neglect the life we’ve been set apart to lead.

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Ichabod: “The glory of God is gone.”

“…and when she heard the news that the Ark of God was captured, that her father-in-law and husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. About the time of her death the women attending said to her: ‘Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.’ But she did not answer or pay attention, she named the child Ichabod [meaning: “no son of glory”], saying: ‘The glory has departed from Israel!’ because the Ark of God had been captured and she said: ‘The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured'”

I Samuel 4:10,11 And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas, were slain. (KJV)

A low point in the nation of Israel. The ark of the covenant had been captured by the Philistines.

Fast forward a few decades and David‘s desire is to return the ark to Jerusalem.

For us to experience the glory of God on our lives, for us to truly be in the presence of God, we must come face-to-face with the holiness of God. Coming face-to-face with the holiness of God exposes everything about us.

When our lack of holiness is exposed, we begin to re-order our lives to the things of God. When we experience the presence, the glory of God, there is an outflow of God-stuff that other people take notice of, (like how Michal despised David when he danced in front of the procession leading the ark into Jerusalem).

This is the topic of Carl’s sermon this week at 10 a.m. in Cornerstone Fellowship’s downtown Kilgore location.

Sunday small groups start at 9 a.m. and worship begins at 10 a.m.

Hope to see you here!

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A man named Melchizedek…

Old school. When I think about “old school” I think about a lot of things…  a lot of people, a lot of ideas.

But rather than any sports or entertainment figure, I tend to think of the three women who had the most influence on me in my youth.

My mom, her mother Nan, and her mother Nanny. My mom was a young mother (like both of her female ascendants), but the way in which those two stepped up and stepped into the gaps played a huge part in the man I am today, and thus the people my own children will become.

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Seeing through a screen, darkly

A few days ago I was waiting in line at a local grocery store when I noticed an acquaintance standing adjacent to me, also waiting in line. I attempted to strike up a conversation, as it appeared we would be waiting for quite a while, but every time I asked a question or offered a prompt I received a one-word response. Not wishing to be rude, I left her be, as she was rather engrossed in an intense game of Words With Friends on her iPhone and could not be bothered.

But after a minute or so, a signal from my own smartphone alerted me that someone had mentioned me on Twitter.

“Just saw @MatthewProsser at the store, he’s really tall,” the message said, and it was posted by the woman standing right next to me in line.

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