Fifty-Two

I have to say that it feels great and a little odd to be
back up here this morning.  These last
five weeks have been rather crazy for us and though it is good to be back, it
feels strange trying to get back into the regular routine of things.  I feel a little out of practice this morning,
so I hope I’m not too boring.

Today is our fifty-second Sunday.  This coming Saturday we will celebrate our
one-year anniversary as a church.  As a
church plant we have experienced some incredible things this past year, things
that I never would have guessed we would have achieved in one year.  However, as wonderful as this past year has
been I think it’s important for us to evaluate ourselves honestly and see if
we’ve become who it is we set out to be.

I’ve learned over the last year that people often like to
say things about themselves that they either think are true or wish they
were.  For example, I could say that I’m
an all-pro wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, but my physical stature and my
lack of any receiving skills of any kind prove that I am not.  At some point, if my words and my life don’t
come together then I am hypocritical.  I’ve
discovered that what is true about people can also be true about a church, for
after all, the church is the people.
What we say about ourselves must match up with who we really are.

In some ways we began Cornerstone far too late.  I first began to feel the desire to start a
new church almost three years ago.  It
took another 18 months to convince me that yes, there was something to that
desire.  Another six months later and we
had our first Sunday.  In some ways that
was far too long of a wait.  In other
ways, however, I still was not prepared to lead a church.  If I can be vulnerable with you for just a
few minutes I’d like to explain.

We have a list of what we call Core Values.  You may not have heard much about them, and
to be honest, we haven’t really lived up to them this past year.  That’s going to change.  If we’re ever going to be effective as a local
church, we have to become more intentional about who we are and what we
do.  That’s where our values are going to
come into play.  We all say we believe
certain things, but often our lives don’t echo what we say we believe.  Instead, our lives show others what it is we
truly value above everything else.  I can
say I value the Bible, but if I never read it, it really has very little value
to me.  You may say that you value your
job, but if you don’t really work very hard, what does your life say about you?  What is it you value?

I want us to look at three words this morning that I believe
should define us as a church:  Scripture,
Community, and Faith.  I know there are
more things that we can find important and there are probably more things that
we as a church need to focus on.  But
let’s look at these three first.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

There are all kinds of passages that speak about the
reliability of scripture, but this is one that sticks out in my mind.  Scripture is reliable.  It was breathed by God.  It was inspired by him.  What we have as the Bible today is our source
for what we understand about God.
Everything that happens in our lives should be checked against
Scripture.  The authority of Scripture
for us is paramount.

As a Christian church we make several assumptions.  One of them is that the God of the Bible is
the only true God.  In fact, if that one
statement is not true then we can scrap this whole thing and go do something
else.  If, however, it is true, then what
the God of the Bible says to us must be important.  Therefore, if we believe that this Bible is
the true word of God, it behooves us to not only read and understand it, but to
obey what it says.

If I say I believe in the authority of scripture, my life
must bear that out.  We as a
Christ-following body owe it to ourselves to accurately present the truth of
scripture and structure our daily lives in such a way that we obey what it
says.  That’s what scriptural authority
is all about.  I owe it to you as your
pastor to be as accurate as I can in presenting the message of the Bible,
unashamedly and without prejudice.  I
acknowledge that I have my own set of biases with which I read scripture.  Some of them come from how I was raised;
others come from where I studied in college.
We all have lenses through which we view the world.  It doesn’t mean that we need to try to remove
the lenses completely, just that we need to acknowledge where they exist.  I promise that I will try to present the
truth of the Bible as unbiased as I possibly can, knowing all the while that I
will not get it 100% right.

Acts 4:32-37

This passage in Acts speaks of the first church that formed
from the gathering of Jesus-followers that came out of Pentecost.  The author says that the “full number of
those who believed were of one heart and soul…”
There was a commonality among the believers.  What was it?
What they had in common was Jesus.

Community is vital in our lives today.  Last week Joe announced a return to small
groups and he briefly spoke of Adam and Eve in the Garden.  There is some amazing truth in that passage
of scripture.  Adam was given the task of
naming all the animals.  Every animal
that God had created needed a name.  The
job was given to Adam to name them.  How
many species of animals are there?  The
correct answer is “a lot.”  Who knows how
long it took Adam to complete this job.
When he finished God made an observation.  There was no species suitable for
companionship with Adam.  It wasn’t good
for man to be alone.

I want you to see how remarkable a proposition this is.  Who was in the Garden with Adam at this
point?  The answer here is “God.”  God, the creator, the most high; God himself
was in the Garden with Adam, yet there was something missing.  I can’t fully wrap my brain around this
concept, but Adam needed companionship.
You could make the claim that God created woman so that mankind could be
fruitful and multiply, but I believe God created Adam with a need for
companionship, for friendship, and the only one who would fill that need was
another like him, but just different enough to make it interesting.

Going back to Acts we see in verse 32 that “they had
everything in common.”  They were so
united in Christ that they were able to get past all the idiosyncrasies that
make people unique.  Jesus was the
uniting factor.  You’re probably going to
hear this over the next few weeks and it’s the truth.  You may not get along with everyone.  That’s ok.
As long as Jesus is what we share in common, he can be the one who
unites.

Why should community be a value that we emphasize?  It is not good for man to be alone.  We were created for companionship.  This is especially important for
Christians.  You can’t do it alone.  I’ve met so many people (myself included) who
try so hard to live for Jesus alone.  For
whatever reason we don’t like to talk about things with others.  It’s hard for us to be vulnerable.  It’s hard for us to let others see our faults
and struggles.  We’re afraid we’ll be
judged.  I can tell you from experience
that there is something therapeutic about saying things out loud.  It makes them real.  And I have found very few people who have
judged me when I’ve been honest.  It
becomes even more dangerous sometimes when we’ve had an amazing encounter with
God.  We start out trying to tell others
what happened, but because they weren’t there it’s hard for them to understand
what we’re talking about, so eventually we stop talking about it and we forget
what happened.  In our minds we think
that won’t happen to us, but it happens to everyone.  We need community and companionship.  We need to be able to wrestle with hard
truths in the Bible.  We need to come
together united in the bond of Christ and celebrate what God is doing.

This is where community and scriptural authority unite.  I’ve admitted that I have biases when I read
the Bible and when I preach it.  There
are certain assumptions I make and at various times I’m more or less aware of
them.  Community with other believers
comes into the picture in one way because there are people in my life who will
honestly critique what I say.  They will
question me and tell me when they think I’ve overstepped my bounds.  This is necessary not only for my own sake,
but for yours.  They hold me accountable
for the things I say and how I lead.
This doesn’t happen outside of community.  They have to be able to call me out and I
have to be willing to take their criticism.

“I’m not a preacher, though,” you may say.  Let’s look at community from a different
perspective.  As I said before: how we
interpret scripture should affect our lives.
If we say the Bible is true, then our lives should be different because
we read the Bible.  What it says do, we
must do.  James says that whoever knows
the good he is supposed to do and doesn’t do it, for him it is sin.  The Bible should change our lives.  We don’t live on islands, though.  We live in communities.  I read an interesting observation a week or
so ago.  I can’t even remember where I
saw it, but I thought it incredibly interesting.  This person made the observation that life
started in a Garden, but the culmination of salvation, the wedding feast, will
be held in a city, the New Jerusalem.
Life has moved from the rural to the urban.  We even see that through history.  People gravitate toward each other.

I am a man who likes solitude.  I tend to be an introvert.  It’s interesting to me, really.  The things I like to do are somewhat
solitary.  I like to read.  I like movies and the theater, places where
you don’t really engage other people.  My
favorite sport is snow skiing.  I enjoyed
living in a large city because to a degree I could be anonymous.  That doesn’t mean I don’t like people.  You can talk to me after the service; it’s
ok.  In fact, please do.  I like to talk to people.  I’m just acknowledging that I enjoy solitude.

I can’t survive without others, though.  There have been people scattered throughout
my life that I would not have made it without.
It even seems that they were put in my life at very specific junctures
because I needed them.  I met Amanda at
the perfect moment.  My relationship with
her has completely altered the course of my life.  You may think that Amanda is this quiet
person who never speaks.  I’ll tell you
that she was far more popular at her high school than I was at mine.  It’s interesting how things happen, but at
the time I met Amanda I was dating a girl who was very much like me, shy and
reserved, not wanting to draw too much attention to herself.  Because I met Amanda I have become perhaps a
bit more open to people and willing to get to know them.  (As an aside, the person you marry should
make you better.  If the person you’re
dating doesn’t bring out your best, stop dating them.  It will be hard for you to see, so ask people
who are close to you.  And LISTEN to
them.)

When we lived in Lufkin we didn’t really know anyone.  We moved there to teach and outside of a few
people we encountered at work, we just didn’t have many friends.  Then God brought us Scott and Donna
Pittman.  Scott and Donna had moved to
Lufkin from Mississippi to take a staff position at a local church.  Donna became a long-term substitute in the
Social Studies department where I taught, so I got to know her.  Because of that relationship we got to know
her and Scott very well.  We were only
there for two years, but that friendship became very important to us.  We even attended a different church than they
were on staff at, but that relationship helped sustain us.  We moved back to East Texas and they moved
back to Mississippi, so we don’t see each other very much anymore, but I thank
God for that relationship, because it helped sustain us through those two
years.

I don’t want to spend much more time in this passage because
I’m going to come back to it in a couple of weeks, but I want you to catch the
vision of community.  We need each
other.  We share the redemption of
Jesus.  We all have the Spirit of God
living within us.  We are united by the
blood of Jesus.  We have that in
common.  That is more unifying than any
workplace environment or shared hobby.
We need each other.

The final value I want to try to convey this morning is Faith.

There are many passages that speak of faith, but I think
these are a few that help to give us a good idea of what faith is and how it
can be manifest in our lives.

Jeremiah 29:10-14

Matthew 17:20

Matthew 24:14

2 Peter 3:9

Hebrews 11:6

In Jeremiah, God tells the prophet that he has great plans
for him and they would be plans to give him a hope and a future.  In Matthew 17 Jesus tells the disciples that
nothing would be impossible for them, that if they had faith the size of a
mustard seed they could cast mountains into oceans.  These two scriptures speak of the
immeasurability of the power of God, that through us, God chooses to do great
things.  His power is unsurpassed and
there is nothing he can’t do.

Now we could get into a philosophical argument about what
God can and can’t do, but we would end up in the same place we already
are.  Suffice it to say, God is
infinitely more powerful than we are, infinitely wiser than we are, and
infinitely more capable than we are.  If
we will allow him to use us, he will do great things through us.

In Matthew 24 Jesus lets the disciples in on the plan.  In verse 14 he makes the statement that the
gospel of Jesus will be spread throughout the nations and then the end will
come.  Since he didn’t do it himself, but
left the task to us, we can’t be a people of small vision.  We must seek great things and have big faith
that God will accomplish them through us.
Finally in 2 Peter 3 we find out that God’s desire is that no one should
perish, but all would come to have eternal life.

We have been invited into a life that is overwhelming.  We’ve been called into a work that is bigger
than any of us could imagine and vastly more important.  We say we believe that Jesus is the way, the
truth, and the life.  Ought this truth,
then, compel us into a more biblical lifestyle?
If what we are preaching is infinitely valuable, shouldn’t it have an
impact on how we live?

I’ve outlined for you briefly today three values that are
vital to our life as a body and our success as a new church:  Scripture, Community, and Faith.  There are other values that are important and
indeed necessary that we will get into down the road, but as we look back over
why Cornerstone was started I think there is a call to live out these three
things.  We find our source for faith in
the Bible.  Because of that, we believe
it should change the way we live.  No one
is an island; you can’t do life by yourself.
You need others.  In the coming
weeks you are going to see that strategy spelled out in a more practical way
and we as leadership are going to model it.
There is nothing we are going to ask you to do that we are not willing
to do ourselves.  When you get an invitation
to join us for a small group kick-off dinner, please come.  We want you to hear our heart and why it’s
important to be a part of a small group.

Finally, we believe that Faith is necessary for our
growth.  I’m not talking about wimpy
belief, but faith, faith that can move mountains!  As we were gearing up to launch last September
I got the distinct impression that God was not calling us to start one new
church, but 250.  We have an incredible
opportunity to impact not only our community, but the world.  We are already looking at India and Peru as
two places where we can partner with brothers and sisters in Christ to preach
the gospel in unique and exciting ways.
In fact, this fall you will get to hear directly from people who are
living in these two places.  Expect your
heart to be stirred.  Expect God to do
something in you and don’t be surprised if you find yourself next year in
India, or Peru, or Alabama, serving the Kingdom of God by serving the people
you find there.

We believe that God has called us out to be a light in the
darkness for him, to share the message and the love of Jesus with those who are
in desperate need of a Savior.  We invite
you this next year to go deeper with us.
To explore community together, to become vulnerable with each other, to
grow together in your faith, to learn what it means to be the body of
Christ.  Maybe you’re skeptical about the
whole thing.  On Saturday, September 10
we’re going to host a dinner.  We’re
going to spell out the whole process of what small groups are and why we think
they’re important.  We’re also going to
give you the opportunity to see what a small group is like.  We invite you to come and find out what this
is all about.

Cornerstone Fellowship has been around for 52 weeks.  There’s nothing particularly extraordinary
about us as a local church.  We’re full
of broken, hurting people who need love.
We know we don’t have it all together, but we believe that together God
can do something incredible for his Kingdom, and that’s really the whole point
anyway.

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About Cornerstone Fellowship

Cornerstone Fellowship is a new church that started on September 5th and currently meets Sundays mornings at 10 a.m. Our location is 206 Main Street in the heart of Downtown Kilgore. If you are searching for a church home come check us out!
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