SERMON REFLECTION/DISCUSSION GUIDE (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18)

“Wisdom Under the Sun”

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

Sermon Summary

The main point of our passage is summed up in this verse, “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (1:18). This is an interesting sentiment the Preacher introduces because it stands so opposed to what the book of Proverbs tells us. There we are told, “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding” (3:13). How are we supposed to reconcile this seeming contradiction in the Bible?

Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are both books belonging to the genre of wisdom. Together they offer a balanced view of life. Proverbs tells us how the world is supposed to be and how God designed it to be good. Ecclesiastes tells us what the world is actually like now that it’s under the curse of sin. If Proverbs tells us all the rules of the world, Ecclesiastes tells us all the exceptions to the rules and the exceptions to the exceptions. Both perspectives together remind us that we live in a time between the world as it presently is and the world as God is making it. This is life under the sun. 

When it comes to pursuing wisdom and gaining understanding, we should not reject it but recognize its limitations. There are so many things to be informed about and new things to learn and it seems so unending. But will wisdom and understanding really make our lives better? Does it give meaning to our suffering? Does it fix the problem of sin in our hearts? Despite all the wisdom, learning and discoveries of man, we cannot reverse the curse of sin in the world. Wisdom derived from under the sun can never adequately address the problems of life under the sun. Earthly wisdom must give way to eternal wisdom, wisdom that comes from beyond the sun. And this is where the gospel holds forth the good news for us.

1 Corinthians 1:24 tells us that Christ is the wisdom of God. Jesus does not just have wisdom but he is wisdom itself. Therefore the wisdom that can fix the world is not a possession to have but a person to trust in. God’s wisdom came from beyond the sun to us in the Son. And he looked like foolishness to the world when he died on the cross. But his death was how Jesus broke the power of sin over the world. He endured the weight of sin’s curse in order to lift the curse off the world and begin to fix it. Since only Jesus can heal the world, we should not strive after the earthly wisdom but pursue eternal wisdom in Christ. We must look to the wisdom of the Son and not to wisdom under the sun. 

Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share something you found either interesting, memorable, convicting, confusing or challenging about the passage/sermon.  
  2. Are you drawn more to the message of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes? How does the message of both wisdom books give you the most balanced, honest view of the world?
  3. About what kind of things do you feel the pressure to be up to date and informed about? Have you ever pursued wisdom, knowledge and understanding  only to conclude that it led to vexation and sorrow? 
  4. What are some things about which people hope the wisdom under the sun is the answer for? Share some examples where the eternal wisdom of Christ is the answer and the earthly wisdom of man is not.  

SERMON REFLECTION/DISCUSSION GUIDE (Mark 4:35-41)

“Rest and Faith’s Expression”

Scripture: Mark 4:35-41

Sermon Summary

Sometimes it’s difficult to enjoy and experience the God-given gift of sleep and the rest God intends to give us in it. When the Bible speaks to this issue, it does not offer us sleep techniques but it seeks to get to our hearts. What we learn is that sleep is ultimately an expression of faith. Sleep is a defiance on the one hand and a submission on the other. It’s a defiance against our own self-sufficient, autonomous nature and it’s an act of submission to the sovereign hand of God. 

When Jesus calmed the storm in Mark 4 it was in the evening, a time when everybody should have been asleep. However because of the storm, sleep eluded the disciples and they were kept from resting that night. Fear filled their hearts as water filled the boat. Jesus rebukes the storm and turns to ask them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” He wasn’t downplaying the terror of the storm but questioning why they didn’t trust in him after all they had seen him do and heard him teach. Their sleeplessness was due to struggling faith. 

Often we are kept up in our anxieties and worries because like a balance scale, the reasons we have to fear outweigh the reasons to trust God. When we begin to follow the trail of “what if’s” in our heads, we go down a dangerous path. We add speculation upon speculation. In the end what’s really going in our hearts is that we are doubting the goodness, the wisdom and the power of God. Like the disciples, we wonder if God cares about us at all. But something begins to happen when you replace the “what if’s” with the definitive truth of “what happened.”

So what happened? Mark 4 is contrasted against Mark 14. In Mark 4 the disciples rebuke Jesus for sleeping in the boat but in Mark 14 Jesus rebukes the disciples for sleeping in Gethsemane. In Mark 4 Jesus slept as the disciples faced the storm and cried out but in Mark 14 the disciples slept as Jesus faced the cross and cried out. Jesus slept in the storm but trembled at the cross because he knew weather and water were not to be feared. It was God’s wrath against our sin that was truly dreadful. But Jesus took that for us. He died in our place on the cross and removes greatest reason to be afraid. Now through his sacrificial death he also gives us the greatest reason to trust him. He mercifully and unconditionally loves us.

When we preach the gospel to ourselves, we remember that because of Christ’s sacrifice on Golgotha’s cross we can experience sleep in Galilee’s seas. So our displays of faith in God are not just through extraordinary acts of obedience but can be evidenced in the everyday ordinary act of going to bed. We sleep trusting that God is working all things for our eternal good and his endless glory. 

Although sleeplessness can be a sign of lack of faith in God, so can loving and cherishing sleep too much. Sometimes faith in God can be replaced with faith in sleep where we look to sleep to escape our worries and our fears. Sleep then turns into an idol. When we long for our beds in order to give us rest from the hassles and hardships of life, we are looking to sleep to give us something only God can give us. Faith needs to be shifted again to God. 

Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share something you found either interesting, memorable, convicting, confusing or challenging about the passage/sermon.  
  2. Which tends to be your greater struggle: experiencing sleeplessness/restlessness or loving/enjoying sleep too much? What kinds of things give you anxiety and keep you up at night? What kinds of things do you want to escape from in sleep? 
  3. What other beliefs do you have in your heart when you feel afraid, anxious and worried? In those moments, what are you believing about yourself and what are you not believing about God? 
  4. Share what you learned from this series on “The Best Rest” or any testimony of your experience of rest as a result of this series. Have you developed any new insights or perspectives? 

Wisdom and Words: Discussion/Reflection Questions

Please use the following questions to aid in your own personal meditation on wisdom and words in Proverbs as well as for your group discussion. 

You can find the talk on our YouTube page: https://youtu.be/AQpsGxsnrfo

Remember that as a group you do not have to cover all of these questions. Set a time limit and stick with it! And please don’t sacrifice time for sharing prayer requests and praying for one another.

Personal Reflection/Group Discussion Questions:

1.     What stood out to you most from the teaching?

2.     How have you spoken words that tear down or how have you spoken words that give death? What do your words reveal about your heart? (Ex: The idolatries you are seeking, etc.).

3.     Brainstorm how you would like to speak words that give life in one or all of these circles: family, church, friends, work, community.

4.     If you have time: What is one way that God has spoken words of life into your life? Or is there an area of your life where you feel the need for his life-giving words?

5.     Ask for prayer in an area of your life where you are tempted to speak words that tear down rather than build up. Pray that your heart would be oriented to Christ and that your words would give life.

Sermon Reflection/Discussion Guide (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

“Rest and Gospel Freedom”

Scripture: Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Sermon Summary

According to the Bible, God established a pattern involving six days of labor and a seventh day of rest. This pattern of a “week” forms the rhythm for the rest of our lives. This means the Sabbath never just ends a week but the Sabbath also always starts a new week. So then the Sabbath gives you rest after a completed week of work but it also recharges you for an upcoming week of work. When God established a Sabbath year for the land, his purpose was to give the land rest to ensure future years of fruitfulness. In the same way, the weekly Sabbath for us also recharges us for the start of another fruitful week of labor. The Sabbath gets us ready for every new work week. 

In Romans 1 Apostle Paul tells us that one aspect of fallen humanity is that we turn things into idols. One of the biggest idols of our age is work and career. Work becomes so much more tiring than it should be because we look to our work to give us something it cannot. We often look to work for security, worth, identity and affirmation. As a result, we are constantly tired, anxious and stressed during the work week. Work is never just work. We try to find significance from it. As a result, rest escapes us. But keeping the Sabbath can help combat this temptation. 

The Ten Commandments are recorded twice in the Bible. First in Exodus 20 and again in Deuteronomy 5. Whereas Exodus 20 says we should keep the Sabbath because God rested on the seventh day, Deuteronomy 5 says we should keep the Sabbath because God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. The grounds for keeping the Sabbath in Exodus is creation but in Deuteronomy it’s redemption. As Israel got ready to enter the Promised Land,Moses didn’t want the Israelites to forget God’s great redemption and so he attached it to the Sabbath. Remembering the exodus event on every Sabbath, the Israelites would have a weekly reminder that they were no longer slaves but redeemed by God. The Sabbath was a weekly declaration of freedom from their once enslaved identities. 

As Christians we’ve experienced a greater redemption than the Israelites. We were once enslaved to sin but Christ set us free from it. He broke the power and grip of our idolatries over us so that we no longer need to work for our identity, worth and significance but we receive it freely in Christ. This is what gospel freedom looks like. It means resting in Christ’s work for us. When we remember the gospel every Sabbath, it helps us begin our weeks freed from the pressure to prove or earn anything. Instead we begin the work week already confident in God’s acceptance of us in Christ. This means that work becomes just work. We don’t need to work for our identity but instead we can work out our identity. The freedom of the gospel helps the work week become so much more restful as a result. 

Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share something you found either interesting, memorable, convicting, confusing or challenging about the passage/sermon.  
  2. Do you tend to treat Sunday as the first day of the week or the last day of the week? What affect do you think that’s made in your life? On your perspective of the week?    
  3. What does your current practice of Sabbath look like? How do you usually spend the day? What is beneficial about it and what is not? 
  4. In what ways do you look to your work to give you something it can’t or wasn’t meant to give you? What are you hoping to get from your work? What does freedom in the gospel look like for you? 

Sermon Reflection/Discussion Guide (Genesis 1:26-2:3)

“Rest and God’s Purpose”

Scripture: Genesis 1:26-2:3

Sermon Summary

Everybody deep down inside experiences restlessness on some level. This is true because God made us for rest but we live in a fallen world where rest constantly eludes us. One of the reasons we can’t find rest is that we often misuse it. We think rest is simply doing nothing. But God rested and established the pattern for us so that we could rest by delighting in his creation. 

When God created mankind, he created us in his image. This means we are created to mimic God and reflect his likeness. In creation God formed the world and then he filled the world. He exercised dominion over creation and then he populated it. Now made in his image, we are called to do the same. In the cultural mandate God calls us to exercise dominion over the earth and then to be fruitful and multiply in order to fill the earth. This means we also image God when we follow his pattern of resting. To work and to rest are equally godly and neither is a curse. This means when we don’t rest properly, we are violating the image of God!

Some people refuse to rest when they overwork whether in jobs or in studies. Others refuse to rest socially or relationally when they overextend themselves by filling their schedules. But just because we have a lot of time to ourselves doesn’t mean we are resting either. We may be doing restful things but missing the purpose of God’s rest which is to rejoice and delight in God’s “very good” creation. God institutes the seventh day to enjoy his creation and he calls us to do the same when we rest. 

For Christians, the gospel gives us a better reason to rest and rejoice. We have the assurance of 2 Corinthians 5:17 that tells us “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Because of the sin that we’re born with, everybody single person is kept from experiencing God and his rest. But God introduced the solution. He sent Jesus to die for our sins so that we could be made a new creation through faith in Jesus. Christians should approach the Christian Sabbath with more resolve to rest by rejoicing in God and his new creation in our lives. 

Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share something you found either interesting, memorable, convicting, confusing or challenging about the passage/sermon.  
  2. What kind of rest do you think you most need in this season? Physical? Spiritual? Emotional? What kinds of things do feel you need rest from? What are the causes of your restlessness? 
  3. In your experience has Sunday typically been a restful day for you? What contributes to that or takes away from it? 
  4. What are some things you are doing or can do in the future to make sure you are properly resting by rejoicing in God’s new creation work in your life? What new rhythms or traditions can you consider implementing? 

Proverbs: Wisdom Reflection/Discussion Questions

Please use the following questions to aid in your own personal meditation on wisdom in Proverbs as well as for your group discussion. 

You can find the sermon on our YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgu7MvXfKjo&ab_channel=CornerstonePresbyterianChurch

Remember that as a group you do not have to cover all of these questions. Set a time limit and stick with it! And please don’t sacrifice time for sharing prayer requests and praying for one another.

Personal Reflection/Group Discussion Questions:

  • Introduce yourselves if you do not all know each other.
  • Have you read the book of Proverbs before? Do you have a favorite verse or passage in it? Share if you’d like. What is your impression of the book? What draws you to the book or keeps you away from it? 
  • How would you define wisdom in your own words? Describe the difference between worldly wisdom and biblical wisdom as you understand. Do those two approaches to wisdom practically affect things? 
  • Can you describe a time you received godly, wise counsel from a person? Were there consequences? How about foolish counsel from a person? Were there consequences?
  • Do you feel like you’ve grown in wisdom the past year? The past five years? If so, what do you think the contributing factors have been? Can you share examples of growth in wisdom? If you have not grown in wisdom, what do you think the cause is?
  • Which do you struggle with most: prizing wisdom, praying for wisdom or pursuing wisdom?
  • What are some areas you believe you need wisdom in right now? Share openly and honestly.  Are there particular areas you have been unwise/foolish in?
  • Is there anything you’d like to share with this group and ask for their counsel on?
  • What are some specific things you can begin to pray in response to the importance of wisdom? 
  • Make sure to share prayer requests and pray for one another.

Lord’s Supper Instructions

Here are a few guidelines we will be taking as we observe the Lord’s Supper this upcoming Sunday. The first is spiritual and the second is physical. 
 
Spiritual Guidelines:
As we always do for the Lord’s Supper, we remind our congregation that this meal is only for those professing Christians who have been infant baptized and confirmed or been baptized as adults. If you are not a believer, have not been adult baptized or adult confirmed, or are living in unrepentant sin by which you refuse to come to Christ for forgiveness, we ask that you do not participate in the Lord’s Supper. 
 
Secondly, only those who are physically present at our in-person worship service (9:00am and 10:30am) should partake in the meal. This means if you are worshipping with us from your homes through our livestream service, please do not take communion by yourself or with your family. Why are we implementing this restriction? In 1 Corinthians 11 Apostle Paul gives instructions to the church about the Lord’s Supper and five times he mentions a key phrase: “when you come together.” I encourage you to read that passage from verses 17 to 34. Paul is insistent on this point because the Supper is for the gathered church, not the scattered church. The gathering of the saints together is in part what makes Lord’s Supper so special. But also consider 1 Corinthians 10:17 which says, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” The one bread observed in the Supper expresses the unity of the many who are gathered together. It is a meal to be taken together in a covenantal context. When we are scattered, the Supper cannot express our unity. The Supper’s expression of unity also points us to the future where in heaven God’s people will gather around the marriage feast of the Lamb to dine together, no longer by faith but finally by sight. For those reasons, only those physically present should partake of the Lord’s Supper this Sunday. 
 
Now after all that I said about the importance of the Lord’s Supper, it should sad that those who are not gathered in person cannot come to the Table. But the Lord’s Supper is not only about present nourishment but about future longing. May this temporary time away from the Supper stir your heart with greater desire for the final, heavenly banquet. I encourage you to take the time during Communion to pray, reflect and meditate on the Lord’s work for you. 
 
Physical Guidelines:
In order to practice safety for our members, rather than using the traditional element of a loaf of bread we are using prepackaged communion sets. These individual sets come with juice and wafer. You will need to peel the top of the cup to access the wafer. Also rather than an elder distributing these elements, they will simply be placed on a table in the front of the sanctuary and as you come up you will take one (please touch only the communion set you are taking). We think it is still important to preserve the symbolism of coming up the table and receiving what God invites you to. Next, we will not have you form a line as you come up but you will be asked to come up by the row you’re sitting in so that we can maintain social distance. Lastly, please keep your masks on during this time until we are ready together to partake of the elements. 
 
We hope in this manner, that for those gathered the Lord’s Supper is truly a nourishing and refreshing time.

Sermon Discussion Guide (7/19/20)

“The Shepherd” (Summer Series: Psalm 23)

Scripture: Psalm 23:1-3

Sermon Summary

The author of Psalm 23 was David who was both a king and a shepherd. Although he was familiar with the roles and responsibilities of both, he chose to call God his Shepherd and not his King. This meant he, the greatest king in Israel’s history, identified himself as a weak and helpless sheep and not a strong and mighty lion. As Christians, we also need to identify ourselves with sheep in order to identify Jesus as our good Shepherd. This sheep and Shepherd image is one of the dominant metaphors by which we understand how we are supposed to live as Christians. Psalm 23:1-3 teaches us that Jesus is the good Shepherd who provides and protects his sheep.

Until you confess that you are sheep, God cannot be your shepherd. But the admission of being sheep is not easy because these creatures were incredibly vulnerable, blind and dumb. To admit this about yourself is ego-brushing and pride-killing. The Bible however likens us to sheep over and over again (Ps. 119:176; Is. 53:6; Mt. 9:36; 18:12; 1 Pt. 2:25) and the chief characteristic is that we stray away from God. We are by nature weak and wandering but we do not want to admit this. We want to be strong and self-sufficient like the world tells us to. However Psalm 23 is a song of the weak. It’s a song that boasts not in the sheep’s strength but in the Shepherd’s. That’s why this psalm was known as a psalm of confidence. Our confidence doesn’t derive from ourselves but the Shepherd who condescends to covenant with us.

David declares that the Lord is his Shepherd. This is God’s personal name. And yet what David declares is highly relational, personal and intimate. He says, “The Lord is my shepherd” and not just “a shepherd” or “the shepherd.” Although it is humbling and humiliating to admit you are a sheep, if you are the Lord’s sheep then it is an honor to confess it. This is covenant language – “I am his sheep and he is my Shepherd.” To belong to Shepherd means we will never lack anything. Not because God provides everything we want and desire nor because he gives us everything we think you need. Rather we will never lack with God as our Shepherd because having God himself is all that we need. To have him is to lack nothing because he is more than enough for us.

As our Shepherd God makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters. Sheep by nature are nervous and anxious and they will only lie down if they feel safe from predators and satisfied in their thirst and hunger. This means God does two things as our Shepherd. He provides the satisfaction that we need and he protects us in ensuring our safety. Ultimately God does these two things for us in Jesus Christ. Jesus came in the line of David and declared, “I am the good shepherd” in John 10. When he declared, “I lay down my life for the sheep” he did it to provide himself as our perfect sacrifice and protect us from sin’s curse and God’s wrath by taking it upon himself. As the good Shepherd he did this for us and now Jesus becomes our green pastures and still waters. We can lay down and rest in him because he has laid down his life for us. Jesus is the good Shepherd that we need and he does everything to provide and protect us. He is our safety and he is our satisfaction.

Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share something you found either interesting, memorable, convicting, confusing or challenging about the passage/sermon.  
  2. In what ways have you been shaped by the message of the world that says you must be strong and not weak? How do you tend to view and respond to weakness? Give a few examples.
  3. What’s the hardest reason to believe that God is enough for you as your shepherd? Are you learning anything about what it means to say “The Lord is my shepherd and that’s all I need to know”? Share those lessons and the circumstances of those lessons.
  4. How can you get to know the good Shepherd better? How can you experience in deeper, fuller ways the protection and provision of Jesus? How can he become your safety and your satisfaction?

Sermon Discussion Guide (Acts 3:1-10)

“Moving Beyond Beautiful”

Scripture: Acts 3:1-10

Sermon Summary

The apostolic miracles in the New Testament were signs that pointed to realities beyond themselves. When we read about these miracles, we should discern what they reveal and teach us. Peter and John’s miracle at the Beautiful Gate show us this truth: Jesus restores our deepest need for fellowship with God.

The lame beggar sat at the Beautiful Gate in order to ask alms of those entering the temple. He did this in the hopes of receiving either a coin for his wallet or bread for his stomach. But he didn’t know his deepest need. He was more severely crippled than any physical disability could render him. He was spiritually blind and in need of saving. This is why he only asked for and expected silver and gold. We can see ourselves in the crippled man when we look at the content of our prayers and what we’re asking God for. What we pray for most often and most fervently reveals what we believe we need most in our lives. The reformer Martin Luther stated in the first of his ninety-five theses that all of life is repentance. He recognized that the grace and mercy of God were the things he needed most in his life and therefore he centered his prayers around repentance. We should learn this lesson too. All the other things we ask God for are important to him because he is a father who cares for us. But they are always secondary to our utter and deepest need for Jesus.

When Peter tells the beggar that he does not have silver or gold to give him, he is not lowering the man’s expectations because what Peter gives him is far better. He gives him Jesus. In the gospel we have the gift of Christ. Giving and receiving the comforts of Christ and the peace of the cross is not the second best thing to give and receive, they are the sole best thing. In this particular miracle, the physical healing is a good gift but the better gift is spiritual restoration in Jesus’ name. As a result of the healing, the lame man can now enter the temple. Before he only sat at its gate, excluded from worship, prayer and the presence of God. But with healed legs, the first thing he does is enter the temple and praise God. This gift proved far better than any material thing Peter could have given him. Those who receive Christ can enter the temple and go into the Most Holy Place because Christ has torn the veil through the cross. As a result, we have restored fellowship with God which we get to enjoy. Spiritually restored lives should be characterized by thanksgiving and praise to God.

Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share something you found either interesting, memorable, convicting, confusing or challenging about the passage/sermon. 
  2. What would you say are the things you pray most about? What are the things you most expect from God? And what do these things reveal you believe are most important in your life?
  3. On a scale of one to ten (one = only sharing Jesus when you have nothing else to say and ten = responding with Jesus to anything and everything) how do counsel and dialogue with others who are seeking out your help? Can you describe a time when somebody shared Christ with you as the solution, the comfort, and the encouragement you needed? How did they do it?
  4. Right now in your life are you sitting at the Beautiful Gate or have you moved beyond Beautiful? Are you truly enjoying fellowship with God? Share some of the best ways/practices that you enjoy fellowship with God.

The Well 2020 Pastor’s Letter

Dear Cornerstone Family,

Welcome to The Well 2020! This is certainly not how any of us envisioned our congregational retreat would be when we began planning it at the beginning of the year. And yet I am still so thankful to the Lord for what we can share this weekend for even this is a blessing and gift from him. I am also grateful for your participation in this retreat and the desire to come alongside other thirsty, weary saints and drink of the Living Water.

The truth is, who of us is not tired, beaten and broken like the Samaritan woman from John 4? Who of us doesn’t need to encounter Jesus and receive what he freely offers to us? Now more than ever, we need Jesus. We need his healing in our lives and in our world from all of the division that is befalling the country and even the Church. We need his comfort when disease and viruses run rampant and claim the lives of many and paralyze the rest of us in fear. We need his compassion to see the hurt and suffering of those around us. We need his wisdom to move forward in any helpful way that upholds peace, love, unity, and humility. We need Jesus and we need a whole lot of him. My hope is that you will meet Jesus and rest in him at The Well.

Please receive this care package (thanks to Christina, Helen and Sumi for their work!) and welcome letter in love. I miss you all dearly as I know you all miss one another. It’s because we have biblical community among one another that it hurts and saddens us not to be able to meet together. I look forward to our in-person worship soon and pray when we meet again, we will rejoice together in Christ.

I want to end with four encouragements to our church family:

  1. If you feel safe and comfortable participating in The Well with a friend or another family, please make plans to do so and do it responsibly!
  2. Don’t miss out on the discussion groups through Zoom. I know we are all Zoomed out but our retreat is meant to be about community fostering and in the small way we can pursue this, let’s make an intentional effort.
  3. Let’s all participate in Saturday’s photo scavenger hunt and in this way, pursue fellowship together. Not only will we pick a winner, but we’ll show the results to the church!
  4. Pray for the retreat, Pastor Walton, Edmund, for one another and for yourself!

Be blessed this weekend in the refreshing grace of our good, good Savior!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Pastor Andrew