Sunday, September 25, 2016

God Loves Our Worship

In all my years of ministry I haven’t found anything that can make church people as cranky as the music.  Seriously.  Thom Ranier a church growth and health consultant wrote “The comment ‘someone complained about the music at my church’ is a universal phenomenon of our age.”

If you’ve been with us over the past couple of week’s we’ve been going down a path entitled.  Why We Are. . . and we started two weeks ago by looking at why we are focused on the lost.  We are by definition what some folks would call a Seeker Sensitive Church. 

That is why we do what we can to make the unchurched, the de-churched and the pre-churched comfortable in our service.  That’s why we have an one-hour service.  It’s why we try to incorporate music that at least sounds like it was written in this century and why we try to explain churchy terms and concepts and preach and teach toward the end of making the message relevant to people today.  To answer that all burning question that people ask during sermons:  So What?

And the reason we do that is because God loves lost people.  God loved lost people enough to be willing to give his Son.  And Jesus loved lost people enough that he was willing to give his life.  And so we asked the question, if those two statements are true than what are we willing to give to reach the lost?

Last week we looked at the story of the children who were brought to Jesus and how the disciples tried turning the parents away and Jesus got a little cranky and told the disciples, “Let the children come to me, don’t do anything to stop them.”

And we looked at why Cornerstone invests so much time and energy into our children’s ministry.  And we do that for the future of the church.  The church, this church and the church universal is always one generation away from extinction. 

And without children the church will only exist until they close the door after the last funeral.

But more importantly, the reason why we invest so much time and energy into our children’s ministry is because we aren’t just impacting the future of the church we are impacting the eternity of those kids.      

If we believe what we say we believe about there being a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned I would think there would be people knocking down the doors to help insure that our children would have an eternity with God. 

We aren’t just offering a program to keep the kids occupied while you are in real church, our staff and volunteers are impacting their todays and their forevers.

And that brings us to the scripture that was read earlier. 

Jesus was asked by a man what was required for eternal life, and this was his answer:  Matthew 22:37-38  Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  This is the first and greatest commandment.
Jesus said that is the most important commandment, if you can only do one, this is it.  This is the one that you don’t want to miss.  'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  So we were created to be loved by God and our purpose in our lives is to love him back.  He should be the most important thing in our life. 
If we have to pick the one item that we couldn’t or wouldn’t do without it should be God.  
And there is a word for what we do when we love God that way and that is “Worship”.  We worship God.  Goes all the way back to the first book in the Bible, Genesis 4:26 When Seth grew up, he had a son and named him Enosh. It was during his lifetime that people first began to worship the Lord.
If we go all the way back to the beginning of the story you realize that Adam and Eve were created to be in fellowship with God.  There was a direct connection and they deliberately rebelled and walked away from the relationship.  And after they were banished from the Garden of Eden we have no idea what type of relationship they had with their creator. 
But it’s not very long into history that we read those words about their grandson Enosh, it was during his lifetime that people said “We need to have that relationship with the one who created us, we need to connect with him again.”  And they began to worship God.  But what does that mean? 
Does it mean that they started having church and part of that was the “Worship” service?  Did they have drums and guitars and keyboards and sing songs by Ren Collective and Chris Tomlin, or did they have an organ and piano and sing hymns?  Was it contemporary worship or more traditional worship? 
And by the way, the term “Contemporary Worship” is often misleading, in more cases than not it means that churches sing songs written somewhere between 1970 and 2001.  But the word contemporary as defined by Collins English Dictionary means 1. belonging to the same age; living or occurring in the same period of time2. existing or occurring at the present time3. conforming to modern or current ideas in style, fashion, design, etc4. having approximately the same age as one another
In his book The New Traditional Church, Tony Morgan makes a great point when he wrote : “If most churches truly wanted to be contemporary, Sunday would have a lot more hip-hop and R&B (have you listened to the Top 40 lately?).”  That was an aside.
The problem is that we limit worship either to what we do in church or narrow it down even further to half of what we do in church and then we make it the least significant part.  And so we have the “worship”, that is the singing part of the service and it is the prelude to the important part which is the “preaching”. 
Sometimes you will hear people say, “I really enjoyed the worship this morning.” And what they mean is that the music spoke to them.  And that’s not bad, but it is personal and while it may be a part of what worship is it certainly isn’t all of what worship is.  When we limit worship to music then it becomes very personal and anything that is personal we become defensive of.
And that’s why musical styles in churches can sometimes result in conflict, because it is so personal.  When we say that we don’t like a particular type of music then those who like that type of music take it personally. 
In other words, if I don’t like singing traditional hymns in church then in some people’s minds I’m saying singing traditional hymns in church is wrong and so by implication that means that I’m saying that those who prefer singing traditional hymns in church are wrong as well.
Understand that was just an example, there are a lot of hymns I like, and I enjoy singing them at the Berkeley and at Beulah Camp, but it’s not a part of what we are trying to accomplish at Cornerstone. 
But if I didn’t like hymns, it would just mean that I personally don’t enjoy that style of music.
I don’t like classical music or rap music, I don’t like reading poetry, or putting anchovies on my pizza. And if you do like classical music or rap music, reading poetry and eating anchovies on your pizza you probably aren’t offended because I don’t.  But worship is more personal than just our preferences.
So when we narrowly define worship as one style or type of anything it puts God in a box.
Worship can’t be defined by style because style is too individualistic.  And so worship music is really a mis-definition because it’s only worship music for some and for others it just plain annoying. 
Neat story, that I’ve told before.  There was an elderly pastor on this district by the name of Walter Fernley, he passed away about five years ago and his wife passed away a couple of years before Walter.  Mrs. Fernley’s first name was Mabel but everyone called her Mabs.  One day Walter asked Mabs to say grace at dinner, which she did, very quietly.  To which Walter commented, “I couldn’t hear you.”  To which Mabs replied “I wasn’t talking to you.”
So when you say “I didn’t enjoy the worship this morning”, the response is “We weren’t singing to you.”  
I don’t think God has a preference for any one style of worship music.  I think that we offer our worship to Him and if we do it with the right motives and a pure heart then He goes, “Thank you, that was so cool.” 
Because as good as it might be on any given Sunday at Cornerstone ,God has heard so much better.
Think about it twelve hours ago he heard the worship team from Hillsongs Australia sing, and two hundred years ago he heard Beethoven play his fifth symphony and three thousand years ago God heard King David sing an original arrangement that that we call the 23rd Psalm.
And you understand that heaven is filled with music that God hears all the time.  It’s actually country music, it sounds a lot like Willie.  
But we are God’s children presenting our gift of worship to Him.  When your child gives you a gift that they made themselves do you say, “Well it’s nice but it’s not very good compared to other art I’ve seen.”  No you say “Thank you, that is so cool.”
So if worship isn’t what we do in church, and it isn’t just music, what is it?
Paul was writing to the early church in the book of Romans and this is what he said  Romans 12:1  And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
So look at the last line, This is truly the way to worship him. In other translations it reads “this is your spiritual act of worship.” What is your spiritual act of worship?  To offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifices.  But what does that mean?  Well there are three things that we need to note about that statement.
1) Worship is Something You Give  We are told to give our bodies and when you give something it is voluntary.  From day one God created mankind with this incredible gift of free will.  He didn’t create us to blindly serve him without thought or choice. 
In 1942 Isaac Asimov wrote a short story called Runaround and in it he introduced us to the 3 laws of Robotics which state  
1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Those laws were fiction of course but God could have put very similar restrictions on humanity.  But then we would have been robots and not people and God wants us to choose to worship him and so he allows us to choose whether or not we will obey him and whether or not we will worship him.  He wants it to be a conscious decision where we in effect say, “I offer this to you” 
Francis De Sales  summed it up when he said  “There are no galley-slaves in the royal vessel of divine love -- every man works his oar voluntarily!”
Of course free will is a double edged sword, author P.J. O’Rourke commented “One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it's remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver's license.”
Nobody else can worship for you and if you don’t take that step there is nobody else you can blame for it not happening. 
And that applies to what happens on Sunday as well.  We can decide to not enter into worship during a service because the music isn’t to our taste or we find it too loud or not loud enough, or it’s not our favorite worship leader, but understand it will be our choice.  We do what we want to do. 
2) Worship Involves Who You Are We told to give our bodies, not anybody else’s body, but our bodies.  And that simply means that you are to give “You”.  While we are here we are here in our bodies, if we are going to do anything it will be done with our bodies. 
Every once in a while someone will tell me, “I can’t be here next Sunday Denn, but I will be here in Spirit.”  Do you know what that means?  “Nothing, zip, nada.”  If your bodies not here then youur spirit’s not here, they are interconnected and they go together.  In this life you can’t have one without the other.
And so by asking for our bodies God is in effect asking for all of us.  So understand you will be worshipping something and that will be indicated by what you are doing with your body and where your body is.  It defines our priorities. 
If you tell me “Denn I really want to be at church next Sunday but I have to be at . . .”  What you are saying is “I really want to be at church but I want to be at . . . more.” 
Because, ultimately  “We do what we want to do.”
So when we offer our bodies we are offering ourselves in a practical way to God, it’s not just something that happens here in our mind, kind of like a card I sent to my best friend one year for his birthday, on the cover it said “When it comes to gifts it’s the thought that counts.”  And inside it said “And I thought about getting you a gift.”   And it’s not just what happens here in our heart, where it is a good intention. 
When I was growing up my favorite Aunt would often remind me that “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  And Margaret Thatcher said “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he only had good intentions. He had money as well.” 
So it’s not enough to think about worshipping God or even wanting to worship God if we don’t actually worship God.  
3) Worship Demands Something.  Every decision we make involves a positive and a negative, when we say yes to one thing, we are saying no to something else.  And it isn’t simply a matter of choosing between what’s good and what’s bad.  That would be too easy. 
As a pastor I will sometimes hear people talk about how much they love Jesus, but they never offer anything back, no time, no service no gifts.  It was Michael Novak who wrote “Love is not a feeling of happiness. Love is a willingness to sacrifice.”    Remember how Paul said we were to offer ourselves to God?  A living and holy sacrifice.
And that often means choosing one thing over another. 
And by the way, another aside here.  On the other side when you hear someone saying they are going to choose the lesser of two evils, remind them that the lesser of two evils is still evil.  That was a bonus, had nothing to do with the message.  Now back to our regularly scheduled Sunday morning message. 
And so worshipping God, offering your body to Him will require a sacrifice.  Sometimes it’s small.  Maybe it means being in church instead of sleeping in or mowing the lawn.   
Maybe it means lifestyle choices.  I will do this thing and will not do that thing.  Or perhaps there is a relationship that drags you down and puts you in situations where you know as a Christ follower you really shouldn’t be. 
Jesus was talking about situations like that when he told his disciples in Matthew 5:29-30  If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. 
He was so serious about that statement that he repeats it in Matthew 18:7-9  "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!  If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
Now, Jesus didn’t poke anybody’s eye out or cut off anybody’s hand or feet.  He was talking about removing yourself from situations and relationship that would cause you to be disobedient to what he is calling you to do.
And there are some of you here today who know exactly what I’m talking about.
Your sacrifice might be reflected in how you use your volunteer hours.  Every one of us has to decide for ourselves where we will give our time.  Because we only have so much time to give.
It is reflected in our giving, because I understand that when you choose to give to God’s work you are choosing to not use that money somewhere else. 
But ultimately those decisions are life changing decisions because when they come together they are saying “I will put God first in my life.  Before my family, before my career, before my recreation, before habits.”  And that’s not easy, and that’s probably why Jesus said in Matthew 10:38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 
Because Jesus knew that what he was asking of us wouldn’t be easy, he knew that it would cost something, he knew that it would require a sacrifice.  If it doesn’t cost something, then it’s not a sacrifice. 
It’s been forty-five years since Wilbur Reese wrote these words, inflation has probably increased the price but the sentiment is still the same.
Three Dollars Worth of God
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.

I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.

I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

I don’t think that’s what God was asking for when he asked us to be a living sacrifice.
What is it that you are giving up?  How are you making yourself a living sacrifice today?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

God Loves Children

It was just about this time of year 22 years ago.  We had just moved to Bedford to start what would eventually become Cornerstone and I had to fly to Colorado to attend what was called “Church Planters Boot Camp”, an intensive week long training session that included men and women from around North America.

And part of the process was each church planter was assigned a coach who would work with them through the week and would provide additional coaching as needed.  My coach was a man named Jim Griffith, who had two things going for him, he had planted 5 churches up to that point and more importantly he looked like Tim Taylor who was riding high with “Home Improvement” at the time.

Because of my experience with Jim as a coach we had the opportunity to bring him to the district a few of years later to talk to church planters and re-planters.  I remember that because it happened during the Ice Storm of 1998 and it was a crazy drive to the conference and because of two things that Jim told us at that conference.  

The first thing Jim told us was “There are three ways to measure a person’s commitment to the vision, money, money and money.”  As a matter of fact, Jim said that when someone told you how committed they were to what you were trying to accomplish you had to quote the phrase from the movie Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money”. 

Not everybody will agree with that.

The second thing he taught us has proved invaluable through the years, he said “The person who will decide to come to your church the first time will be the wife, those who will decide to come back will be the children.”

Now I know that is a generalization and that all generalizations are wrong but bear with me.

He went on to say that if we were asked to meet with a family that we should go as a couple.  He said that the two guys could talk about anything, sports, hunting it really didn’t matter.  But the women would talk about the new church.

And we would do that, I would talk to the husband and Angela would talk to the wife and it would work.  I can imagine the conversation after words, she would say “Well, honey what did you think?”  and he would say “He’s an idiot, doesn’t know anything about sports or hunting and he’s a Habs fan.”  And she’d say “Angela told me what their church is like and it sounds amazing, I think we should go this Sunday.”  And they would.

And the second part of the equation was equally true.  We have discovered that life is too short to fight with kids about whether or not they wanted to go to church.

When you and I were growing up, kids were expected to be seen and not heard, to a certain degree.  We certainly didn’t have an opinion on things like where we would go to church.
But life has changed and the reality is that children often make those choices, or at least have a voice in the decision making process.

 And we have embraced Jim’s advice. 

From the beginning Cornerstone has tried to offer a top notch kids program, and it has cost us time and it has cost us money and it has meant that we have to constantly recruit the very best volunteer base that we can.  That was true when we had to find eight out of the sixty who called Cornerstone their church home and it is equally true today when we have to find eighty out of the four hundred who call Cornerstone their church home.

And so for the first twelve years of our existence Angela headed up our children’s ministry, you seeing a theme here? She also played piano and led worship and led our women’s ministry for the majority of those years.  A well trained monkey could have done my job, but without Angela there would have been no Cornerstone. 

For the past 8 years Marilyn has led the children’s ministry team.  And our children’s ministry is still a major priority at Cornerstone, in time, effort, money and volunteer commitment.

And the passage that was read this morning explains it even more than Jim Griffith’s words do.

We are in the closing chapter of the story of Jesus’s ministry.  He is making his last journey to Jerusalem.  A journey that will ultimately end with him nailed to a cross. 

And as he makes his way to Jerusalem he continues to teach and impact the lives of the those around him.  And we pick up the story in Mark 10:13  One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

We’ve all seen the paintings and pictures and there are a couple of problems with those.  The first is where did the Swedish kids come from?  Seriously.  The second problem with the picture is the age of the kids, you see the word that all three of the gospel accounts used for children actually refers to infants.

So this was kind of the equivalent of having your baby dedicated. And we don’t know why these parents wanted Jesus to bless their children.  Perhaps they had witnessed some of Jesus’ miracles.  Maybe they had seen Jesus heal the sick and figured that an ounce of prevention would be worth a pound of cure.  Kind of like having your children vaccinated. 

Or maybe they truly saw Jesus as God’s son and were looking for a spiritual touch from him, or maybe they were dedicating their children to him.

Or maybe they just wanted their children to be touched by someone famous.  The reason people let politicians kiss their babies.  

We don’t know the reasons, but we know that the disciples weren’t having anything to do with it and the bible tells us they scolded the parents for bothering Jesus. 

And I know the guys get a lot of grief over this, but let’s cut them some slack.  Everyone is a little tense heading to Jerusalem.  Jesus knows that the end is close and while the 12 may not have known the details they knew that something big was up.

And with the pressure of time they probably saw this as one more interruption that they didn’t need. 

I would suspect that if the parents had of been bringing sick kids to Jesus there wouldn’t have been a problem. Sometimes we are quick to elevate the physical needs of our children above the spiritual needs.  I have more people ask me to pray for their kids’ physical needs then I have people ask me to pray for their kids’ spiritual needs.  Just saying.    

Let’s keep reading in the story.  Mark 10:14  When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!”

It’s not often that we see Jesus getting angry, other translations say that he was greatly displeased or indignant but you get the picture, he wasn’t a happy camper.  And he told the disciple to do two things here.  1) to let the children come and 2) to not to do anything to stop them.  

So what do we learn from the story?  Why do we need to go out of our way to insure that the children will come to Jesus?

The first thing is we need to realize that It is Important for our Children and the Children of Others 

As Christian parents we have the primary responsibly for introducing our kids to Jesus.  It’s not Deborah’s job in the nursery, or Marilyn’s Job in Cornerstone Kids, or Stefan’s job in Consumed.  It’s your job. 

And maybe you think that it’s best to allow them to make that decision without you, or to wait until they are older. 

Seriously?  We don’t let our kids decide if they will go to the dentist, or when they will go to school or to the Doctor.

It was Frank Sonnenberg who wrote “If you don't pass your values on to your kids, someone else will.”

And Lenin said Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”

You have the primary responsibility to introduce your children to God, but we want to be here to help and to help with the journey.  And we need your help, not just with your children but with the children of others.

It’s easy to be passionate about what our kids are being taught but our responsibility has to go beyond just our kids.

Sometimes we have parents who will be willing to serve in Nursery, Children’s Church, Junior Church, Ignite or Consumed, that’s our youth ministry, as long as their children are part of the program.  But it can’t just be about your kids, there are other children as well who need to hear the story.  Other kids who need to come to Jesus.

And it takes special people to reach them.   You understand that not everybody at Cornerstone can teach children.  There is a process, and that is why we don’t advertise that we need volunteers.  Because we aren’t looking for warm bodies we are looking for ministry partners.

Before someone is asked to teach we discuss your possibility as a staff, then a personal invitation is extended, there is an interview, there are references to be checked and training that has to happen.  Police forms are filled out and checked.  Why? Because this is important.

We were in a church on vacation once and part way through the service the pastor announced that so and so was going to take the children out to children’s church.  A half a dozen kids got up to go out but so and so wasn’t there.  And so the pastor says “Is there anyone who can take the children out?” 

And nobody responded.  Now we knew the pastor so Angela volunteered and the children were sent off with a lady who had been in that church six times in her life.   That will never happen under my watch at Cornerstone.

But the question is still; why is it so important?  Because Jesus said  “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!”

It’s Important for the Church’s Future

The church is always one generation away from extinction.  We attend churches while we are on vacation.  And more times than not they are small churches, because I remember pastoring a small church and how encouraging it was to have visitors. 

Just as an aside, do you visit churches while you are on vacation?  Or do you take a vacation from God as well?    Seriously there are all kinds of churches out there and most of the people who go to them don’t bite.  Or at least don’t bite strangers. 

There is a message about the importance or lack of importance of corporate worship that you are teaching your children.  That was an aside.

But all of those small churches were lacking one thing, children.  Oh there might have been one or two but primarily they were churches full of old people, and we’ve been back to visit some of those churches only to discover them closed.

And they weren’t always like that, if you look around the churches, which I sometimes do, you’ll see classrooms and toys and posters that remind you of a different time.  But that was then, and they didn’t reach out to families with children and what holds true for local churches holds true for denominations and for the church as a whole.

Our city is full of empty churches that were once full of families and children. 

If we don’t reach the next generation, there will be no future for the church.  Throughout the book of Acts in the record of the early church it talks about whole households coming to faith.  And in Paul’s letters he addresses both parents and children.

Why was reaching children important to the early church?  Because they understood that Jesus said  “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!”

But It’s not just the future of the church,

It’s Important for Our Children’s Future 

If we believe what we say we believe about there being a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned then reaching children should have an eternal importance.

We are not just teaching your kids bible stories and morals; we are leading them toward a relationship with Jesus.  Why because we think it important that they go to heaven and not go to hell. And it should be important to you as well.

When you see the teens who are baptized at Cornerstone, they are often teens who have been brought up at Cornerstone, brought up being taught and led toward that relationship.

Jesus said in John 14:6  Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

I understand that Church isn’t the only thing in your family’s life, and I understand that church activities aren’t the only activities that you have your kids involved in. 

But listen carefully, their eternity won’t be determined by how high they can jump in basketball, how fast they can skate in hockey, how many flips they can do in cheer or how goods their marks are in school.  Their eternity will be determined by whether or not they know Jesus.  And while you can’t make that decision for them you can do everything in your power to make sure they have every opportunity to make that decision for themselves. 

Remember what the bible tells us in Proverbs 22:6  Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.

They will need to make their own decision, but we are responsible for directing them unto the right path to start with.  Why?  Because Jesus said  “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!”

But it’s not just because for the church’s future or the future of our children.  L
Psalm 112:1-2  Praise the LORD! How joyful are those who fear the LORD and delight in obeying his commands.  Their children will be successful everywhere; an entire generation of godly people will be blessed.

It’s Important for our Children’s Children’s Future    You understand that the values that we pass on to our children, they will pass on to their children.

The Prophet Hosea was speaking of how the people of Israel had rejected God and the consequences of that decision for the next generations when he wrote Hosea 8:7  “They have planted the wind and will harvest the whirlwind.”

We are reaping the seeds that were sown a generation ago.  For two thousand years church was a priority in the lives of Christian families.  It was what they did on Sunday.  They worshipped together as a family.

Earlier I spoke about those churches in the city and around our country that used to be full, many of them were built for the children of the baby boom, but at some point church became less and less important for the boomers and because of that it became even less important for gen x and y and the millennials. 

In a moment of introspection, what values are you passing on to your kids about the value of church attendance?

Has church become the thing you do with your family when there is nothing else to do?  There are no games, no practice, no chores, no family visits, no camping?

And maybe you are thinking, “but Denn, if church takes priority over sports and other activities it will teach my kids to resent the church.”

Really?  What will it teach your kids when sports and other activities take a priority over church?

We have parents at Cornerstone who take their kids to cheer or hockey or soccer on Sunday and still get them to church, they might be wearing their uniforms and might be a little sweaty, but that’s ok, they’re here. And kudos to those parents.
It was Aristotle who wrote,  “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.”

And it’s because we hold the future of our grand-kids in our hands that Jesus said  “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!”

If I was to ask you “Who was responsible for more people coming to Christ, Billy Graham or Edward Kimball?”  What would your answer be? 

Most of us are very familiar with Billy Graham and have never heard the name of Edward Kimball, so it seems the answer would be an easy one.  Edward Kimball was a Sunday School teacher and one of his students who he introduced to Jesus was a boy named Dwight L.  Moody. 

Yes, that Dwight L. Moody, the man who went on to become one of the most influential evangelists of the 1800’s.  And one of Moody’s converts was a man named Wilbur Chapman, who would also go on to become a preacher. 

In the late 1800s a professional ball player by the name of Billy Sunday committed his life to Christ, Sunday would eventually leave Baseball and become an assistant to Wilbur Chapman, who mentored the former baseball player and through that process Sunday became the Billy Graham of his day, or more correctly Billy Graham became the Billy Sunday of his day. 

At one of the meetings where Billy Sunday was preaching a man named Mordecai Ham turned his life over to Christ. 

You kind of see the pattern here right?   Yep, Ham also became an evangelist and it was during one of his meetings in Charlotte North Carolina that a young man named Billy Graham committed his life to Christ. 

Yep that Billy Graham, the man who is reported to have preached to more people than anyone in history including the Apostle Paul.

So, I’ll ask you again, “Who was responsible for more people coming to Christ, Billy Graham or Edward Kimball?”  The evangelist or the Sunday School Teacher?

And it is because of that that Jesus said  “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!”

And maybe you are sitting there thinking “Denn, you are making us feel guilty.” 

Perfect, I love it when a plan comes together.  I don’t often play the guilt card, but this is of eternal consequence. 

Ed Stetzer, is a Baptist preacher with two master degrees and two earned doctorates, he has planted numerous churches, lectured around the world, I’ve heard him in Orlando and Sussex, and written 15 books on church health and church planting and is the executive director of Lifeway Research. And after years of research and study Stetzer has come to the conclusion that  “Too many churches love their traditions more than their children.” 

And so the question is: What do we love more than the children of Cornerstone?

And when you are thinking of your answer remember the words of Jesus who said  “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!”

Sunday, September 11, 2016

God Loves Lost People

If you’ve been around Cornerstone long enough you have probably heard our mission statement or perhaps you’ve read it on our website.  Late in the last century when Angela and I were dreaming about what this church would look like we were told that an important part of that process was to develop a mission statement and so we did. 
22 years ago when people asked us what we were about we could tell them with conviction “Cornerstone Wesleyan Church exists to reach pre-Christians through dynamic worship and relevant preaching, bringing them to a life expanding relationship with Jesus Christ and guiding them into a practical holiness as evidenced through the fruit of the Spirit.” 
And sometimes when we would parrot off our mission statement we would have other Christians question it.  “Why do you call them Pre-Christians?  You’re just being mushy, it should be the lost or sinners” or “Why don’t you talk about them getting saved?  What’s with the Life expanding relationship stuff?”  “You’re just pandering to them with your relevant messages and dynamic worship; we didn’t come to entertain the world”
So early on we learned to defend our vision, we refer to folks as pre-Christians because we believe that we are going to reach people who aren’t Christ followers yet but that they will become Christ followers, thus they are not non-Christians they are simply pre-Christians. 
We talk about Life Expanding because we believe that when you come into that relationship with Christ it not only gives you the promise of eternal life in heaven when you die but it gives you a better life, an abundant life, a changed life, an expanded life here on earth.
And the relevant preaching and dynamic worship is just part of the plan, if we expect folks to connect with Cornerstone then we are going to have to take the first step.  That when they hear the messages they don’t leave saying “So what?”  
Instead the messages will be relevant to where they are in their lives right now and they can apply it to their lives where they are today.  And dynamic worship, why not?  People ought to enjoy church.  Most of us don’t listen to 500 year old music played on an organ the other six days of the week so why would we do it on Sunday?
And that dream started during my time in Australia, I read a book by Robert Kriegel called “If It Ain’t Broke Break it”  it is primarily a business book challenging people to think outside the box.  Then I picked up a book by George Barna called “User Friendly Churches” that highlighted a number of new churches that were making a major difference in how they did “Church” 
And then it all came together in a week long seminar I attended in Brisbane in the winter of 1992, it was actually summer in Brisbane, but that just gets confusing.  Bill Hybels and a team from Willow Creek Community Church spent a week presenting a conference entitled “Building a Church for the Unchurched”, during the conference he referenced a book written by Lee Strobels called “Inside the mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary” and I was smitten. To have a church that was intentional in their purpose, intriguing. 
For the first ten years of my ministry the thought had been “If they are serious about getting saved they’ll come to church the way we’ve always done church.” They’ll sing our songs, they will learn our language and they will adopt our customs and in the end if they stick with it long enough they will meet our God. 
But what if we sang music that at least the style was familiar to those outside the church?  What if we made sure that we didn’t use words that unchurched people were unfamiliar with?  What if we used videos of things they were familiar with? 
What if we took the time to explain things like communion?  And that was the dream that this church was based on, that we would endeavour to reach the pre-churched, the de-churched and the un-churched.
After all we are told in John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  And that thought is reiterated in Romans 5:8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  So if God loved pre-Christians enough to give his Son and Jesus loved pre-Christians enough to give his life I would think that we should be willing to give up our traditions and preferences for them, if that’s what it takes.
And so 22 years later our mission remains the same, although sometimes we shorten it down to say “Cornerstone exists to reach pre-Christians” or most times I will simply say “Cornerstone is here to help depopulate hell.”  And I believe that, I believe that there are people today in our church and in our community who will go to heaven because of who we are and what we do and that wouldn’t have been the case if there had been no Cornerstone.
But sometimes I still have pastors or believers from more traditional churches accuse us of pandering to people, or watering down the gospel and dumbing down the message.  Oh well. I am reminded of the story told about D.L. Moody, apparently someone asked Moody how he reached the lost.  When he told them they informed him they didn’t agree with his methods so Moody asked “How do you do it?” to which they replied “I don’t.”  Moody answered “I like my way better.”
Our story begins in  Luke 15:1-3 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! So Jesus told them this story:
Two thousand years ago it was the same as it is today.  Religion was sometime seen as a closed club, you came to God on the terms of established religion, you learned their language, you sang their songs and you understood their rules, both the written rules and the unwritten rules. 
And Jesus began to shake that up, instead of expecting those who needed God to take all the steps Jesus made it easier for them.  He taught in fields and market places, in people’s homes and with simple stories that people could understand.  And the religious establishment got a little cranky because they were feeling threatened.
 So Jesus did what Jesus so often did, he told them a story.   It wasn’t a theological dissertation, it wasn’t a sermon filled it religious terms and words, it was just a story. 
When we lived in Australia, it is a beautiful country filled with wonderful people who are far from God, and I discovered that in most social settings if people asked me what I did for a living and I told them I was a pastor it became a very different conversation, they shut right down.  So often when someone asked what I did I would tell them “I’m a story teller” and that would often move them in a direction where we could talk. 
But back to the message, this chapter is one of the most loved chapters in the Bible; it contains the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Or as he is often referred to “The Prodigal Son.” 
There are times that people will talk about these as three separate parables but the reality is that there is only one parable, there are simply three parts to that parable.   It is like a montage, three pictures in a single frame, brought together by a single overriding theme, it would appear that Jesus was defining three types of lost. 
So let’s start at the beginning, Jesus looks at the religious leaders, don’t know if he was sad, frustrated or angry that they didn’t get it but he begins his parable by telling them.  Luke 15:4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?  
In the first instance The Sheep Was Lost Through Its Own Carelessness The story would be familiar to anyone who had ever tended sheep because they really weren’t the brightest of animals.  Most of what I read this week about sheep would imply that they aren’t the sharpest knife in the animal drawer.   If I wasn’t so sensitive and careful with my words I’d probably say that The Sheep was lost through its own stupidity.  But I won’t go there.
A sheep is driven by its appetites and the immediate, it has no long term plans or desires, its main concern is simply to find food for right now.  And so with its head down the wayward sheep eats and wanders and wanders and eats until it has wandered far from the safety of the flock.
Its wandering is not a conscious act, it doesn’t begin the day by saying “I think I will wander off and get eaten by a wolf today.”  Instead it is simply satisfying its base needs, oblivious to the bigger picture.
And there are folks like that today, perhaps some right here in this service.  They are not far from God because that was their plan; they just didn’t have a plan.  Their world is consumed with the immediate, earning a living, feeding their appetites, simply making it through life. 
And some of those appetites and desires move them further and further from God, but it is carelessness and a lack of knowledge.  That’s where I was when I was 19. 
A few years ago I was talking to another pastor and the question came up about making church relevant to people who are far from God.  And I commented that the relevancy of the church never crossed my mind before I chose to follow Christ.  I didn’t deliberately not go to church; it was just something that never crossed my mind to do.
I didn’t go to church, I didn’t attend meetings at the Lions Club and I wasn’t a Shriner simply because they weren’t a part of my life.  I never stopped to think about the eternal, or about creation or about God. 
I was lost and like the sheep who had wandered away wasn’t even aware that I was lost.  But that didn’t make me any less lost.  And it wasn’t until a friend confronted me about my lostness that I even gave it any thought. 
And I would venture that the vast majority of the folks in our community who don’t attend church just don’t think about it.  And so for them we need to present both the church and the kingdom in such a way that they actually stop and consider what we have to offer. 
And in most cases that will happen when people who already follow Christ talk to their pre-Christian friends and family members about the difference that Jesus and Cornerstone has made in their lives.  It’s really that simple, no big plan just an acknowledgement that there is something else out there.  
The second picture that Jesus draws is in Luke 15:8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it?   If the sheep was lost through its own carelessness The Coin Was Lost Through Its Someone Else’s Carelessness.  Culturally there is a lot going on in this story.  With the sheep the shepherd had lost one in a hundred, but here the woman loses one of the ten silver coins that she has, not one percent of the total but 10 percent of the total.  And the commentators say that the coins may have represented a couple of different things to the woman. 
For some it was her household savings, her rainy day fund, money set aside for a specific purpose and that makes sense.  Maybe she was counting it wondering how much longer it would take her to have what she needed or maybe she had what she needed and now was taking it out to spend it on whatever it was that she had saved it for. 
At least one commentator offers a more romantic spin and claims in that time and culture the mark of a married woman was a head-dress made of ten silver coins linked together by a silver chain. And if that was the case and if it was one of these coins that was lost, she would have searched for it like you would search for your lost wedding band. 
But it was not the coin’s fault that it had been lost, it hadn’t jumped out of the woman’s hand, she dropped it or she misplaced it but it was her fault not the coin’s.  But the coin had certain characteristics that allowed it to be pre-disposed to being lost.  It was heavy and so it fell, it was round so it rolled and it was inanimate so it just lay there hidden. 
And there are people in our community today who are far from God because of the actions of other people.  Parents who had no use for the church, I hear that from time to time, adults who from the time there were children heard nothing but criticism of the church and God, they were shaped from childhood to be lost. 
Or maybe it was an incident where they were hurt or disappointed by a church or a believer; I’ve heard those stories as well. Or maybe today it is a result of the constant negative press the church seems to get in the national media.  A few years ago we did the window wash thing at the Esso across the street.  One Saturday in February we washed peoples windows and topped up their windshield washer fluids and gave them a magnet with information about the church on them.  And this one guy when he found out I was from church started yelling about priests and little boys and televangelists and churches stealing people’s money.  And then he jumped in truck and drove away.  Wow. 
And for those people we need to prove ourselves, and we do that through our actions and through our authenticity.  We not only say we care and can be trusted we prove it through our actions and the actions of those who call themselves Christ Followers.   But remember even those that are lost because of the carelessness of others, are still lost and they still need to be found.
And that brings us to the third picture in the frame and probably the most familiar one, everyone knows the term the Prodigal Son, even people who have never set foot inside a church.  Little side lesson here, often we think that Prodigal is a description of someone who knew God and wandered away.  Prodigal was actually a description of the life style that he was living and had nothing to do with his past life style or his future life style. 
And so Jesus continues with his lesson  Luke 15:11-13 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.” 

The Son Was Lost Through His Deliberate Actions  This is what sets this story apart from the other two, it wasn’t carelessness that resulted in his being lost, it was a conscious thought and action, he deliberately walked away from his father and his father’s home.  Have you seen the progression? One sheep out of a hundred, one coin out of ten, but here it is one son out of two.  We’ve gone from a loss of 1% to 10% to 50%.  From a relatively insignificant loss to one of incredible significance, the loss of a son.
It wasn’t his carelessness that led the boy into his wilderness, he knew exactly what he was doing.  And it wasn’t someone else’s fault, as far as we can tell the boy had a good home and a loving family.  And he decided to walk away from his home and his family.  This was a conscious decision that he made, nobody else made it for him.
And there are people out there today who have consciously decided to not follow Jesus or they were part of the family and decided that they didn’t want to be part of the family any more.
But regardless of why the son was lost the reality is that he was lost.  He no longer had any of the privileges of being part of that family, he no longer slept under their roof no longer shared their meals.
I think it is interesting that the shepherd went looking for the sheep, and the woman swept her house in order to find the coin but the father simply waited for his son to return.  Because there wasn’t anything else he could do. 
Once the boy had decided to go there were only two options that remained 1) Let him go 2) Take away his free will.  And as effective as shackles and a small room in the barn would have been it was outside the scope of the father’s love.  As much as the father loved his child he wasn’t about to take away his free will.  Sound familiar?
In January I will have been in pastoral ministry for 36 years, and I have owned cats for 42 years and I have discovered that pastoring people is like owning cats. If they get out, you can’t run and catch them.  You ever try to catch a cat? 
Not going to happen not until it wants to be caught.  Oh you do the right things you call for the cat, and you rattle the treat bag but they come home when they want to come home. All you can do is be prepared when they come back to let them back in.
And I have discovered that when someone decides to leave the church or worse turn their back on their faith there’s not a lot you or me or God can do to prevent that from happening, shy of locking them in a small room in chains and that goes back to the free will issue again.  
And so we call them and rattle the treat bag but we need to be prepared when they come home.  In the story we read this Luke 15:20 “So he (the lost son) returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”
Sometimes we are better at tracking down lost sheep and lost coins then we are at welcoming home lost sons and daughters.  Just saying.
 But all three stories ended the same way listen again to the words of Jesus.
Luke 15:6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
Luke 15:9 And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbours and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’
Luke 15:22-24 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
And then Jesus ties it all together with a bow when he said  Luke 15:10 “In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”
Are we serious about our mission, about God’s mission?  About reaching pre-Christians?  It cost God his son, it cost Jesus his life and be assured it will cost you something.
There are those in this group today because others were willing to pay that something, the cost of this building, stepping outside their comfort zone to talk to you about God and Cornerstone or in giving up their preferences in order to have a church that you would feel comfortable in. 
But it doesn’t stop with those who are here.  Our communities are filled with lost people who need God and our purpose is to help de-populate hell.
And it is because we believe that that we ask so much from you.
Why we ask you to give more and serve more, because reaching lost people is a responsibility we all share. 
As more people come home to Cornerstone there will be a need for more volunteers to provide for more ministries and you might be thinking but I don’t want to miss Sunday morning worship.  Do you think our other volunteers want to miss the service?
Plus, we have the great opportunity to work in one service and worship in the other one.  And we have folks who do just that.
Sometimes when someone is asked to serve in ministry, whether it be greeting, hosting our coffee time or ministering to our children they will say “I’ve already done my time.”  Which might be the appropriate response if you are talking about prison but not if you’re talking about ministry.   
The only question that remains is: Do we love lost people enough to pay the price?