The Priority of Personal and Family Worship

silueta-de-familia-jugando-en-la-playa_1160-596Throughout church history, one of the key spiritual practices of a Christian household was regular family worship. Pausing daily to read the Scripture, pray, and sing together as a family became a regular practice in the early decades following the close of the New Testament era.

For instance, the early church father, Tertullian (c. 160-225), writes about central role family worship in Christian households saying, “…They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another.” A few centuries later the archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom (c. 349-407), implored God’s people to gather daily as families for worship, arguing that, “…every house should be a church, and every head of a family a spiritual shepherd…” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, p. 545)

Family worship fell on hard times during the late medieval period. The hierarchical view of clergy as well as the removal of the Bible from the laity is at least part of the reason. But as the Reformation got underway, emphasizing a return to the Bible and translations in the vernacular of the people, family worship was revitalized. In his lectures in Genesis, Martin Luther (1483-1546) said, “Abraham had in his tent a house of God and a church, just as today any godly and pious head of a household instructs his children in godliness. Therefore, such a house is actually a school and a church, and the head of the household is a bishop and priest in his house.”

The framers of the Westminster Confession of Faith picked up the same sentiment in 1647 when in the chapter devoted to religious worship and services they wrote, “…God is to be worshipped everywhere, in spirit and truth; as, in private families daily, and in secret, each one by himself.” (WCF, 21.6)

In that very section, the WCF cites Deuteronomy 6:6-7 as a proof text for the instruction—a text some of you, I’m sure, have committed to memory, “And these words that I command to you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.”

The primary reason Cornerstone published The Repentant Life devotional for the Lenten season is to encourage you in the discipline of daily private and family worship. Due to the demands of daily life, it’s often unrealistic for a Father or Mother to prepare a daily Bible lesson for the family. Having a ready-made devotional with a simple service-like pattern helps the whole family enter into the presence of God together and be nourished spiritually without a lot of preparation or effort.

We sincerely hope you’re finding The Repentant Life devotional a helpful aid to your personal and family life this Lenten season. We’d love to receive feedback from you about the devotional. What are you finding helpful? What is challenging or confusing? Do you have any suggestions for how it could be better? These devotional publications are designed to help edify you, so please know your input is welcomed and always appreciated.

Resources for Learning More about Family Worship:

  • Family Worship by Donald Whitney
  • A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home by Jason Helopoulos
  • The Family Worship Book: A Resource For Family Devotions by Terry Johnson

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Officer Ordination & Installation

Next Sunday will be a special Lord’s Day in the life of our congregation. As most of you know, two weeks ago we elected six men to our officer coreimg_4355—three deacons and three elders. Next Sunday we will have the privilege of ordaining and installing these men to their respective office.

If you’ve never attended an ordination and installation service before, there are several elements of the service that are unique, including a charge, laying on of hands, and public vows. I thought it would be helpful to publish the vows ahead of time, so that you can see the commitments the officers are making to you, the church, and the commitments you, the church, are making to them. These vows are taken directly from our denomination’s Book of Church Order. Please read through, ponder, and prayerfully consider the vows below and come with joy and anticipation next week as we celebrate God’s provision of new officers in our midst.

Officer Vows

  • Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
  • Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your Session the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
  • Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of Biblical polity?
  • Do you accept the office of ruling elder or deacon in this church, and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof, and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your life, and to set a worthy example before the Church of which God has made you an officer?
  • Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?
  • Do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church?

Congregational Vows

  • Do you, the members of this church, acknowledge and receive these brothers as ruling elders or deacons, and do you promise to yield him all that honor, encouragement and obedience in the Lord to which his office, according to the Word of God and the Constitution of this Church, entitles him?

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Wait for It

One of the most disheartening things that can happen to a preacher is finding a great resource for a particular sermon a week too late. That happened to me this past week.

I just found out that Intervarsity Press published D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ sermons on Habakkuk in 1953. Lloyd-Jones, if you’re not familiar with him, was the Pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for nearly thirty years. He was one the most influential figures in the Reformed and Evangelical church in Britain in the 20th century.

Though I never met him—he died a year after I was born—Lloyd Jones has become one of martin-lloyd-jonesmy mentors, primarily in the area of preaching. His book Preaching & Preachers was the most influential book I read on preaching in seminary, and over the course of the last tenyears or so, I’ve listened to at least a couple hundred of his sermons online. He is, in my opinion, one of the greatest practitioners of expository preaching that has ever lived.

And so, I learned, after preaching half of Habakkuk, that Lloyd Jones’ sermons on this great book were available. Published in a slim little volume entitled, “From Fear to Faith.” I located a copy from a small book house in Britain and had it airmailed to me. It arrived Wednesday of this past week, and I’ve found little snatches of time this week to read through all six expositions. As you might imagine, it is remarkably good.

I took some small comfort in noticing his textual and application focus on Habakkuk 2:1-4 paralleled what we covered in last week’s message, namely, waiting upon the Lord. But what I enjoyed about Lloyd-Jones message was how he spent substantial time illustrating the principle of waiting upon the Lord from the Bible. Whether it was Noah, or Daniel, or Jeremiah, he showed that God’s people very often learn the most from God when they wait upon Him.

He finished his sermon on Habakkuk 2:1-4 with these words:

“For Christian people today, in perplexity with regarding to so much that is happening in the church and in the world, this is still the answer of God—wait. Not only is the whole future course of history known to God, and His purpose for the church made plain, but what He has decreed will most certainly come to pass. It may at times be difficult to understand the delay. Yet, ‘with God a thousand years are as one day and one day as a thousand years.’ Wait for the vision; it is certain, it is sure, it can never fail.”

These words are even more impactful when you realize that Lloyd Jones was speaking to a war torn audience in Britain at the time. After the ravages of World War II, Europe saw some of the bleakest days of hunger and disease. Many were without work and a whole generation of young soldiers had been killed. The questions circling their minds were, “What does all this mean? What is happening?” Or, as Lloyd Jones put it in his opening sermon, “Is God in control of world history?”

These are the questions many in the world today are asking. What is going on? Is God in control? Habakkuk is teaching us what it means to not stifle such questions but to instead take those questions to the Lord and probe His Word for answers. In the end, we may not get all the answers we want, at least not yet. But, we will most certainly get The Answer we really need.

Wait for it.

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Officer Election at Cornerstone

In June of this last year, the elders approved seven men to enter officer training at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church. The seven men were John Marquardt, Gene King, Todd Russell, Mike Smith, Brian Phillips, Marty Smith, and Steve Green. Each of these men accepted your (the congregation) officer nomination and filled out the “Officer Readiness Questionnaire” as the first step in evaluating belief, character, and call to leadership

Beginning in July, these seven men began a six-month officer training process that focused on spiritual, doctrinal, and officer development. One of the objectives of training is to evaluate and test each man’s sense of call to being an officer as well as identifying Cornestone Logoand developing gifts for ministry.

Over the course of the training, Mike Smith and John Marquardt determined that now is not their time for them to pursue officership at Cornerstone. As so many of you know, Mike and John are remarkably godly men, whom the Lord has used immensely in our church and the wider community. Not surprisingly, it was their godliness and commitment to honor the integrity of officership that helped them determine that now is not the time for them to be an officer. Though it was sad to see them step away, my love and respect them increased all the more through the process. We are truly a better congregation for having these two brothers in our midst.

The five other men—Marty Smith, Brian Phillips, Todd Russell, Gene King, and Steve Green—finished training a couple of weeks ago and were examined this past Tuesday night by the elders. I’m pleased to announce that each man passed examination with flying colors and was unanimously recommend to the membership of Cornerstone for election on Sunday, February 12, 2017. (Mark your calendars now!)

In addition to these new officer candidates, one of our current officers, Joe Haworth, was nominated to move from the diaconate to the eldership. As anyone who knows Joe will testify, he’s a servant of servants. He’s certainly among the most caring and compassionate men I know. At the same time, Joe possesses gifts in teaching and spiritual shepherding. What that means is Joe is a unique servant of the Lord whose gifts could be deployed as either a deacon or an elder.

As Joe and I began to talk through his sense of call and gifting, exploring whether a transition from deacon to elder was wise, we both became convinced that a move to the eldership made the best sense. So, in addition to the five new candidates, you will also be voting on Joe Haworth for the office of elder.

To help you prepare to vote your conscience on February 12th, next week pictures as well as short bios of the officer candidates will be published in the Pastoral Notes, so you can get to know the men better. In addition, we will publish their contact information as well, so you can reach out to them personally with any questions you might have.

Speaking of questions, if you have any about the officer training process or the upcoming election, please feel free to contact the church office or one of our elders. We would be happy to help in any way we can!

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Nurturing a Holy Imagination

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“As a Christian, I am responsible for the furniture of my mind and imagination.”—Frank Gaebelein

I’ve taken time over the last several weeks to talk about the imagination, because I sincerely believe a healthy and holy imagination is critical even essential to a vibrant life of faith. God designed us to be drawn toward whatever it is we find beautiful or compelling. That is to say, what we see and love—real or imagined—possesses the power to give shape and direct our lives.

If, for instance, you’re imaginatively drawn to being a rock star, then your vision for the good life will be drawn in large measure by what it means to be a rock star. A certain dress code and attitude—we might even say character—begins to take shape as your life more and more falls under the influence of what it means to be a rock star.

Likewise, if you’re imaginatively drawn to being a cowboy, the very same principle holds true even though the image will form in an entirely different way. A different dress code and attitude are required to be a cowboy, and over time the shape and direction of your life will form around the “image” as it bears increasing sway over your mind.

Hopefully you can see through these analogies the particular power that the imagination has to direct our affections and then our life. If you pay close attention to your own internal world, you’ll likely to find various images of the good life floating around inside of you. Those images possess immense power to cultivate virtue or vice in your life.

Remember, our everyday sins like greed and lust are little more than imaginative iniquities. But even the more egregious sins like stealing or adultery are really just greed and lust all grown up. Consider Eve’s imaginings about the fruit on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in Genesis 3. It wasn’t until she had imagined what fruit could do for her (“the good life”) that she was poised to eat it.

At the same time, if our imaginations are filled with visions of the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), then it’s likely our character and course of life will follow suit. What that means is that all Christ followers must learn both to properly guard and guide their imaginations.

To that end, a few practical instructions for pursuing healthier and holier imaginations:

  1. Take time to identify the images that are exerting power in and over your life. What are the images that frame your hopes and expectations? What is the vision of the good life that you’re using to we evaluate life and determine whether you’re succeeding or falling short? The more aware and attentive you are to the mental images at work within you, the better prepared you will be to protect against idolatrous imaginings and promote visions of the good life that are consistent with Scripture.
  1. Monitor how different images or imaginings are affecting your heart. Ever noticed how going to someone else’s house will often effect how you feel about your own house? Ever noticed how a movie will inspire you to live differently or draw you into temptation? Take note of how your heart gets turned in various ways through images. Which ones encourage you? Which one’s derail you? Establish parameters where your heart may be most susceptible to sin. Not everyone struggles with the same images. Pay attention to your heart.
  1. Set good, true, and beautiful images before your eyes as often as you can. The German poet, Johann Goethe, argued that the best way to train our aesthetic sensibility is to have beautiful things always before our eyes. The point Goethe is making is that our taste for things is shaped by regular exposure to them. Repetitive influence is profoundly powerful. If we regularly and intentionally set the good, true, and beautiful before our minds, then the likelihood of those things catching hold of our imaginations and over time directing our lives is far greater than if we do not.

 

 

 

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A Holy Imagination for the Life of Faith

“The constructs of the imagination tell us things about human life that we don’t get in any other way”—Northop Frye

Last week in the Pastoral Notes, I took time to express the importance of the imagination for a strong and vibrant faith in Jesus Christ. The reasoning was simple. If we are going to see and live according to “…the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), then we must possess the ability to envision the invisible—we must be able to imagine.

Whether we know it or not, we imagine all the time. Every time I lose my wallet and my dear, patient wife asks me, “Where were you last time you had it?” she’s calling on my imagination. Simple questions like, “What did you have for dinner last night?” or “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” are imaginative questions. You’re being asked to mentally retrieve something in the past or cast a vision for the future. You’re being asked to see with your mind something that you can’t see with your eyes.

The imagination also has a deep-seated moral component. Little girls play house and want to dress up like Mommy, because Mommy is the hero they want to be like. Little boys dress up like a superhero, because that’s the vision of what it means to be great. We grow toward that which our imagination is captured by.

Any time we have expectations or hope or an idea for how something ought to be, we are using our imagination. For instance, “What’s your idea of a perfect Christmas morning?” That question is asking you to build a mental image. The person answering is likely to channel certain images and feelings that will evoke a “this is the way things ought to be” moment.

Anytime we’re thinking in the category of the “way things ought to be,” we’re employing to more or less degree the moral imagination. We’re conjuring in the mind a perspective or an image of the good and beautiful life. That image however fuzzy has the power to shape and direct a life. You will inescapably move toward it.

This is why we have to keep a close watch on what’s grabbed our imagination. Does our imagining align with God’s vision for the good and beautiful life? To keep our moral imaginations holy and healthy, we must have our hearts captured and then shaped by the narrative of Scripture.

For instance, when we read the story of Moses and the parting of the Red Sea or David’s clash with Goliath, we’re immersed into a (true) story that shows us God’s power to conquer what looks like unstoppable evil and to rescue His people in what looks like impossible situations and to do in the most unlikely of ways. The imaginative power of the characters, events, and the storyline can “baptize” our minds (to steal a line from C.S. Lewis) and then direct our lives toward the good, right, true, and beautiful.

The more such biblical stories capture our minds, the more power they carry to strengthen our trust in God and condition our obedience to His call. In other words, as the Scriptures through the power of the Holy Spirit lay hold of our imaginations our moral lives are shaped according to God’s heart.

We must be disciplined to stir up the imagination to the enchantment of the gospel story. We must remember time and again that not just Moses and David have come, but an even a greater Hero has emerged. And He came conquering what looked like unstoppable evil, to rescue His people from what looked like an impossible situation, and to do it in the most unlikely of ways. His name is Jesus Christ. He is the babe in the manger, the man on the cross, the resurrected Savior in the sky, and one day returning King of King who is remaking heaven and earth.

The more this story gets in you, the more power it will have over you, and the greater shape and direction it will give to the unfolding of your story—I mean God’s story in and through you.

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The Imagination: Seeing the Unseen

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”—Philippians 4:8

I’m a sucker for Christmas. It’s always been the case. I look forward to climbing the stairs to the attic the day after Thanksgiving to retrieve the Christmas decorations. I love picking out a tree, tacking up the garland, hanging the stockings by the chimney with care all while listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas.”

I’ve tried to figure out why I’m so smitten with Christmas. I used to think it was just the buzz and sparkle of it all. To be sure, that’s part of it. I’ve come to realize, however, that something deeper, purer is at work—something childlike and innocent. It seems, more than any other time of the year, Christmas wakes up my imagination to the reality of the truth of things.

The phrase “wakes up my imagination to the reality of the truth of things” may seem like a strange way to put it, because we don’t usually think of the imagination as the vehicle for communicating what is true. Fairy tales, fiction, child’s play – that’s the stuff of imagination, right? Well, yes, it is, but the imagination is much more than that, too. It’s endowed with a deeper magic we might say—that is, the ability of mind to see the unseen, to visualize the real but invisible.

This may be surprising to hear but the capacity to imagine lies at the very core of Christianity, for faith is the “…substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The capacity for faith requires the ability to envision what we can’t see, and the ability to envision what can’t be seen is the very work of the imagination. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. How else could we know and love a God who no one has or can see (1 Timothy 6:16) if we don’t have the capacity to see with our “mind’s eye” what is true and real but hidden from sight?

What this means is that tending our imaginations is an important spiritual practice for a strong and vibrant faith. God wants our imaginations to be healthy and holy, and for that to happen, we must learn to care for them. For the next few weeks in the Pastoral Notes, I want to reflect with you about what it means to tend our imaginations for the living of the Christian life. That with the Spirit’s help we might pluck up the weeds of cynicism, unbelief, and despair that chokes out the holy enchantment that comes when our hearts swept away by the story of the gospel.

The imagination is one of the greatest gifts God has given to us. Let’s learn how to take good care of it.

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Church Planting in Spring Hill, TN

Today represents, in many ways, the fulfillment of a nearly two-year dream. January 2015, at our annual elders’retreat, the leaders of Cornerstone begin dreaming about the possibility of a church plant in the Spring Hill, TN area. And by God’s grace this morning, Rev. Mike Fennema, our newly minted church planter for the Spring Hill area will be opening up the Word of God for us. Praise be to God!

Now, a number of you have met Mike and his wife, Stephanie, and their four beautiful children: Elliot, Oliver, Mattie, and Abigail. But many more of you have not met them. I want to take a moment in this space to tell you a little bit about them.

Mike grew up in a Christian family, attending church every Sunday. But his faith in Christ really became his own while in high school through a variety of people and circumstances including youth leaders, teachers, parents, mission trips, reading the Bible, and prayer. Throughout his time at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, his love for Jesus deepened and matured, leading several Bible Studies and short-term mission trips. It was also during this time that God used a hard providence—the death of a dear friend—to bring out a love for ministering to people the good news of Jesus Christ.

Mike graduated from college in 2003 and in 2006 he married Stephanie. It was also during this time that Mike began training for vocational ministry at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Following graduation from seminary in 2008, Mike’s call to gospel ministry was confirmed when Redeemer Church (PCA) in Evans, Georgia called him to be an Associate Pastor. In that role, Mike gave vision and oversight to the church’s youth and families ministries. A few years later in 2013 Mike accepted a new call to be the Pastor of Trinity Fellowship Church (PCA) in Sherwood, Arkansas, which is just outside of Little Rock.

After a couple of years of service at Trinity Fellowship, God began to move Mike’s interest toward church planting. Faithfully listening to God’s leading, Mike and Stephanie attended church planting assessment with Mission to North America and received a full recommendation for church planting.

What that means is that about the time we began looking for a church planter, God was already preparing a planter for us. We didn’t know his name yet, but in time it would all come clear. After a nine month search committee process, an official call was extended to Mike Fennema to be the church planter for Spring Hill, TN. Mike’s call was approved shortly thereafter by the Nashville Presbytery.

The elders are praying that the Spirit of the Lord will persuade some of you to join The Spring Hill Fellowship Team. In fact, if you are in or near Spring Hill, TN, consider what role God is calling you to play in this vital work. Notice, I didn’t say if you will have a role. I said consider what role you are to have. Maybe you will pray? We need prayer. Maybe you will give? We need resources. Maybe you will go? We need laborers in the harvest. Listen closely to Mike’s heart for the gospel and Spring Hill this morning and then answer God’s call.

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Entering the Year on Our Knees

I’m a goal setter. It’s in my DNA. I like to set my mind to accomplish something and go for it. I live by the old adage: “if you aim for nothing, you will hit it every time.” So if you want to really achieve something of value, and experience the thrill of accomplishment, you have to put in the time—set goals, make plans, and then get after it.

That’s why I’ve always loved the week between Christmas and New Years. It’s a window of time where the world slows down long enough for me to get a lay of the land. What did I accomplish this year? Where did I fall short and why? Where do I go from here? How can this next year be better than the last?

As healthy as this process is for me each year, I’ve noticed an unhealthy tendency to identify goals based on what I want or think would be best rather than honestly considering what God wants first. I eventually get around to reflecting on what God would want, but only after I’ve made up my mind about the direction I would like to go. Consequently, I wind up asking God to bless the plans I’ve made rather than submitting myself to God for him to shed His light abroad in my heart that I might gain direction for where to go next.

Realizing this has been convicting. God has been showing me that my insistence on making my own plans for life without first submitting my heart to Him meant that I was living as if my life had more to do with me than with God.

As an act of repentance, I’ve reversed the order this year. Instead of planning and then praying, I’m praying and then planning. I’m letting my time with the Lord drive my goals for the year rather than let me goals drive me to the Lord. It’s already making a difference in my soul.

In fact, it’s made such a difference that I want invite you—the congregation—to enter the same pattern with me in worship in January. Starting January 3rd, we will begin a four-part sermon series entitled, “Entering the Year on our Knees.” Instead of hitting the ground running this year, let’s hit our knees together and make our number one priority in 2016 to meet with the living God.

Happy New Year everyone!

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Let’s Read The Bible Together

Glasses on Open Bible

At Cornerstone, we believe the Bible is the foundation for our walk with the Lord. This is why in worship every week the service is filled to the brim with the truth of God’s Word. Whether reading, preaching, singing, or praying we want the truth of the Bible to wash over and into you, and by the power of the Spirit, to have a transformative impact on your heart and life (Ephesians 5:26-27).

As central and necessary our weekly Bible intake is in corporate worship, one feeding a week is simply not enough. In the same way that one meal a week cannot meet your physical needs, one meal on God’s Word a week cannot meet your spiritual needs. This is why over and over in the Bible God calls His people to daily feedings on Scripture (Psalm 1:1-2, Joshua 1:8), and why Jesus says we cannot expect to survive spiritually if we’re not regularly consuming every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).

If we took an honest look at our patterns of Bible intake, many of us would likely find that our souls are suffering from spiritual malnutrition. Just as our stomach growls when we’re hungry, our soul growls for the solid food of God’s Word (Job 23:12). Sadly, instead of turning to the pure milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2) we’ll snack on the many words of the world. Some sustenance can certainly be found on Christian blogs and books and through conversations with Christian friends, but no matter how tasty the instruction, their words are only supplemental. Man’s words can never be a meal replacement for the Word of God.

Now, many of you are already thinking about losing those five to ten pounds you’ll pick up between Thanksgiving and Christmas. As a fellow in need of some trimming, I will likely join you in that noble endeavor as soon as the calendar strikes January. But as we make plans to pursue physical health, let’s remember that godliness has value in all things, holding promise for now and eternity (1 Timothy 4:8). Sure, cut out the carbs and go easy on the sugar in January, but don’t ever push back from the table of God’s Word. Instead, let’s commit to glut ourselves with the Word of God this year. In fact, let’s do it together.

I’d like to invite you to accept the big hairy challenge of reading through the whole Bible over the next two years. You heard that right—two years! (And no, I’ve not lost my mind.) Complete with short readings and “catch up days,” the two-year read through the Bible plan is a doable goal for the Bible reading beginner while still being hefty enough for the Bible reading pro.

Don’t believe me? Ask yourself this question, “Do I have 8-10 minutes a day to let God speak into my life?” That’s right, just 8-10 minutes a day! I figure since most of us will be spending less time at the dining room table starting in January, we can spend those few extra moments feasting on God’s Word. Slimmer bodies, fatter souls! Sounds like a winning plan to me.

Please take time this week to prayerfully consider joining the Cornerstone family in reading through the Bible in 2016-2017. The church staff has prepared FREE Bible reading and prayer booklets for you to take home. You will find them at both entrances today at worship! In addition to this, we’re also busily working on an update to our Cornerstone App so you can access the reading plan that way as well. It will be available by January 1!

I’m excited to see how God will work in our lives as we strive to be a community at table with God’s Holy Word.

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