There are several entries that have been sitting in my drafts for a while that I’ve trying to get posted, and this happens to be one of them. M25 Mission Camp is a youth missional organization in Atlanta that works with the homeless in a way I’ve rarely seen over the years. It wasn’t the first youth trip for me, but it was the first one in a while, and I was amazed with every aspect of the experience, mainly because it changed perceptions and perspectives on life and serving others well. This video we produced can explain it better than I can here. For now, there are some images that shows a little of the week we spent trying to love others well.
While I watched the sun come up over the trees today I started my Saturday with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, i.e. a read through Facebook and Twitter. This is something I haven’t done much lately for various reasons, but today I came across this article from @BuzzFeed via @jessmisener who wrote about losing her “born-again-faith” in Jesus.1 It is a truly sad story, and all the stories I read like this are ultimately eternally sad. I have a hard time personally comprehending how a person comes to faith, or so they think, and then when doubt sets in (in this case through a world class education at Yale), they fall away. This article is basically the story right out of Matthew 13 of the parables of the seeds that were sown on the rocky ground.
13.20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.
We have a great way in the church of explaining these situations away. Either they were never a Christian to begin with or they are going through a period of doubt and will soon return. [Scripture is clear that no one can just “lose” their salvation, so logic has either she never had it to begin with or her “Jesus phase” as she puts it, will reclaim her life again one day.]
What we don’t have a great way of explaining away are the challenges of the modern day church she so eloquently brings up through her doubt. The article has millennial DNA stamped all over it. A far too familiar story of a millennial who has left the church, and perhaps their faith, because every question can not be answered leaving zero doubt. They have an overall basic mis-trust of the church, and a highly skeptical view of the doctrine of inerrancy. [On another side note, apparently her masters did nothing but help fuel her skeptical view of inerrancy while my masters solidified my understanding of inerrancy. Though we did received similar degrees, mine is not of the Ivy League type and perhaps did not require me to question my faith to the extent Yale did hers.]
This article is a microcosm of what our modern day church faces, and shows how little we have accomplished when it comes to understanding this generation of doubt. It seems many I know who have left the church, and or their faith, think every single doubt should be answered, every question scientifically proven. Scripture never claims this, nor did Jesus throughout his ministry. This is where faith steps in. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, not the complete and total understanding of every doubt that enters the mind, valid or invalid.
The church certainly needs to find a way to reach the skeptical mind of the doubting generation while maintaining orthodoxy and sound doctrine. Holding on to our stereotypical ways of the 80’s and 90’s is probably not that way. Neither is trying to convince them of all their wrongs with a 10-step correction process that is one size fits all. Maybe it comes from the church living out Matthew 22.34-40. With this comes everything else.
Here are a few shots from our service last night. For me personally it was a physically and emotionally draining day, but a good one. I always like this particular service for the mere fact it starts a time of reflection and prayer, which moves our focus toward what’s really the greatest celebration of the year, Easter.
Last night was more about recognizing our own brokenness, our own mortality, and coming in a posture of humility to the Creator with our lives. It is still amazing to me how busy we get, how filled our schedules become, and in that business we often lose touch with the reason for our ultimate existence and why we do what we do.
A few weeks ago at my church we had what we call a Celebration Dinner, beginning a process of visioning for the future called Dream 2020. As we move through this visioning experience in 2013, we are asking people to begin this season with 40 days of prayer (and fasting), beginning with Ash Wednesday.
Prayer During Lent
Prayer, by its very nature, causes us to slow down and reveals our priorities. As a church, prayer is our declaration of dependence on God instead of ourselves. It is our response to grace, a corporate collective cry for God to move in the midst of our sin. Prayer is something that challenges our mind, which, by its very nature, is prone to wonder and daydream as we try to bring our hearts to the Lord. We lose focus in our 24/7-connected world and struggle to find consistency in prayer, but so did the disciples when Jesus took them into the garden to pray before His trial (Matthew 26:40).
As with most things in life that challenge us, the results are also beyond our own imagination. As the disciples discovered, more could be accomplished through prayer than they had ever dreamed, and Jesus said we, through prayer, would do even greater things than He Himself had done (John 14:12-14).
Fasting During Lent
Fasting is another spiritual discipline discussed during lent, often in the context of giving up candy, television, or some other “extra” thing in our life. My experience with fasting generally didn’t even go that far, until one night I began to pray about fasting. Only through prayer was I led to a traditional fast, a weekly one that lasted an entire year. In that year God prepared and changed my heart for things I could never foresee happening in my life, and he can do the same for our church body. Some cannot participate in a traditional fast from food, and I know God understands that situation. But for those of us who can, I would challenge you to begin by praying about fasting.
Prayer and fasting together make a powerful bond, one stronger than prayer alone or fasting alone. When the disciples asked Jesus why they could not do what they expected could be done, Jesus’ response was this could only be done through prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:21). As you are challenged in this area I would encourage you to ask practical questions if you have any. Please feel free to contact me, I would be more than happy to discuss the specific practicalities of fasting with you.
Here are Some Practical Suggestions and Next Steps
First, over each of the next 40 days of Lent we will be posting a new prayer for Cornerstone’s future, which you can read here. We will be prayerfully asking how we can impact our community, our schools, lives in Uganda, and many other areas where Cornerstone can lead people to know and serve Jesus. We invite you to participate with Cornerstone in prayer each day, putting on the whole armor of God around Ephesians 6:18 twice a day, at 6:18am and 6:18pm.
Second, begin to prayerfully seek God’s guidance as it pertains to fasting in your life. If you have questions, please ask. If you are led to fast during Lent some practical things to ask yourself are why, when, and how. In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us the most practical advice on fasting in Matthew 6:16-18. You can start by reading this passage, and the whole sermon if possible from Matthew 5:2 to 7:27, then answer the why.
The why is often seen as an emptying of self and the filling of God, generally by means of abstaining from food and/or water. The when could be giving up lunch on Tuesdays during Lent, or food for 24 hours on Wednesdays. The how is different for each person, but is an important practical step to think about. How do you not eat and not call attention to yourself? Look at your schedule; it’s different for everyone.
As we prepare ourselves for this time of reflection through prayer and fasting let us remember our brokenness, and our need for a redeemer, which is Christ crucified for us.
 Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger, Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 219-222. Concepts were developed on prayer using this section called “The Primacy of Prayer” from Creature of the Word. The authors’ dedication to their text is greatly appreciated and achknowledged here as originating from this section of their text. A good review of the book can be found in the interview The Church as Creature of the Word: A Conversation with Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger.
Last night our church came together to celebrate what God has done in the life of our church over the previous year along with putting out the vision for what Cornerstone looks like in the year 2020. It was a great night, but it was a launching point for 2013. We still have one more night to go tonight, so if anyone happens to be reading this in Auburn and wants to come join the celebration there are still a few seats left. I didn’t get to take too many shots last night, but here are a few.
I spent this week with some of our staff at a conference in Atlanta. The past few days for me added to or confirmed with me part of an ongoing study I have about “what is the church?” I last posted about it here: What is the Church? 10 Things the Bible Says About the Church, but this week was focused on discipleship.
This group (3DM) we started to explore months ago doesn’t have a new program, or some new secret way to make disciples, they walked through how Jesus did this. That means this was really more like a workshop than a conference, and there wasn’t a step-by-step process by those Type-A’s can take away and say “this is how you do it.” That’s what made this different than the host of Christian conferences we all love to attend.
I’m not actually sure how to completely process everything presented to us over the last three days. It was a great starting point to learning how to create disciples, not how to create the church. If there was a quote for church staff and leaders that stuck with me, it was this.
Make disciples and it will build and create the church. Build a church and you aren’t necessarily creating disciples.
This is completely backwards from what our American church is. Our consumerist church of the 21st century is certainly a place where we can go on Sunday’s to consume a church product, but is it a place we create disciples as Jesus commanded us to do in Matthew 28? It turns church on its head because it is a scary place for church staff, and a freeing place for followers of Christ. I have heard it said countless times that church is not a building it is the people, but that’s a hard thing to live out when we place so much emphasis on doing church in that traditional church building.
That’s the raw unfiltered understanding of the last few days, it’s not anything ground breaking, but creating disciples is what we are called to do, building the church building is a place where we believers gather to worship on Sunday, not the place where we evangelize the unchurched.
We had our second large outdoor baptism celebration last Sunday, and it was an amazing time to see new life rise up. Scripture has a lot to say about believers baptism, the most common probably being Matthew 28:29-30, but this isn’t our only call to baptism, and it isn’t our only example of people stepping out in faith to be baptized. One of my favorite baptism stories in Scripture comes from Acts 8:26-40 when Phillip is explaining a passage from Isaiah 53:7-8 to the eunuch. Phillip “told him the good news about Jesus” and the eunuch’s response was an exclamation point, one where you can almost see him jumping up and down with joy saying:
See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized? (Acts 8.26)
This shows the joy of following the commands of Jesus in baptism, not as a salvation sacrament, but as a step of public faith in the death and resurrection of Christ that we now share (Romans 6:3-6). That is the joy to participate in the baptism of Christ, and it shows when you look at these faces from our celebration below. I love the expressions on their faces, the joy of Christ radiates through their experience. Each time I watch people raised up into a new life in Christ I recall my own baptism with Deborah in Birmingham, it was one of those events in my life I will not forget, and I’m guessing these folks won’t either.
The full set of images from the day will be posted on our Flickr page soon and I am going to upload several more to my Facebook gallery soon.
Anyone who has confessed to following the teachings of the Christ knows Sunday is just the day we come together to meet with other believers. Sunday isn’t the day the work of the church body takes place, that’s what happens when we engage people in our daily routine of life. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget the work of the church body takes place during the rest of the week, especially when we have been so conditioned to the importance of Sunday being there for that one hour Sunday morning.
I am so privileged to get to work with staff and volunteers (group shot) that make their faith the work of everyday life. This photo above was just one of the countless meetings and conversations that takes place for the purpose of reaching others in our community and beyond. As I look at this photo from today, and recall the conversations that took place today to encourage and uplift each other, Hebrews 10:22-25 sort of jumps out at me.
let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
These verses, which is normally used by the church to remind us we should be IN “church” on Sunday morning. This section of Hebrews is actually three exhortations in the “full assurance of faith,” or a call to believers to (1) come together, (2) be strong, and (3) to challenge each other, considering how to challenge each other to love and good works (v.24-35). The purpose of this is to strengthen each other’s faith in preparation for Christ’s return.
I’m a visual kind of guy and in my mind, this photo is just one small modern day example of Hebrews 10:22-25, and it didn’t even take place on Sunday morning, but instead on a Monday afternoon.
Yesterday we had the treat of being able to tour the Independent Presbyterian Church in Birmingham on our way home from UAB, and what a gorgeous church it is. If you haven’t been to Birmingham, Alabama before, the Magic City has a ton of things to see, but the skyline around town has several incredible churches that sit nestled into the rolling hillside between downtown skyscrapers and medical buildings. Many of these churches were built around the turn of the 19th to 20th century, and this is one of them, founded in 1915, with the sanctuary being completed in 1926. I absolutely love getting to visit and photograph churches like this, I just rarely get the opportunity to do so.
Unfortunately I did not come prepared to do cathedral-type, stain glass, wide angle vaulted ceiling church photography when I left the house yesterday morning (not sure why, I should always be prepared for anything), but I did have my cell phone with me. The shot above was taken with my iPhone, so it doesn’t quite give you the overall beauty that a super-wide fisheye lens would do (like when I shot this museum in Auburn), but it worked ok yesterday, and I love getting creative with iPhoneography. I know one iPhone photo does not make a photo essay, so call this a preview for “some day.” They say one photo is worth a thousand words, and I could probably do that here, so for now one photo will have to do. Hopefully some day I will be able to go back and do a proper job with tripod in hand.
Any of you who know me well know I don’t post too often about kids stuff, but today was a banner day for the future of our kids at Cornerstone Church. I have been to a lot of churches over the last 40 years, and I have visited churches who have very little evidence of kids in the building. While I’m not a “kids person” per se, this is a sure sign of a church with a hard future ahead of it, and the Church body itself needs it’s kids.
Over the last 3-4 weeks our kids staff, shown above, along with a host of other people, implemented a plan they had worked on tirelessly over the summer months. Meeting after meeting to go over every painstaking detail transformed the hallways, classrooms, and worship space for every little soul from new borns to our youth, and for kids who haven’t even been born yet. Think about the transformation in terms of a franchise. We love franchises all over the country because they are consistent, stable, and we know what we are going to get when we go into the building. We want our kids at every site to have the same worship experience no matter where they are, to have a consistent, stable, feeding on the word of God, while being surrounded by a community of believers.
In a very fragile time in history for the Church in our culture, this makes me excited for the future of the Church body. Investing in our kids is investing in the future of God’s Church. I’m thankful for these five ladies, and all the other people who worked so hard to make today happen, especially for the kids who have never walked into one of our children’s areas at Cornerstone Church. The future of Cornerstone Church, and the Church body as a whole, is in the hands of these woman above, but it’s also in the hands of every single individual who follows the teachings of Jesus. When you give to a child, you have given it to Christ himself.