The year was 2011 and Jake Epping, a high school teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, discovered a time travel portal in the back room of Al’s diner. Stepping into the portal would take you back to September 9, 1958, at 11:58 a.m., and regardless of how long you stayed, minutes, hours, days, or years, when you returned to 2011, only 2 minutes had passed in the present time.

Jake decides he is going to return to 1958 and then travel to Dallas, Texas, in order to be there on the 22 of November 1963 to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating John F. Kennedy.

After multiple attempts, Jake is finally successful, and Kennedy’s life is saved. He travels back to 2011 to discover that life was horrible, and the world was a mess.

The story is told in Stephen King’s bestseller, 11/22/63.

I’m sure that different people have gotten different things from the story, but for me, it was the realization that in the end, that maybe things work out for the best. It might not seem that way at the time, but what if the worst of times, was in reality the best of times.

We often see the death of a loved one as a tragedy, but what if their dying when they did, averted a greater tragedy for them?

Let’s ponder on COVID for a minute. On March 11, 2020, Covid was declared a Global Pandemic by the World Health Organization. Borders and airports were closed, and travel was restricted around the world. We often view that as the beginning of the tragedy of COVID.

In July 2020, in China, a human case of bubonic plague was reported. What if travel restrictions hadn’t been put in place three months earlier?

King Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:1 For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. Other translations tell us that there is a time for everything, do we actually believe that?

Our series this fall is Resetting the Timeline. And we are looking at the realization that things are different now than they were 19 months ago before COVID became a reality. But we are also looking at the reality that God never changes, and his purposes never change. COVID did not push God off his throne, and COVID may have been a surprise to most of us, but it wasn’t a surprise to God.

Two months before COVID-19 became headline news, I preached a message called 2020 vision. And in it I reiterated the vision and the mission of Cornerstone, the reason we exist. It’s not simply so we can have a Wesleyan Church in Hammonds Plains and Sackville/ Beaver Bank. It’s not simply so I will have something to do on Sunday morning.

The reason that Cornerstone was started in 1994 was still the same on January–2020 and still the same two months later when the first lockdown happened. And that is to make an eternal difference in the lives of those in our community. Not just a difference, but an eternal difference.

Cornerstone celebrated its 25th anniversary during COVID. At that service, Stefan and I were the only two people here, and we both enjoyed a birthday donut.

And during that online service, I mentioned that on January 8th, 1995, seven people gathered together in a living room on Basinview Drive in Bedford to discuss what a new church could look like. It was the first official worship gathering of the group that would eventually become Cornerstone Wesleyan Church.

And that evening we sang some songs, we read some scripture, and we dreamed of what God would do if we let him.

If you are interested, that night there was Angela and I, a young lady from Australia by the name of Rebecca Perry, Stan and Karen Wickwire and Ian and Sylvia Richardson. Of that original group of seven, four of us are still a part of Cornerstone.

And I’m not sure that we could have envisioned where we are today. Pretty sure that we couldn’t imagine the building being here.

I remember the first time I drove from Bedford into Kingswood, to visit a perspective contact. As I drove down the dirt road called Kingswood Drive, past the twenty-five or thirty homes that had been built, I thought to myself, why would anyone live out here? Indeed.

And in the twenty-seven years since that first small group met, there have been a lot of changes.

We’ve worshipped in a half a dozen different places, we’ve sung a multitude of different songs, I’ve worn suits, jeans and business casual on the platform, and here I am in a suit again.

There have been people who have made Cornerstone their church home who are still here and others who made Cornerstone their church home and who have moved on. There have been weddings, funerals, baptisms, and baby dedications.

But through all the years and all the changes, there has been one thing that has remained constant, and that is we’ve been a church.

And understand that even though it would be another four months before we would launch our public worship service on April 9, 1995, on that Sunday evening in January 1995, the church that would become Cornerstone Wesleyan Church met for the first time.

And through the good times and the bad times, the scripture that I continue to come back to is a portion of what was read this morning, and those are the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And more specifically, I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And neither will COVID 19.

You don’t have to go very far in that scripture to get into a discussion of what the church is and what the church isn’t.

The church was not established by man. Not by Peter, or Constantine, or Augustine, or Luther, or Calvin, or Wesley, or Guptill. The church was established by Jesus Christ. The church is a divine institution.

The problem is that all too often we get the church confused with the church. We get all mixed up.

A building may be a church building, but it is never the church, I don’t know how many times, right after we moved into the building that I was asked by well-meaning people, “How do you feel now that you have a church?” and my response is “We’ve had a church since 1995, now we have a place to put it.”

This morning I’d like to share my thoughts on our Church, Cornerstone, as we move forward, resetting the timeline.

There Will Be Things We Did Then, That We Can’t Do Now Every once in a while I’ll have someone mention something they miss , that we did at Cornerstone when they first started attending. And often it was things we could do when we were smaller.

For the first ten years of our existence, we were small by every measure. For most of that time, we averaged under 50 in our Sunday Morning worship. We had a part-time pastor, that would be me, and Mike was a volunteer treasurer/administrator, and he can tell you about the financial challenges of those days.

There are still a few here who remember the potlucks that we had on the second Sunday of every month after the service. That’s not going to happen now. Sorry! Logistically, it would be close to impossible, even without COVID.

Sometimes there will be those who wistfully remember knowing everybody at Cornerstone. The reality is that they probably didn’t know everybody at Cornerstone, but they knew almost everybody.

I’ve always prided myself on being good with names and faces. I was the person who knew everybody at Cornerstone. But as much as I’d like to think I know all of you, there are people who consider Cornerstone their church home, and I don’t have a clue who you are. I wish I did, but on the other hand I’m very glad that we’ve grown to a place where that is now very difficult for me.

Those in the know tell us that on an average, most people will never know more than 60 people in their church family. So, it doesn’t matter if we average 61 in our services or 6,100 in our services. On an average, you won’t know everyone.

But there is certainly a greater level of intimacy for those who are looking for that, in a smaller church that we won’t have at Cornerstone today. Especially with masks and social distancing.

And there is certainly a greater level of control for those who are looking for that, in a smaller church that we won’t have at Cornerstone

But I would say, if you are looking for more intimacy, then you really should be a part of one of our life groups.

And if you are looking for more control, sorry.

But along with the things we did then, that we can’t do now, There Will Be Things That We Do Now, That We Did Then

25 years ago, we gathered together, and we sang, often brand-new songs. Introducing new music has always been a part of who we are. The night we gathered for the first time, we introduced the group to Hill Songs and music that had never heard before. We read scriptures and we prayed, and we dreamed of what could be.

And we still do those things.

Twenty-seven years ago, we spoke about reaching pre-Christians.

Those who were de-churched, pre-churched, and unchurched. Today we talk about providing a home for the spiritually homeless. It’s the same thing. For twenty-seven years we’ve been talking about helping to de-populate hell. And we still believe that today.

Because we still believe that there is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned, we want there to be more people in heaven and fewer people in hell because Cornerstone is here.

And so, we will continue to seek to provide a church that appeals. Not to attract believers from other churches, but to reach the spiritually homeless.

In an environment where they feel comfortable and loved and where they understand what’s happening and where they can be introduced to Jesus.

And there are folks who will find a long-term spiritual home at Cornerstone and others are only here long enough to heal and find a church home that fits them.

And that’s fine because we understand that Cornerstone isn’t for everyone.

And yet it’s not enough to provide them a home, our mission statement says in full: Cornerstone exists to provide a home for the spiritually homeless. Guiding them into a dynamic growing relationship with God and His Family.

And we try to do that at all age levels. Kid’s ministry has always been a priority at Cornerstone. For the first half of our existence, Angela led that ministry. Often times, after leading the worship for the adults, she would take the kids out to their program. More times than not, if there was a closing song, it was accompanied with a cassette for the first few years and then we went high tech and started using CDs.

And now, Pastor Marilyn and Pastor Stefan are making a difference in the lives of your kids.

We don’t just believe that our kids are the church of the future; we believe our kids are the church of today. And we remain committed to introducing them to Jesus, to seeing them baptized and to seeing them learn more about what it means to be a committed Christ follower. And we need your help with that.

There are times that you might feel that we ask a lot of our volunteers, and we do, because we believe our children deserve the best, and we believe that there is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned.

And I know I will come across as scolding, but as someone said years ago, “If Denn hasn’t offended you yet, you just haven’t been coming long enough.” We can’t do this for your children without your help.

There are a lot of things that you can have your kids involved in that keep them away from church. There are sleep overs, and birthday parties, and sports, but hear me very carefully. . . even if they are good enough to become the next Sidney Crosby, that isn’t worth an eternity without God. To paraphrase Jesus, “What profiteth a child if they are good enough to join the NHL but lose their soul?”

And as a part of that process, we will continue to have children serve in all areas of ministry, because we are committed to using the youngest capable ministry partners.

If you’ve been around Cornerstone for any length of time, you’ve discovered there are teens and pre-teens serving in all areas of ministry. They teach and they greet. When we had coffee, they were making it. They read scripture, control technology and take part in the worship teams, singing and playing.

And that is because Pastor Marilyn and Pastor Stefan and their teams are making a difference in the lives of your children.

Author and researcher George Barna writes, “In the race to a child’s heart, the first one there wins.” He goes on to state, “Children are the most important population segment to minister to because of their spiritual teachability.”

And that’s nothing new. Three thousand Years ago Solomon told parents, Proverbs 22:6 NIV Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it.

And Frederick Douglass wrote “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

But it’s not just our children, we provide opportunities across the adult spectrum for opportunities to engage.

We have LIFE groups for men, women and mixed groups. They study specific books of the bible, as well as engage in topical studies.

If you need more info, ask a staff member, or visit www.cornerstonehfx.ca/life-groups.

We are presently offering GriefShare and DivorceCare. They are 13-week groups that meet online, Tuesday and Thursday evenings and provide support for people going through significant seasons of loss, either through death or divorce and separation.

Again, the website will provide the information you need, at www.cornerstonehfx.ca/divorcecare or www.cornerstonehfx.ca/griefshare

And you are thinking, that a lot of pages to remember. True enough or you can just remember www.cornerstonehfx.ca/hub

There Are Things We Can Do Now, That We Couldn’t Do Then

The things we can do now are primarily based on scale. I’m not here to bash small churches. The majority of churches in North America average fewer than 100 people on Sunday morning. And for years Cornerstone fit in that category.

And people are introduced to Jesus, and they grow spiritually, and children are ministered to in small churches across our city and around the world.

And there are many people who will only be reached by smaller, relational churches.

But there are things we can do and are doing and will do now that we couldn’t do when we were smaller and that small churches can’t do.

We are now offering GriefShare at Cornerstone, but the first time I heard about it was twenty years ago and then I thought it would be valuable, but financially it was out of reach for us. Was the cost astronomical? No, not really. But for us, at the time, it was.

Cornerstone is one church in two locations. Not only are we worshipping here, but the Cornerstone family is also worshipping in Sackville/Beaver Bank.

But we couldn’t have done that before. We didn’t have the financial resources or the ministry partners. And because we’ve done what we’ve done here, the Atlantic District entrusted us with a building and property worth over $600,000.00 to make a difference there.

And because we’ve been faithful with our mortgage here, the denomination trusted us with a mortgage for the renovations that were needed.

Why are we doing it?

Because Cornerstone exists to provide a home for the spiritually homeless. Guiding them into a dynamic growing relationship with God and His Family.

And there are people in that area that we can’t reach from Hammonds Pains.

But it’s not just what Cornerstone does corporately, it’s what the people of Cornerstone do in the name of Jesus to help the least the lost and the lonely of our community.

But it’s not just about what we are doing in Hammonds Plains and Sackville Beaver Bank.

Cornerstone has always been committed to missions. Part of our core values is to earmark at least 10% of our total income toward missions both locally and around the world. One of the first things we did, even before we moved to Bedford, while this church only existed in my dreams, was to make a financial commitment to Cora Gorman as she began her ministry in Zambia.

And in those early years, our commitment could be measured in hundreds then thousands of dollars.

Now it is measured in tens of thousands of dollars.

For 8 years, we partnered with World Hope International to drill wells in West Africa to provide clean, safe drinking water to villages. Providing hope for thousands of people who we will never meet. Providing opportunities for little girls and women who could receive an education instead of spending hours carrying water for their families.

In 2019, you gave over $18,000.00 to drill two wells in Sierra Leone, and we were overwhelmed at your generosity.

And it was shortly after that, that I was challenged by World Hope and dare I say, challenged by God for Cornerstone to take a leap of faith and join with World Hope to partner with a village in Sierra Leone for three to five years to lift them to a level of self-sustainability.

And the project was going to cost a minimum of $27,000.00 a year. And the dream was to work in consultation with the World Hope Sierra Leone and representatives from the Village. We’re not just dumping money in and hoping something happens.

 The village of Kenenday was chosen by World Hope Sierra Leone. Located in the Northern part of the country the residents are engaged in subsistence farming, including rice, peanuts, cassava and yams and the rearing of animals such as goats and sheep.

Cornerstone has partnered with World Hope and with the people of Kenenday.

Quality seed and animals have been distributed to village farmers as a loan. Since the quality of the seed helps increase the yield, farmers can “pay back” the seed loan and still have a good harvest. When the animals produce offspring, farmers “pay back” the animal loan and can keep the original number of animals and the future offspring. As the loans are paid back, even more farmers and families can be assisted.

A deep water well was drilled to provide clean, safe drinking water. New and improved latrines were installed to help prevent diseases such as cholera.

And we are just waiting for the rainy season to stop so construction can begin on the new middle school that you have paid for. 

Presently, there is a small Wesleyan Church that meets in homes. You may have noticed each week, when I pray in the service, I included Pastor Abdulai and his family. You have made it possible for Pastor Abdulai to attend seminary for his training. 

And now we are challenging you to sponsor 50 children in the village, to help with their education and food security. For $41.00 a month, you can make an eternal difference in the life of a child you may never meet. Or if you are part of the team that goes next year, you will be able to meet them.

I could go on and on about what the dreams are, and the difference that Cornerstone will be able to make in Kenenday. But the easiest thing would be for you to visit our website, www.cornerstonehfx.ca/village

Why are we doing this? Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:34-40 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

I truly believe that our partnership will not only save lives now, it will raise the standards in this small village, that doesn’t just exist in poverty, but in extreme poverty and will save lives and impact people’s eternities long after the partnership is done.

And when I cast that vision two years ago, there were some who asked, “What if we can’t raise the $81,000.00 over three years? What if we can’t even raise the $27,000.00 the first year?

And those were good questions? But I truly believed that was the direction that God was leading us. So, at the end of 2021, how much have you sacrificially given to improve the lives and eternal lives of people most of you will never meet? This is the time for a pregnant pause.

So far, the total amount raised years for our village partnership has been close to 100,000.00.

The bottom line is that even after COVID is a distance memory, Cornerstone will continue to impact lives and introduce people to Jesus. Here, near, and far away.

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