Dear Church Family:
I think it's safe to say that the last five months have been a bit crazy. We've been trying to absorb the numerous consequences of an unknown virus and the wide-ranging responses and opinions it has evoked. This atmosphere of ambiguity has forced us to wrestle with social unrest and protest from diverse groups. In this mixture of complexity and perplexity, we've been seeking to understand what it looks like to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ. And the question I've been asking, and probably you have as well, is: What are we supposed to do?
We aren't the first generation to ask this question. The Bible is full of examples of people who had the same uncertainty. On the one hand, I'm thankful that God has never been confused, including this unclear time in which we find ourselves. He knows what is happening and what he is doing. On the other hand, for his people who walk by faith and not by sight, trusting God in the uncertainty can, at times, be overwhelming. So, what have God's people throughout history done?
God has never asked his people to know all the mysteries of what was happening around them, but he did expect them to do one thing: trust him and obey what he told them to do. No doubt, each context may have looked different, but trusting and obeying was the essence. In the hymn's famous words, we are to trust and obey (Prov. 3:5-6). That may seem simplistic to some, but that has always been his plan.
However, you may be thinking, "I agree with you that we need to trust and obey. Still, how do we know for sure what God is asking us to do?" The simple answer is that we need to listen to him, but how do we hear God amid all the confusion?
When God's people have been unsure, we've gravitated to practices like prayer and reading his Word. And though we may remain uncertain or hesitant about individual decisions we may face, we can nevertheless choose to trust and obey God's truth from his Word and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Throughout my formative years, especially in sports, when struggle or uncertainty hit, I had faithful people and coaches in my life who would say the same thing: "We need to get back to the basics." We go back to that which is the foundation. Using an illustration from the basics of baseball, we keep our eye on the ball.
In the same way, God has given us the basics in Scripture. I've already mentioned God's Word and prayer, but the Bible also beckons us to practices like worshiping, serving, fellowshipping, giving, witnessing, and so on, and so on. These fundamental practices are components that shape us to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. And making disciples was Jesus' plan he gave to the church before he ascended back to the Father, and that plan hasn't changed.
Interestingly, Jesus didn't tell us where to meet to accomplish this high calling. He knew his church would have to meet in various places and diverse forms throughout her history. No doubt, his people met in buildings designated by local churches for gathering. However, at other times and for various reasons, they also assembled in homes, synagogues, caves, the outdoors, ruins, and, as we have learned lately, online and in parking lots. The beauty and brilliance of Jesus' plan is that it wasn't restricted to a venue. We don't "go" to a building called a church, we "go" to be with a Christ-formed group of people who happen to be meeting in a particular place and in a certain way. We may have preferences in how and where we gather, but the church has always been agile and adaptable. We are the unstoppable church!
During this period of COVID, our national and state leaders have set restrictions on how people can live and carry out life in closer proximity. The mandates have affected families, businesses, medical facilities, schools, organizations, sports, entertainment, and churches. Whether we agree with them or not, whether we think these restrictions to be fair or not, or whether we believe it is for our good or not, we are called by God to joyfully submit to our governing authorities that he has placed over us. As I have reminded you throughout this season, as long as they don't command us to do what God has forbidden or forbid us to do what God has commanded, we obey God's command to submit to our governmental authorities (Rom. 13:1-5). We choose to do so, praying for them, as Paul tells Timothy, so "...that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good," Paul urges him, "and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:2-4).
Now, let me put together these two ideas of going back to the basics and how we might faithfully gather to pursue Jesus' incredible mission of making disciples. First, the basics for the church or habits of devotion found in Scripture, which God's people have been practicing since biblical times, are referred to as "spiritual disciplines." They are regular rhythms that are both personal and interpersonal, which God commands us to practice regularly in obedience by faith. They are our healthy, daily "diet" that God has established to be robust disciples of Jesus Christ and a strong local church.
Think about it; if we commit ourselves as a church this fall for about 100 days to pouring our lives into consistently and faithfully reading God's Word together, praying, worshiping, serving, fellowshipping, witnessing, resting, celebrating, and more, we won't regret it. Why? Because we will be more like Jesus Christ. Imagine if we gave more of our time to serving than to Netflix, worshiping than to social media, or praying than to cable news. I am convinced, and I believe you are as well, that we would never regret it. And I know that if we choose to commit ourselves to this endeavor in the confusion, fear, and frustration of this trying season, we will enter a new year with greater clarity as to how God wants us to live, even in uncertainty.
The elders and staff are committed to walking alongside other leaders within the Cornerstone family to provide you with the relationships, environment, and tools you will need to commit yourself and your family to this 100-day venture, if you choose to. Every week we will provide resources and tools for you to engage in a few of the various "basics." For example, we will present a daily reading plan that will allow us to read or listen to the same section of God's Word and hear God's voice as one. We will provide prayer resources to bolster your prayer life personally, as a family, and renew our shared heart to cry out to God. There are already service opportunities being placed on the calendar to strengthen our spiritual muscles of care and generosity. On several Sunday evenings throughout the 100 days, we hope to worship together outside, rejoicing in the stories of what God will do, singing together, baptizing those who desire, celebrating the Lord's Supper, and more. On Sunday mornings, our teaching will center around spiritual disciplines in our lives, how they help us faithfully be and faithfully make disciples of Jesus Christ. We will present additional information on what we mean in the coming two or three weeks, but that for now, in a nutshell, is what we're thinking when it comes to going back to the basics.
The second idea I want to pull together is how we might faithfully and submissively gather to take this 100-day adventure together. It is essential to the coming season in our church family. We know there must be human contact if we are going to grow. The spiritual disciplines found in Scripture were not just meant to be practiced personally, but also experienced interpersonally. God's Word is supposed to be discussed and wrestled within groups of people. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, not by giving them a book, but in person by example. I know I sound better when I sing alone, and many of you probably wish I would keep my singing skills to myself. Still, it is a powerful spiritual discipline when we lift our voices together. Our spiritual family's limited presence that each of us has felt over the last five months has worn us down. We need to be more present together, but how?
As I expressed earlier, we will do the best we can to follow our governing authorities joyfully. The restrictions and mandates are not always easy to understand. So, while we may not always be able to fulfill the letter of the law, we will strive with delight and submission to satisfy the heart and intent of it. We will continue on Sunday mornings to meet as a church in our parking lot. We will sing songs of praise, open God's Word, greet one another in love, and pray together. We will continue to produce online content for you and your family for those not yet able to or comfortable about being around the church family.
Along with these two options, we'd also like to suggest one more alternative: meeting with a few other people and families to fellowship either in backyards, if the current restrictions stay in place, or homes if the mandates are lifted. We already have a few people in our church family engaging in this option, and I believe it may be an excellent alternative for you and your family. Let me explain.
As the outcomes of COVID have continued and will continue to press upon us, we have sensed our genuine need for human contact. And as the family of God, we aren't meant to be apart from one another for long. No doubt, things like our services, nights of worship, devotionals, and Zoom meetings sustained us by affording "some" human interaction. Still, they aren't long-term substitutes for in-person interaction. At this time, meeting at home seems to provide the best alternative, not just for adults but also for our children, to fellowship. In this type of setting, we can engage in and learn spiritual disciplines more hands-on and continue to fulfill Jesus' mandate to make disciples.
In some of these homes, we hope to form them in a more conducive way for families with children and teenagers. Our children's ministry will provide the resources needed to minister to younger kids' minds and hearts. Each week, the house will receive a box with things like teaching materials, crafts, and snacks, all ready to go. The contents of the box will coincide with the video we release each week for children. There will be clear instructions on how best to use the provided materials. Equally, if not more important, leaders in the homes will facilitate ideas and approaches for parents to learn how they can help their families, even those with young children, go back to the basics.
For families with teenagers, we want to provide an extended family of sorts. It will be a spiritual family where moms and dads can find support as they seek to raise teenagers in this world that has emerged from COVID. God never promised to give us a safe world to live, at least in this life, but he has promised the strength and wisdom we need to be transformed and made adequate to our times. We believe this for mom and dad, but we also believe this for their teens. We must stop trying to return to the world as it was. Instead, we need to prepare our kids for the world as it is and will be. And if we are honest, our children need more than just mom and dad to build the foundation. God has provided spiritual grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, to grow into the men and women God intends. In these homes, we hope to facilitate and aid parents in providing an atmosphere at home for their teenagers also to go back to the basics.
The elders and pastors are determined and excited to carry out this fall plan. We firmly believe that if our Cornerstone family devotes themselves to going back to the basics for 100 days, we will arrive in December with new joy, strength, wisdom, and determination.
I understand that some may be thinking, "What took you so long to develop this plan?" Or, maybe, "We've tried different 'plans' in the past, and they didn't quite meet up to our expectations. How will this time be different?" Those are fair questions, and there are reasonable explanations. There are also definitely ways in which we, as leaders and a congregation, have fallen short. However, with God's empowerment, through his Spirit, and by his grace, and with your feedback and help, we can trust and obey God, believing that in those 100 days, God has something powerful and unique for this church. We may have to adjust to our time, but we believe this plan is the best way to join Jesus in being and making disciples.
Now, here is what we need from you. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be providing greater clarity. We welcome you to give us feedback and ask questions to refine this vision even more. Whether you plan to meet in the parking lot, online, or homes, please commit to press hard with us for 100 days in the fall. We know there are many pressing realities you face, but this passionate pursuit must be of utmost priority. The plan will kick into place on September 13th and go until December 21st; therefore, we will need some to practice hospitality by opening their homes. We specifically need backyards in which to meet that are conducive to ministry. We need people who are willing to keep making disciples by facilitating these Home Fellowships, homes where families are welcome. And please realize that this plan is going to change as we move forward. Meaning, we will have to adjust as we go.
Finally, we need you to pray. The elders and pastors believe this fall is pivotal in the life of our church. We are going to trust and obey God in this pursuit. Apart from the Lord, there is no way this will succeed. Only with his wisdom and in his power will this church become more like Jesus Christ, allowing us to be further prepared for what God has in store for 2021.
As I have said many times before, I love this church. The elders and pastors love you. And each of you who follow King Jesus by faith is passionately and perfectly loved by our Savior. Jesus Christ was, is, and will be triumphant. And because he is the Victor, we too are the church victorious. And in 100 days, God willing and by his grace, we will see that truth with greater clarity. God bless!
The Elders and Pastors of Cornerstone