“You challenge me, delight me, encourage me, trust me with your heartaches and ask me for guidance. You are serious about growing in your faith. I love and cherish being one of your pastors...”

In conjunction with our “Letters to a Healthy Church” sermon series, each pastor has written a letter to Cornerstone in a similar style to Paul's pastoral letters. We pray they will be a blessing and encouragement to you.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the beloved converts who composed the Church at Thessalonica in this loving, warm way, and in a very brief and vivid discourse managed to pack a wealth of care, encouragement and teaching that have healed and deepened the spirits of Christians ever since.

As we’ve studied Thessalonians through the early part of the summer, the elders have discussed what we would want to say to encourage the congregation of Cornerstone, and others who might read our blogs, in a similar fashion.

I immediately thought of three exhortations I wanted to convey, mostly coming out of my reading of Paul, but also fueled by three major discoveries that signaled growth in my own spiritual maturity. May they bless you as well.

I think I should also learn from the great Paul to say what I feel so often, but fail to verbalize or write about how much I seriously love you - the members and serious seekers after God of CornerstoneWLA. In our culture, we don’t often share our deep regard for each other readily or comfortably, but for followers of Jesus, this is a great place to practice a counter-cultural trend. You challenge me, delight me, encourage me, trust me with your heartaches and ask me for guidance. You are serious about growing in your faith. I love and cherish being one of your pastors, and I love pastoring as part of a godly team. May you find this God-created relationship as great as I do.

Here are my three picks for concerns I want you to pay careful attention to:

1. The fact that God is really there, matters. This was the great surprise of my life. I quit Christianity in college because I was convinced - by the writings of a great Christian, oddly enough - that what the author asserted about God couldn’t possibly be true. In my mind, it made more sense that there was no one “out there.” It took an actual experience with a human being who became a “convert” and also, quite literally a new person, for me to reassess the “real reality” of God. Before I quit the Christian faith, the God of the Bible was something between an idea, a fantasy, a superstition and maybe something of a ghost. So it wasn’t hard to assume there was nothing of him/it in the real world. Jesus’ resurrection from death is, for me, the defining moment in history, from which the creation of everything, the history of God’s interaction with the Jews in ancient history, Jesus’ miraculous virgin birth, his ministry, his intentional and sacrificial death on a Roman cross, and all that has happened since, become concrete. I challenge you to know that God is real, in your heart of hearts. And if you find you’re not completely sure, let’s talk.

2. Deep, deep regard matters. Here I take exception with our language. “Love” is almost a useless word to me, although I still occasionally use it to express my heart feelings for Karen. So I search for vocabulary to express this inner wonder, and - somewhat awkwardly - use the phrase “deep, deep regard” to tell God of my heart’s yearning for him. I learned this from Dr. Francis Schaeffer who, in his books, uses terms like “real reality” and “true truth” to distinguish the things of God from relative reality and relative truth. “Deep, deep regard” is like that. It is not just conceptual. It is not just affection. Deep, deep regard must be life- committing. In the Thessalonian letter, Paul writes powerfully of his love for the people (look at 2:7-8, 11-12, 17-20, and especially 3:8-9), and his prayers that God will infect them with sacrificial care for each other (3:12-13, 4:9-10). And, pervading the whole letter, he writes of God’s love for us, and his (Paul’s) love for Jesus and his Father. That kind of active, in-your- face, heart-wrenching love is very hard to do. We are far better at a distant, non-involving, sleeping-peacefully-through-the-night kind of “love” that has all the academic qualities of definition and vocabulary, but simply doesn’t register on the Anguish/Joy meter in my heart. Of course, it is the essential element I see in “The Cross Incident.” Honestly, how could it not be! How can we work together to strive for it? Can we seriously commit to adopt it for our God, and also for each other?

3. Joy matters. There is this phrase from Jesus, “...Joy to the full.” The two great discourses that are so carefully preserved in the Scriptures are the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, and Jesus’ final teaching to his disciples in John 13-16. Clearly these are meant to be major moments for us to learn from. In John 15:11, Jesus is quoted as saying, “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Here is another point at which language fails us, as it often seems to do in a culture that no longer sees God. “Joy” should refer to the amazement and wonder that dances around our souls when we are in the presence of our Maker and Friend, Lord Jesus. It should be so huge that we have trouble swallowing! Instead, it has come to mean a giddy birthday party feeling, or a happy reunion with an old friend. Jesus uses the phrase “...that your joy may be full.” The comment in the ESV Study Bible is: “Obedience is not to be equated with drudgery; it is all about joy.” (p. 2055) Let me repeat that: “...IT IS ALL ABOUT JOY.” We need a bigger word. We need a word to describe a glimmering of something almost too big to hold on to that comes with the long-time focus to know God. It is the physical and emotional reaction to a spiritually growing richness of the Spirit of God now stretching the boundaries of our souls to dwell within us. People have told me about it. They wonder if they can actually contain it without bursting. Isn’t that a worry we should all have? It turns out that God is a “hedonist” for us. He wants us to be filled with joy...His joy, instead of the minor and high-priced delights of our sin. I’m beginning to get a sense of what that is like, and let me just confess that I’m totally addicted and somewhat apprehensive. I don’t know yet what that will be like when it matures, and I, too, wonder if I can handle it without exploding like a Fourth of July firework, high in the nighttime sky. But isn’t it wonderful that this is what our God wants to give us? “It’s all about joy.”

These are the themes of the faith that I would hope and pray for, for you as your pastor. Fighting with gritted teeth to stay away from sinful pleasures has been sometimes necessary, but the real surprise of the Christian life is that the gifts of God are so very much superior. These are the authentic delights that God has designed me to have, and that bought me increasing freedom in my life. God is really here. He made me for deep, deep caring, and for receiving his deep, deep care for me. And he gives me joy.

Jim Leonard

Jim serves Cornerstone through pastoral care and by overseeing internal ministries and administration.

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