March 19, 2020

Dear Church Family:
Despite the distance we have all been experiencing, I hope that this note finds all of you well. No doubt, this is an unfamiliar and unsettling time. Yet I am believing that you are finding the grace of Jesus Christ powerfully and forcefully comforting and guiding you into hope. As I have prayed for us, I am mindful that we have naturally experienced a range of responses. Maybe it is fear or flippancy or faith. Some of you have let me know that you are experiencing sadness as you see or even think of the potential pain and loss of this pandemic. In these last few days, I’ve appreciated that Jesus was honest about the inevitability of suffering. He promised that we will “have suffering in this world” (John 16:33). He didn’t say we might—he assured us that it is going to happen. Yet it was in this discussion that he also promised to send the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide his people through whatever trouble might come. He also promised that when we walk through trouble in the Spirit’s power, Jesus’ fame and name would be exalted. So, to add one more experience, this promise has also made me hopeful.
Yesterday, when I began to type this note, I was listening to the daily briefing from President Trump and the Coronavirus taskforce. The president calmly stood before the familiar, blue backdrop of the pressroom with the presidential seal emblazoned on the front of the podium, and with photographer’s cameras popping, delivered his daily briefing on the pandemic. Towards the end of his statement, he muttered a prepared yet weighty thought. It was almost an aside, which is strange due to the significance of it, so I almost missed it. But right before he turned the microphone over to the vice president, the president challenged us to muster the strength and courage we had as a nation during World War II. To him, it was now our time to step into the furnace of history and be tested.
I’m not sure what happened next in the press conference, but my mind became preoccupied, wishing he would have spent more time there. I have greatly appreciated the job the president and his team are doing, and I can’t even begin to imagine the heavy burden he is enduring. Yet, at that moment, I craved a grand vision beyond survival. I wanted him to tell me anew that he was with us. I longed to hear him say once again: “This new reality is going to be hard. There will be loss and discouragement. None of us will escape this trial we are facing without fear and heartache.” I found myself wanting him to ask us: But, will we be like the “greatest generation” and pass the test we’ve been given in our time?
I’m not sure how our nation will respond to this trial, or even if this adversity will be anywhere near the magnitude of a global war, but the idea of being tested seized my attention. What does it look like for the church of Jesus Christ, including Cornerstone, to pass the test? What does it look like for God’s people to look more like Jesus on the other side of this hardship (James 1:2-4)? Will we exude fear, or will this challenge perform a powerful work of hope in us instead (Romans 5:3-5)?
No doubt, whether one is a follower of Jesus or not, the globe is gripped with the same atmosphere of fear and insecurity as we attempt to respond to a microscopic, infectious “bug” that has almost brought the world to a standstill. But what will a “win” look like for us in this test? I think the Apostle Peter pinpointed this when he wrote: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). For Peter, the “win” for God’s church would be that this test results “in praise and glory and honor...of Jesus Christ.”
Will it be hard? Will there be loss and discouragement? Will it be costly? Will we face fear and heartache? Yes. But not only do I believe our journey in this trial will be worth it, I know God has provided the power that we will need to walk through it. This weekend, we will once again gather virtually via live stream to worship Jesus and see what it means to step into this time of testing. Spencer MacCuish, President of Eternity Bible College, will be joining me and will help me unpack how we might find real hope and vision in our time, and join God in what he is doing through this global pandemic to make a name for Jesus Christ.
Let me finish with some wise words from almost 500 years ago. During the bubonic plague in the sixteenth century, the reformer and theologian Martin Luther penned this:

Very well, by God’s decree, the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore, I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person, but will go freely.

I pray we will go wisely and freely for the fame and name of King Jesus!

Todd Nighswonger

on behalf of the pastors and elders of Cornerstone