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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It’s Getting Spicy! The Latter Half of Daniel

After a sweet time in the Psalms this summer, we’re returning to the book of Daniel to what I have called this week the “wild and wooly section.” Truly, if any section of the Scripture should come with a warning label, Daniel 7-12 is it. I believe Daniel would agree, for it’s clear that even he felt queasy about the things he saw and wrote.

For instance, at the end of the vision in Daniel 7, we receive this word of personal testimony, “As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my color changed…” (Daniel 7:28) That doesn’t sound good. Could it be that Daniel was just having a bad prophetic day? Well, not exactly. For after the vision of the next chapter we read this, “And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days… I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it.” (Daniel 8:27)

Yikes! What are we to make of this? Is it safe to read and study Daniel 7-12? To steal a line from Mr. Beaver in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course he (Aslan) isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

Truth is, the Scripture is not always safe either, but it is always good. Paul tells us 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is profitable. It is, in other words, for our good—even if that Scripture, as in Daniel’s case, makes us sick. For sometimes, believe it or not, sickness is a sign of health, but more on that later.

For now, let me say that I derive great comfort from the fact that Daniel did not understand everything that was shown to him. Every time I read the final seven chapters of Daniel I scratch my head wondering, “What in the world does this mean?” I was reminded this week that the Apostle Peter said that he finds some of Paul’s writing “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). Peter could have easily said the same thing about the latter half of Daniel. It’s a bear! (Quite literally)

Despite the mysteries and interpretive challenges, there is a treasure trove of truth underneath the surface just waiting to be mined. In fact, the image of “mining” is a good one for studying the latter half of Daniel. It’s going to take some patience and diligence to sift through the truth to get to the treasures that await us. Said another way, the visions of Daniel are not where you typically turn for inspirational Scriptures to stencil on your living room wall. You won’t find many (any?) of those! You will find, however, scores of inspirational truths that need to be stenciled on your heart and life. And in the end, that’s what really matters.

So don’t let the appalling and even sickening visions of Daniel keep you away from the profit God intends for you to gain. Instead, as we wade into the deep end of the interpretive ocean, often finding scary and bizarre things there, we will need to make sure our oxygen tanks are filled with the air of redemption and that our diving mask is fitted with a lens that always turns our eyes toward Jesus Christ, our never safe, always good Savior and King.

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The Rooster Crows

If you have traveled much in Europe, you may have seen a rooster instead of a cross atop the steeple in some churches. The origin of the tradition is complex and disputed, but one thing is clear—the practice was derived from Peter’s denial of Jesus.

The scene in Luke 22:54-62 is one of the most moving in all of Scripture. While Peter is still in the midst of speaking, he hears the cockcrow, and in that very moment, Jesus turns and looks at him and he remembers the saying of the Lord.

Peter was slayed when we looked into the eyes of the Messiah. A roiling mix of shame and sorrow overwhelmed him, and the only thing he knew to do was to run to someplace private where he could weep and wail.

Each time I read those verses, my heart sinks. I know what it is like to be caught in the act of sin—caught in the act of denying my Lord.

In an earthly sense, roosters are animal alarm clocks, always looking for dawn and then announcing a new day’s arrival. How many millions of people over the centuries have been startled from sleep by the piercing cry of a rooster!

It is alleged that Augustine and then later Pope Gregory I declared the rooster to be the emblem most suitable to Christianity, for the rooster reminds us of our need for Jesus to turn and look at us in our sin that we might repent and be saved. As Europeans saw roosters atop the steeples of churches, the spiritual hope was that they, like Peter, would come out of the darkness of sin and awake from the sleep of death and weep bitterly. And then, in due time, be greeted by the Light of the World.

“Awake, O sleeper,

and arise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”—Ephesians 5:12

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Spiritual Mentorship (Part 2)

A listener of the Act Like Men podcast, e-mailed me after last week’s episode on spiritual mentorship. He asked, “What qualities or characteristics should I be looking for in a spiritual mentor?” It is such a great question that I addressed it in this week’s episode of the podcast. Follow the link below to listen in.

http://www.buzzsprout.com/36902

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Spiritual Mentorship

imagesIn a nutshell, a mentor is someone who lays open their life as an act of love to lead others into greater closeness and conformity to Jesus Christ. It’s captured in that short but powerful phrase, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

In today’s episode of the podcast, I share personally about two of my spiritual mentors that you’ve recently enjoyed from the pulpit at Cornerstone. I also give five reasons why you should diligently seek for a spiritual mentor and ready yourself to be a spiritual mentor. Take a moment now and listen in.

http://www.buzzsprout.com/36902

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