For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Romans 1:21 (ESVUK)
When trying to share the Gospel with non-believers we need to consider what the Bible tells us about the effects of sin. In Romans, the apostle Paul writes that it makes our thinking dark, foolish, and futile. The claim that sin corrupts our minds runs against modern trends. We live in the so-called ‘age of reason’, where people are told they should think for themselves and come to their own conclusions. Our generation is full of searchers, those who trawl through the creeds of various religions for inspiration to come to their own truth about what god is and what he wants.
In life there are two masters you can serve: God, or yourself. There is no third, neutral position to arbitrate from. Thus, impartiality is always an illusion. John Frame writes that ‘Idolatry is not an innocent search for the divine or the result of honest ignorance. It is, rather, wilfully and culpably turning away from the clear revelation of the true God.’ Coming to Christ isn’t about doing it on your own terms. It’s not about receiving a sign you thought you were owed or questioning God until He’s answered everything to your satisfaction. It’s about submitting to God and allowing him to be the centre of Truth in your life.
Therefore, we must hold fast to the primacy of the Word in determining what is true. It is not for the hearts of man to test scripture; it is for scripture to test the hearts of man. Our job in apologetics is twofold. First, we must convict others that beliefs not grounded in the Word are inconsistent and bear no fruit. Second, we must show that the Word itself is consistent and can indeed explain the world we live in.
However, before you do this, you need to make sure that you submit to God. Do you fit your beliefs about what is right and wrong into what the Bible says, or do you fit the Bible into your beliefs about what is right and wrong? Do you rely on your own heart to interpret scripture, or do you ask God to fill you with His? Pray that you might approach with humility and be led by His wisdom rather than your own foolishness.
--Boaz Moser serves on Cornerstone Leadership as part of the Underclassmen Ministry Team
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. –Philippians 4:6
When I started my prayer journey, I did not want to pray.
“Dear God, help me want to pray,” I pleaded. Prayer was tiring. I felt like I was doing lots of talking, and wasn’t getting anywhere. I impatiently waited, listening for answers, and yet my prayers never seemed to be given answers. What’s more, making room in my schedule to intentionally spend time with the Lord felt near impossible with all the other responsibilities that were piling up on my to do list.
Because I felt like my prayers were a futile effort, my prayer life was naturally inconsistent. I prayed less when life was filled with sunshine, and I prayed more when sunny days turned to overcast, stormy seasons. And while I could better acknowledge my need to depend on God during hardships, I still did not feel a strong desire to spend time in prayer, at least not a strong enough desire to keep me praying when the clouds broke and the sun began to shine again.
During one of these aforementioned stormy seasons, a Cornerstone student and I were discussing prayer. She explained that she viewed prayer as a conversation, similar to the modern day experience of texting. Think of someone–perhaps a close friend, family member or significant other–with whom you remain in close contact. You and this other person may text sporadically throughout the day, as if having an ongoing conversation that may not ever distinctly end. Likewise, prayer is an open invitation to talk to God about anything and everything that is on your heart and mind. Jesus wants to listen, much like a close friend does. And as both a friend and a Savior, he is always available. In fact, He has already sent the first text, and is excited to hear a response from you.
After listening to this story, my prayer life did not immediately improve. The seasons of my life continued, mainly overcast with occasional sunny days and inconsistent prayer, until another storm began to brew. And when I was once again reminded of my need for full dependence and trust in God, somehow, at some point, God answered my prayer–I wanted to pray.
Although I now have a desire to pray, I don’t always feel like praying. Prayer still takes time and effort, and I cannot say that I know the answers to my prayers. But I do know that God is good, present and moving–in any and all seasons of my life. All I can do is have faith in Him, trusting that His will is better than mine, believing that He has a good plan for me and thanking Him for how He is already answering my prayers according to His will. Only through prayer can we ever experience such inexplicable peace when we give him our doubts, fears and worries.
Get practical about prayer:
1 // Silence distractions… put your phone on silent and place it out of sight. Perhaps that means in your backpack next to you, across the room or in the next room over–whatever it takes to keep you from the temptation of getting distracted.
2 // Establish a routine… start very small (like 5 minutes), and come to God in prayer for this small chunk of time at the same time of every day. Make it a time when you can’t really justify skipping it, like 5 minutes of prayer before you go to bed each night. You will experience wonderful benefits to your relationship with God just by implementing this brief, consistent prayer time.
3 // Write your prayers… try jotting down prayers in a journal as little letters to God. Writing helps your mind process thoughts and emotions, and you can look back on these prayers to see how the Lord has answered them.
4 // Pray the Psalms… Anytime you aren’t really sure what to pray, know that God understands fully even a distressed moan to Him, but also know that there is a whole book of prayers in the Bible–the Psalms. These song-prayers to God function largely as blueprints for our own prayers. Try praying through a Psalm (maybe start with Psalm 23) and inserting yourself into it.
--Taylor Siegfried Serves on Cornerstone Leadership
Seeing God in Suffering
16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
This is the good news of Jesus: God loved us so much that, while we were still sinners, He sent His only son to free us from sin and welcome us home. He came so that we could call on Him with as little as a word or thought and be forgiven. He came so that we, His children, would get to be with Him forever.
Every few years, the Lord reveals the Gospel to me all over again. Although I’ve heard the Gospel a million different times and a million different ways, on some days it hits me more than others. Sometimes it just sticks.
For example, in the midst of belting songs about “Emmanuel” and “God with us”, it never sunk in that God is literally with us. That once I accepted the Holy Spirit into my heart, I became its housing space. Therefore, in every circumstance, God is going with me. Not just metaphorically, but in my being.
As a visual-kinesthetic learner, God taught me this in a way that transformed my thinking. The summer after my first year at Pitt, I served for a few weeks in Guatemala working for the glory of God in Guatemala City and nearby towns. While there, my team leader led us in a group activity in which we drew a moment in our lives when we felt lowest. Coming off of four years of instability within my family and constant change, thoughts about my family situation radiated pain. I chose a time when I felt most out of control: car parked in my church parking lot, my sister (to me, more child than sibling) in the passenger seat, no place to go, no plans on where to sleep. An abrupt breakdown of everything I had tried so hard to hold together.
As someone who likes to draw but doesn’t necessarily have drawing skills, I had sketched out a simple silhouette of my car, my sister, and myself. The drawing wasn’t anything detailed, and anyone else might not even have known what these things were. But to me, the shapes that I had drawn brought back all the feelings of that night in the car. The heaviness and pain I could remember just as clearly.
Then my leader instructed us to draw Jesus there with us. Because, obviously (but not so obvious to me), He was there with us. Not physically sitting in the back seat, as I drew, but present inside my heart and my sister’s. We brought Him into our pain with us. He went through it with us. All of the uncertainty and abandonment were His as well.
And drawing that day, I saw God in my suffering in a very literal way. I understood at that moment that God was not simply an impersonal deity who sent the world spinning and then sat back to watch it all go to hell. No, instead He came down into my mess (and I have a lot of mess) to do it with me. To feel my heartbreak alongside me, to sit in all of my confusion, and to give me hope that the best is still yet to come. The Holy Spirit has been through my worst days with me. God has been there, fighting for me, crying with me, and welcoming me home all along.
--Savanna Lattanzi serves as Cornerstone's University Associate
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
In one of my favorite “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strips, writer Bill Waterson gloriously depicts stars, planets, and entire galaxies in beautiful full page art. At the center of the awe-inspiring universe dwells the deity who has the power to not only create, but also destroy these massive celestial bodies: the mighty Calvin. No one can challenge Calvin’s reign. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and bows to no one. But just as suddenly as Calvin creates and destroys worlds, the comic snaps back to reality, showing Calvin’s parents marveling at their six-year-old son’s imagination, as he plays with his Tinker toys.
How often do we act just like Calvin? I know I do every day. Almost constantly I find myself thinking, “I think that this would be best for me” or “Man, if only that went differently, I wouldn’t be dealing with this right now, “or, “If everyone just listened to me, things would be so much better.” All of these thoughts stem from my pride: believing that I am smarter, or wiser, or simply better than everyone else. I want things to go exactly how I plan them, because I think I know what is best. Yet every single time, something goes wrong, control suddenly slips from my grasp, and I feel like a small child with delusions of grandeur.
Jesus knew that we as humans struggle with pride. That’s why, when Jesus instructed His disciples on how to pray, He began by asking God for His kingdom to come and for His will to be done. Jesus is instructing all of us to set aside our own sinful, prideful desires, and pray for God to accomplish His will in our world. Of course, God will accomplish His will, whether we pray for Him to do so, or not. But we also need to ask God to remove our prideful desires, and enable us to surrender to His plan for our lives. This is not something that comes easy; it requires constant prayer and a willing heart. But there is also great blessing when we submit our will to the Lord. Paul reminds us of this, saying,, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28 ESV).”
So let us continually pray that God will remove our desire to accomplish our own will, and that He will enable us to submit to His will in our lives. For we know that as we submit to Him, we will begin to experience His intended blessings in our lives.
--Jay Suggs serves on Cornerstone Leadership as part of the Worship Team
Romans 8:1-2 (NIV)
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Romans 8:37-39 (NIV)
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ephesians 2:4-5 (NIV)
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
Have you ever been proud of your humility? I was once. And then I quickly became angry at myself for this kind of twisted, inverted pride that I felt. Soon after, I began to quietly admire myself for the righteous anger I felt at my feelings of pride for my own humility. After that, I berated myself for my pride towards my anger at my pride that came from what I perceived to be my own humility. And if I recall correctly, I then felt pride creeping in because of my hatred of my pride that came from my pride for my anger at my pride that came from what I initially saw as my own humility.
Confused yet? Because I sure was, and still am every time I begin to think myself in circles about pride.
The first assertion I want to make is that as sinful human beings, none of us will ever be free from pride. Of course, we will steadily become less prideful as the indwelling Holy Spirit transforms us and makes us more and more like Jesus1, but none of us will be purely humble on this side of heaven. The reason I point this out is that because of this reality, we don’t need to constantly scrutinize our every thought for traces of pride. Self examination is a good and necessary skill for the Christian who seeks to live a Christlike life in obedience to God, but it becomes detrimental when taken too far.
Instead, when we become hopelessly entangled in pride’s sticky web, we should drop our weapons, stop trying to vanquish the enemy on our own, and run to our Savior and His cross. We should confess our pride to the Lord, but we must also know and trust that we are already forgiven if we have put our faith in Jesus and asked to be saved for eternity. This is a gift that cannot be taken away. It is finished. Jesus has won the victory over pride and every sin, so we can rest in the joy, peace, and security of our salvation even when pride lurks in the background. It will not overtake us.
So, now that we have said why we should not try to defeat pride by thinking our way out of it, we can also know that we don’t have to fear it. In the same way that we cannot think ourselves out of pride, we also will not be consumed by it when we do think deeply about our own struggle with it.
So let’s do a bit more thinking about pride.
I have begun to realize that I ruminate on, talk about, and focus on my brokenness far too often. I believe that this preoccupation with my sinful nature is itself a symptom of pride. See, why else would I think of my sin so often if not because of pride? Concentrating on how messed up I am makes me feel like I am more pure because I can see my own sin. My mind tells me that I am more righteous when I condemn myself, but self-condemnation goes against the very heart of God Himself, God who cries, “Stop living like a captive; I’ve set you free!”
It is right and necessary for us to feel genuine remorse for our sin; this is in fact the first step in being transformed by the Gospel – we must recognize that we are dead in our sin. But rather than feeling a persistent burden to constantly dwell on our sinfulness, we are free to live in joy because Jesus was, is, and always will be victorious! Even in our deadness in sin, Christ has made us alive in Him!
We’ve heard it said that “humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.” So true humility, the real escape from pride, is to not wallow in the knowledge of our own sinfulness, but to bask in the joy of Christ’s victory!
1This is the process the Church refers to as Sanctification.
--Jackson Elling is a CCO Fellow working in partnership with Cornerstone Campus Ministry of Bellefield Presbyterian Church.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” -Luke 18:9–14
The driving force behind self-righteousness is the belief that we are morally superior to someone. Maybe we think that we have sinned less than someone. Maybe we think that our sins are not as bad as someone else’s. “Yeah, sure. I’m not perfect, but at least I’m not…” This self-righteousness leads to pride, the belief that we are better or more important than someone.
The source of pride is not limited to self-righteousness. It can come from worldly success or a skewed understanding of how we measure up to others. The effect of our pride on others, though, is the same across the board. Our pride hurts others. It can make us intolerable (I saw you roll your eyes when you read the Pharisee’s comment about the tax collector), and it pushes us away from God.
Pride is one of my biggest struggles. I often walk into a room and catch myself thinking that I’m the smartest person in the room, or the most holy, or the most put together. I sometimes come to God and say, “You know, I don’t really think I’ve sinned much this week.” He just shakes His head at me because I’ve so often let my pride blind me to the work that He wants to do in my life. When we think we’re the best, we are unwilling to grow, and God is constantly trying to help us grow. It is only after we humble ourselves that He can do the work that He has planned for us. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” I could use a reminder of that every day.
--Josh Young is a Pitt senior and a Cornerstone student leader
Humbly Presenting the Best Devotional on Pride that you’ll ever read
Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but we often cloud the definition of pride with behaviors like bragging. That’s not the sin of pride that concerns Scripture. Sinful pride traps us into wrongly thinking that God wouldn’t elevate those whom we disdain. We could sell books on why and how to defeat it. Short answer: we can’t, but here are a few case studies on how God whittles away our pride for His glory …
Pharaoh in Exodus 7-14
The ancient Egyptians’ elaborate system of deities was built around understanding nature. Red tide kills fish, tadpoles and frogs flourish, their carcasses draw no-see-ums and flies, etc. ... Pharaoh, an elite intellectual, would never believe in a god named “I Am.” God leveraged this man’s pride to release His people from bondage.
Naaman in II Kings 5
A Syrian general occupying Israel, Naaman’s one pride point: his homeland. God works on it while healing his leprosy. The cure: bathe in the Jordan river. Naaman sets aside his pride through the counsel of his servants. Result: he finds healing and becomes a “secret believer.”
Jonah in Jonah Chapter 3,4
After his fish-thwarted sail from Joppa, we find Jonah sulking as God accepts Nineveh’s penance. Jonah’s pride point: sound theology. Assyrians of Nineveh were brutes, displacing conquered tribes with inhabitants from previous conquests. They were clueless on worshiping the Lord God. (Forcing livestock to fast was absurd to a Hebrew.) God gives Jonah an object lesson. Result: we understand the breadth of God’s love.
Peter in Acts Chapter 10
Joppa, 800 years post-Jonah. Peter’s pride point: being devout. Throughout the months since his Master’s resurrection, he founded The Church while steering clear of all things gentile. But, for the gospel to reach Europe, a door needed to open to representatives of the army that carried out Christ’s crucifixion. Let’s not understate Peter’s choice. If he says no, most of you would only know Christianity as an obscure rite for those of us of Middle Eastern heritage. Therefore, God pulls out all the stops: the location reminds Peter of Jonah’s lesson, the vision repeated three times recalls when he thrice denied Jesus. Result: Peter opens the door to the first European Christian worship service.
Ponder how God might be working on your pride point. My sympathies if deadly plagues have crossed your threshold. If not, has God sent you someone to humbly guide you? Raised up an object lesson? Put Scripture on your heart? Provided vision that would open inroads for the Holy Spirit? I pray God will wear down your pride enough for you to accomplish the next big thing in Jesus’ name.
--Charlei George is a member of the Campus Ministry Team at Bellefield
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. … And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” - Luke 2:7, 21
The Son of God was born. He became an embryo, then a fetus, and was birthed onto the earth, into history, into time. He came from a long line of sinners, and entered the world in a shelter for animals. He was named Jesus, receiving at birth His destiny for a future that was already written, a future of fulfilling his role as Deliverer, Savior, Messiah, and King. But in these first moments of His life, what was God doing?
In taking on flesh, Jesus lives out for us what it means to be human, and how we are to relate to and worship God, our divine purpose. From the mere fact that God chose to enter the world in the same biological process other humans do, and live for a couple years as a developing infant, we can learn much of what it means to relate to and worship God. Infants are fully and completely consumed in the present moment. They are not aware of their past, nor are they worried about the future. They do not yet have the weight of a past, or burden of future expectations, they just are. This is where we commune with God, in the present moment, by just being. Jesus was in perfect communion with God as an infant, before He had redeemed his lineage of sinners, before He could comprehend his mission as Savior.
So often, when I am seeking communion with God, my mind wants to take me to one of two places: the past, or the future. The past is where I encounter my guilt and shame. Whether it be things I have done, things done to me, or even my family's origins. I seek to atone for my sin and hide from my shame through whatever means possible. Self-deprecation and denial are my go-to’s. Guilt and shame keep me from communing with God, so I fixate on my past and try to fix it. The future is where I encounter my burdens. The weight of responsibility for some undefined ‘mission’ I must do in life in order to hear “well done” on the other side of death. This weight of a lifetime of responsibility is crushing, and simply so heavy that I cannot move when I am holding it.
I’m sure many of you are borderline exhausted just reading that last paragraph; I had to pause for a moment after writing it. This way of trying to relate to God is laborious and tiresome. It leaves us weary and burdened, and the worst part is that our efforts are completely fruitless. We get no closer to communing with God. When I contemplate the infancy of Jesus, who was in perfect communion with God even as a baby, it is like a machete cutting through the dense brush of my heart and mind, creating an opening for the Holy Spirit to enter in and work. Jesus was in perfect communion with God as he was doing nothing but being in the present moment.
While we see this reality so clearly in his infancy, Jesus, and after him the apostles, shows us how to take that truth with us into adulthood. Living intentionally in the present moment. This is part of what I believe the apostles meant when they told us to live by faith. In order to avoid the traps of the past and future and stay in the present, in communion with God, we must trust Jesus completely in two ways. First, that our guilt and shame have been forgiven, covered, and forgotten because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And second, that we don’t need to do anything to receive God’s approval; that has already been accomplished by His death and resurrection. In essence, communing with God comes down to accepting and believing these two truths, opening our eyes to the reality that there is no barrier between us and God, He is already there with us in every moment.
What we find as we encounter God in the present, is that He begins to heal and restore our past, as well as carry the burden of our future. The weight of guilt lifts as we accept the truth that we are forgiven. The burden of shame begins to fall off as we see that His face looks on us and our families with love, and not disgust. The responsibilities of our future become light as we accept that at any given moment we need only focus on the tasks of one day. And in that place, in the present, unburdened by our past and our future, we commune with the living God.
-Mark Micheals was previously a CCO Campus Minister in partnership with Bellefield and Cornerstone
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” - Colossians 3:5
This verse from Colossians describes the call that is upon our lives if we call ourselves Christians: to put to death all of what is in the world, or part of our earthly nature. The wording of this verse in particular shows us the necessity of doing this, which we can see in the phrase “put to death.” This call is not simply to push away what is of the world, but rather to kill the worldly parts of ourselves.
Idolatry is anything that takes our attention and praise off of the Lord and directs it elsewhere, and the things of the world often serve as our biggest idols. You may read this verse as describing only greed as idolatry, but I would argue that rather than simply being greed that is idolatry, it is actually all of these things: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires as well.
Removing our idols, however, is not something we are able to do alone.
It is through the Holy Spirit and our reliance upon it that this is possible. It also takes a great degree of willingness to self examine oneself, as we all struggle with different sins or the same sins in different ways. This might require you to work on this process alongside someone else who might be leading you but at the very least should be holding you accountable. In my own life, some of the sins I have struggled with the most weren't even revealed to me until a fellow believer told me of how they saw it affecting my life and others’ lives.
In short, by putting idolatry to death in our minds and hearts and focusing all of our worship on God, we can begin to truly live into the new lives and identities we have in Christ.
-Mike Stolarz serves on Cornerstone Leadership as part of the Worship Team
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
—Isaiah 43:18-19 (Read Isaiah 43)
What does it mean to be “made new”? The Bible speaks a lot about how we are a new creation through God, but what does that mean, what does it look like, and how does it relate to where God calls us in vocation and life?
In this passage from Isaiah, Isaiah is speaking encouragement to God’s people during a difficult time of exile and captivity. The two verses are part of God’s message to His people: they are not to harp on their personal and communal past, but instead to remain hopeful in God’s promises to make all things new, provide for them in all things, and breathe new life into each of them.
So often, we limit ourselves by our perceived shortcomings and existing abilities. We say to ourselves: “I’m not smart enough to accomplish that.” “I’m not outspoken enough to lead people.” “That’s not my major, that’s not what I have a degree in, so I can’t go into that field.” But God is not limited by who we are and what we think we can do. That’s part of being a new creation! We’re no longer bound to what we can do on our own, but we allow for God to do anything through us!
Moses had a stutter, but went on to speak to Pharaoh on behalf of the Israelites. Rahab was a prostitute, but went on to save the Israelites. Jesus Himself comes from a line of sinners who were used for God’s glory. And isn’t that what we all are—just sinners being used by God to glorify Him.
The question we should be asking when discerning our calling is not “what can I do for the kingdom of God?”, but rather “what can God do through me to bring about His kingdom?”
When God calls, we need to answer. For God does not call the equipped, but rather, He equips the called. No matter the place, the industry, or the group of people to whom God has called you, He will guide you and supply you with all of the necessary skills and abilities, just as He led the Israelites—and now us—through the wasteland.
Dear Lord, please guide me in Your ways. Lead me to a path which pursues Your kingdom above all things. Remind me that I can do all things in You, and that You equip me to follow You wherever You have called me. Let all fear and doubt be removed from my mind, and help me to focus on You in all that I do. Amen.
—Martha Layne serves as a leader on Cornerstone's First Year Ministry Team (FMT).