Cornerstone

cornerstoneMatthew 21:42-46

42 Jesus *said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone; This came about from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Whether you are trying to build a church, or a family, or a life… you are going to need something solid to build on… a sure foundation… but you are also going to need a faithful cornerstone.

For those of you who aren’t masons… a cornerstone (or foundation stone) is the first stone set in the construction of a foundation, It is vitally important because all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.

What is the cornerstone of your life?  This is not meant to be a slow softball pitch… one that you can knock out of the park with the correct answer:  Jesus.  It is meant to be a soul searching question.  An opportunity to inspect the basement of your heart.  If there are cracks in your character, if your life is not what you should be representing to the world… you were building a doughnut shop but it looks more like a chicken coop… you might want to flip on the basement light switch and enter the crawl space of your heart and determine what truly is your foundation stone.

Only then can you confidently declare:  Jesus IS my cornerstone.

Every child wondering what you are going to be when you grow up… every young adult still trying to carve out identity and discover their life’s purpose… every older adult finding themselves, after all these years, back at square one having to start over building a new life:  There is good news.  It is never too late to build.  God will always grant you a building permit.  So build away.  But first let’s get about securing a proper cornerstone.

42 Jesus *said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone; This came about from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Get out your flashlight… sneak down the back stairs of your heart… make your way through the crawl space… you have arrived at the cornerstone of your life… the reason you serve…  the person or thing that directs your steps and determines your daily decisions.

Is it Christ?

Surely Not I, Lord?

Art: Upper Room by Artist Gail Meyer

Art: Upper Room by Artist Gail Meyer

Mark 14:12-21

It is the first day of the festival of the Unleavened Bread.  The Passover lamb was being sacrificed.  Everybody in Jerusalem is making arrangement to share this special meal together.  And it is at this intimate gathering of Jesus and His followers that the Son of God drops a bombshell:  “One of you will betray me!”

In my mind:  I can almost hear the initial silence that followed; I can almost witness the shocked looks of dismay upon the faces of the 12.  Mark says they were “grieved.”  The word for this in Greek was lypein.  It is used only twice in Mark… here of the disciples and of the rich young ruler who upon choosing not to follow Jesus who went away sad (lypein).  It was a word that Mark chose to describe those who failed Jesus.

But wait!  There was only one betrayer right?  Was there only one?  We know that all of the disciples at least thought that they were capable of such an act… hence their question:  “Surely Not I?”  And in verse 27 Jesus informs them:  “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.'”

Note the word “all.”  Verse 23 says that they “all” shared the cup.  Verse 31 states that they “all” confessed their allegiance to Christ.  Verse 50 says that they “all” fled from Jesus at His arrest in the garden.

There was only one ultimate betrayer (Judas)… but by dawn “all” the disciples will betray him… if not because of greed… then due to weakness, fear or cowardice.

Often I wonder about Peter’s denials.  I think:  “How could he have done such a thing?  He saw the transfiguration, he passed out the multiplied food at the feeding of the 5,000… he walked on the water with Jesus for goodness sake!”

And yet I wonder if “in the moment” I would have fared any better than Peter or the rest.  You see their main problem was overconfidence in their faith.  Peter swept his arm around the room:  “Even if all else fail you, I will not!”  The rest made their assurances as well.  But it was all words.  In the moment of truth they all headed for the hills!

Howard Hendricks remarks:  “Peter’s problem was not insincerity.  I think Peter meant exactly what he said.  In fact, I seriously question if he was ever more sincere than he was on this occasion.  …Peter’s problem was ignorance, and that’s your problem and mine.  Whenever we say, ‘Lord, you can count on me,’ you’re about to step on a spiritual banana peel.  You’re going to sprawl in the faith.'”

No, Christ cannot count on us.  But praise God we can count on Him.  The shepherd will indeed be struck down… the sheep will be scattered… but the Good Shepherd will die in order to unite his flock again. (v.28)   Greater love has no man than this that He lay down his life for His friends.  No greater love indeed!

Easter Blessings!

Let Me Be the Donkey!

Donkey and Palm BranchesMark 11:1-11

All three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) make the point that the donkey Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem was one upon which “no one had ridden” before.  Now I’ve never broken in such an animal before… but I have heard that sitting upon a donkey or horse that has never taken a rider can be “quite the experience.”   One would quickly find themselves launched into the air… praying gravity is kind in its choice of your landing spot. And yet with Jesus, this colt of a donkey upon which He rides is quiet, obedient, and responses easily to His commands.   Very un-donkey-like if you ask me!  It displays the nobility of a majestic white steed without any of the pride. There were a lot of reactions to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that day:

The Crowds:  They spread their cloaks in the road, and shouted “Hosanna!”

The Disciples:  John 12:16 says indicates that they were puzzled by the whole spectacle.

The Curious:   John 12:18 says that many went out to get a look at Jesus.

The Pharisees:   They were tearing their hair out!  They cried:  “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:19)

There seems to be (besides Jesus) only one person calm in this entire account.  Serving in a steadfast and gentile manner is the donkey. There have been times in which I have read this passage and pictured myself in the crowd with the palm branches.   My hosanna ringing louder than my neighbors!  But this is the same crowd that would turn on Jesus at the end of the week.  I certainly don’t want to be like them. I don’t want be dumbstruck like the disciples or a curiosity seeker like others that day or be stubborn and angry like the Pharisees… so if I have to put myself in the story.  Let me be the donkey.  He is the model of Christian servant-hood and leadership here. We could learn a lot from this donkey.

As pastors and a Christian leaders it is imperative that we do.  In an essay entitled “Becoming a Leader of No Reputation,” Scott Rodin wrote of his convictions about leadership after serving for several years as a seminary president: If I could put one Bible verse on the desk of every pastor and every Christian leader in the world, it would be this, ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ (1 John 1:8) As Christian leaders we must be engaged in a constant process of self-evaluation and repentance. It is so easy for us to be tempted in a variety of directions, and when we stray, we impact our entire ministry. Good leaders undertake their work with a deep humility and a keen awareness of their own weakness and shortcomings.  (Quoted by Crawford Loritts, Jr. in Leadership as Identity, p. 57.)

As Christian leaders, Pastors, Elders, Deacons, etc. bear a tremendous load.  And they are called to bear it with dignity and grace.  They must also be steadfast and yet not falter… never losing sight of their goal and mission. And added to all these things… humility is paramount!

Corrie ten Boom was once asked how she was able to maintain her humility after becoming such a sought after speaker.  Her reply was, “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments on the road, and singing praises, do you think that for one moment it ever entered the head of the donkey that any of that was for him?  If I can be the donkey on which Jesus Christ rides… I will give Him all the praise and all the honor.”

Amen to that!

Blessings!

Where’s Eden?

edenGenesis 3:22-24

Take a glance at the first two chapters of Genesis and you marvel at the harmony that seems to radiate from God’s good creation.  Now take a look at the world today and you can’t help but ask yourself: “What happened?”

Animals prey on one another. Tornadoes and Earthquakes can quadruple the death rate on any given day, in just a matter of minutes. There are wars and protests, and hatred and strife.   What happened? Where is Eden? If we left it, can we go home again?

We know the story of Genesis 3 well.  The serpent, the fruit and the fallen pair are a familiar story we learned in Sunday school.  But did we piece together that it was that act of obedience that caused creation to be what it is today?  Part of God’s judgment on Adam was “cursed be the ground.”  Paul writes in the New Testament:  “…the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it,…”

Then there is the legacy of unrighteousness we have passed on (Romans 5:12).  We have all, like Adam and Eve, painted a bleak picture of God, looked longingly at the Forbidden, partook of it and then shared the fruit of our disobedience with one another.

A number of years ago, a sad story caught the headlines.  A High School Girl was found dead in Hawaii. Her body was found intoxicated and naked in the room of two tourist that she didn’t even know. What was telling was the reaction of one girl that attended school with her: “She didn’t do anything different from the rest of us. I mean, she didn’t do anything wrong. She didn’t do anything that she isn’t suppose to do as a teenager.” It was as though her friend’s sin was okay because it had become socially acceptable among other teenagers.

As a society have bought the lies of Satan.  And that is what happened to Eden!  Sin drove us from our true home. Trying to create our own set of rules we found ourselves morally bankrupt.

Now how did God react to the fallen state of this pair?  How did He deal with our unrighteousness?  Right from the beginning God works to undo what they have done. He sets in motion a plan of redemption.

In the judgment to the serpent, God says:  “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed;  He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”  (3:15)  Man has been so bitten by the serpent that sin’s venom courses through our veins.  Sin was passed down to all of Adam’s children.  Mankind has been limping from a bruised heel since the day they left Eden.

But the Good News is that Jesus has come.  The true Seed of the Woman, Jesus (Galatians 3:16) has come to crush Satan’s head.   He has come to clothe us and to give us His righteousness.

I began this blog asking you to examine Genesis 1 and 2.  Now take a peek at Revelation 22… the Bible’s final chapter.  You will discover once again a garden and something more: the tree of life.  Eden has been reborn!

And through Jesus:  You can go home again!

 

Flag on the Play

penalty-flagEcclesiastes 7:20

20 Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.

There was a unique call in the NFL game this last Thursday night.  The Philadelphia Eagles were on offense during the 4th quarter.  A flag was thrown for a false start.  This is a call that usually indicates sloppy play on the part of one or two players of the offensive line.  In this case the sole offender was the only one NOT  flagged for the infraction.  The center, Jason Kelce, forgot the snap count… and while everyone else sprung into motion… he never hiked the ball.  Referee Walt Anderson received more than a few laughs for his announcement:  “False start, everybody but the center.”   The culprit was the only one not called for the penalty.

Our verse today from Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is not a single person on this earth that is innocent before a holy God.  Not even righteous people do good all the time… even they sin.  Illegal motion could be called on just about every play that humans beings are a part of.

Romans 5: 6-8 reminds us:   For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Solomon said there in not a righteous man who continually does good and does not sin…. but that was because he never met Jesus.  Our redeemer, in the fullness of time, came to live  the only sinless life that has ever been lived.  Then, at the cross, where He died, He took the penalty for our sin.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)   In the game called life, He has given us the victory!  And has made us penalty free in the process!  Blessed be His holy name!

A Wineskin in the Smoke

Psalm 119: 81-88wineskin

Came across an interesting verse in my daily Scripture readings yesterday.  Psalm 119:83 – “Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,  I do not forget Your statutes.”  Not sure why I have never seen this verse before.  It is probably because it is buried among 176 similar sounding verses within the longest chapter in the Bible.

What did this expression mean and why did I feel like it describes me right now?  The surrounding context is a Psalmist that is facing hardship.  His soul is languishing for deliverance (v.81) and He asks God:  “When will you comfort me?” (v.82)  He then says he feels like a wineskin in the smoke.  Now in the culture of the day, wine was stored in animal skins.  These skins if stored indoors with a fire present would become dry, then blackened and eventually would crack and become useless.  Good word picture, huh?

In the midst of feeling as used up and worthless as a discarded beverage container, he adds:  “I do not forget Your statutes.”   God’s word alone is the balm he needs for his wounds.  He might feel forsaken by man, but the Word says God has not forsaken him… and he is banking his life on it.

Sometimes, a word of Scripture can help when nothing else will do.  N. T. Wright remarks:

“Some parts of the Bible are best drunk like a large glass of water on a hot day—in other words, large quantities at a time—while others, such as many parts of the letters, are best sipped and savored, drop by drop… (always remembering that, especially in a letter, every verse means what it means in relation to the whole thing, not on its own.  But the point is that reading the Bible is habit-forming:  not just in the sense that the more you do it the more likely to want to do it, but also in the sense that the more you do it the more it will form habits of mind and heart, of soul and body, which will slowly but surely form your character into the likeness of Jesus Christ.”  (After You Believe, p. 262.)

Barely holding it together?  Too weary, you think, to turn to the Bible?  His Word is a lamp (v.105) and it can provide you the light of hope you need… even in the midst of the smoke.

Hold That Note!

Hit That High Note1 Peter 4: 10-11

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

I don’t believe I’ve ever shared this on my blog, but I love Oldies.  I listen to the 60’s on 6 more than any other channel on Sirius/XM and have over a thousand songs on my Ipod from the 60’s and 70’s.  (I’m listening to Fats Domino‘s “I Want to Walk You Home” as I type this.)  Many of my friends also know that my specialty is quirky stories about these songs.  I hope some day to start a blog called NOTABLES to feature some of these stories.

Here is one today from Tom Jones‘ Discography.  In 1965 Tom Jones began his career with his first big hit, “it’s Not Unusual.”  It went to #1 in England and reached #10 here in the U.S.  He was new and successful so he was asked to sing for the new James Bond movie, Thunderball.  He sang the title cut.  The end of the song features a note that is very high and sustained.  He delivered it all right, but passed out in the recording booth afterward.  Asked about that monster note in a later interview he said:  “I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long when I opened my eyes the room was spinning.”

That is dedication!  To hit and sustain the notes God is calling us to sing in the chorus of life also requires such dedication.  Peter says that we have each been given a gift.  We are to be good stewards of that gift.  In my analogy, we have all been given a voice and we are each called to keep that voice in tip top shape.  Then Peter reminds those that have speaking gifts to speak as though they were speaking “the utterances of God.”  Sloppy or ill prepared oratory isn’t going to cut it.  Peter then reminds those that have serving gifts, to serve as though God were powering their efforts.  A half-hearted sense of duty will not sustain you.  Why not just go ahead and hit that (grace) note of yours and then sustain it!  Put everything into it.  Give it your all!

Maybe you have be doing your particular ministry in your church for a while now.  Maybe you have it down cold.  You don’t have to put as much effort into it as you did when you started.  It practically runs like it’s on autopilot.  Do some evaluation this year.  It might not be on autopilot… it could be on life support!  Stretch yourself and your faith.  Go for that note!  Sing it with all the strength that God supplies you.

Enough said…. I Gotta go…. The Classics IV are now singing “Traces.”  Love that song!

Did I Forget to Pay?

guest checkRomans 13:8

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…”

In my minds eye I picture a grand luncheon.  Not a modest meal but one that is three courses long and definitely not fast food.  The meal was impeccable, the waitress polite, my company delightful… I leave the restaurant with a spring in my step.  “Thank you God for good times with great friends,” I utter.  I am still paying homage in my mind to the cherry cheesecake and the french amaretto coffee as I head down the interstate to get back to my job site.  And then it hits me… “Did I forget to pay?”  I try to keep one hand on the wheel as I check my wallet.  I groan as I look inside to see the $50 I left the house with still in my billfold.

I imagine for a moment the restaurant manager reading the glowing compliments I paid him and his establishment on the comment card I had filled out.  He is probably not at all interested in my praise.  I may have offered superb lip service… I just didn’t pay my bill!

I wonder how many times in life that I have left a personal encounter with someone and not paid them my debt.  What debt?  The debt of love I owe them through Jesus Christ   Paul wrote:  “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…”

The context of this verse, strangely enough, is paying taxes.  Paul says in the verse just before it:  “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:7) Paul means:  “If somebody is due something, pay up!  But remember, that when it comes to love, we are ALL debtors.

There was a concept popular a few years ago, that you still hear now and again, called:   “paying it forward.”  Someone does an act of goodness to you and instead of “paying them back” you offer the same gift of love to the next person you encounter.

This is a Biblical concept.  Ephesians 5:1-2 says:  “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  We are God’s children and enjoy everyday His joy, presence and love.  To go through life at break neck speed, never looking out for our neighbor… never sharing freely the love of God we freely received, is the worst kind of ingratitude.  You are forever indebted to Jesus.  He wants you to pay this debt forward by loving those around you.  Just don’t forget to pay!

Mike Mason once wrote:  “… we are pinched and stingy with our love.  We treat love like money, as if there’s never enough to go around, and so we draw our heartstrings tighter than our purse strings.  How can we grasp that we are dealing with an inexhaustible currency?” (Practicing the Presence of People, p.58.)

Start small.  Smile at the waitress.  Discretely buy a serviceman’s meal.  Strike up a conversation with that frazzled mom or dad in the check out line. And know that life is more than accomplishing goals, accumulating things and enjoying ourselves.  It is also about paying the debt of love we owe to our fellow human beings.  Pay up!  And remember God in Christ has already picked up your tab!

“Sir, Will You Please Run With Me?”

Marine KerrEphesians 6:21-22

“But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you.  I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts.” (Emphasis on the word “comfort” is mine.)

Just read the story and saw the picture (see left) of Lance Cpl. Myles Kerr and his memorable run in the Jeff Drenth Memorial 5K footrace in Charlevoix, Michigan last weekend.  He didn’t technically “win.”  He came in dead last in his age group.  But he is a true winner in my book.

When 9-year-old Boden Fuchs  began to struggle in the race and then became separated from his group… he spotted the Marine.  Boden asked Kerr, “Sir, will you please run with me?” Kerr agreed to run with him and stuck with him until he completed the race.  Kerr finished at 35:43 minutes (five seconds behind Boden).  He may have lost the race, but he won over many heart.  The above picture received over 200,000 Facebook likes and was shared close to 10,000 times.

And what was the response of Kerr after all the praise?  He sent out a tweet that read:  “I was just doing what any man would do, but thank you!”— Myles M. Kerr (@Myles_Kerr)

Wow!  His actions remind me of the NT virtue of encouragement.  The Greek word is parakeleo.  It comes from “para” meaning “alongside” and from “keleo” meaning “to call.”  This strong and rich adjective can mean many things: comfort, exhortation, admonishment, instruction, teaching, begging, beseeching and, of course, encouragement.  In the above verse from Ephesians, Paul sent Tychicus to parakeleo… to come alongside… the Ephesians.  What an awesome word picture this is!

In fact, in the upper room, when Jesus teaches about the Holy Spirit, he refers to Him as the parakeletos… often translated, the “Helper” or the “Comforter.”  The Holy Spirit, much like the marine mentioned above, runs alongside us… exhorting us… begging us.. instructing us… comforting us… encouraging us… to keep running and to finish our race.

And if I am reading Ephesians correctly… it is a quality that we are to display ourselves.  Like Tychicus, when we hear:  “Sir, (or Ma’am), would you run with me?” we are to break off, adjust our pace to cadence, and help the struggling runner to complete their race.  Not for glory or praise, but because it is what “any man (or woman) would do.”

Know anybody that needs you to run with them today?   A teenager?  A close friend?  A widow?  Come along side them… and let them know they are not alone!  We are all in this race together!

And then realize that you are not alone either… the Comforter runs beside you… encouraging and leading you to the finish line and home!

Remembering Him in the Midst of Life’s Storms

storm at seaPsalm 42:6-10
6My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

8 By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,

“Where is your God?”

The Psalmist isn’t where he wants to be.  He is on Mount Mizar… (a peak in the Mount Hermon range… miles north of what eventually would be called Galilee)  He is extreme North.  Where he wants to be is on Mount Zion (43:3)  Mizar means “littleness.”  The author of this Psalm feels small due to the storm in front of him.

Deep calls to deep… the water is surging… he is being swept away.

Physically, perhaps.  But most certainly psychologically.

He is going under.

Have you forgotten me, Lord?

I heard of a pastor in the midst of a period of church conflict who went into his backyard one day and waved a handkerchief toward the sky and said:
“Did you forget where you put me?”

Ever feel like that?

The lesson in the storm is:  Remember Him…. Even When You Feel Forgotten

 (New Living Translation7 I hear the tumult of the raging seas
as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.
8 But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me,
and through each night I sing his songs,
praying to God who gives me life.

1)   Remember that God is still in control.  Nothing has happened outside his notice.  They are His waves and His tides that sweep over you.

2)   Remember back when His love poured into your life.  When you went to bed singing.  When prayer was a second language.  Remember and be thankful.

Author Don Everts once wrote:  “I am a slave to my own personal weather systems.  If it’s been a good week, I have an easier time feeling good about what Jesus has done for me on the cross.  But if I am a little depressed or frustrated, my soul is anything but thankful.”  –  Don Everts  (God in the Flesh, p. 121.)

But thanksgiving may be the very thing you need to lift your depression or frustration.

“Devastated by a series of personal crises, Sean Coxe spent his last $300 to visit his father in Florida.  Feeling helpless and alone, he wanted nothing more than to be with the man who had so often been able to put life’s disasters in perspective when he was a child.  Perhaps he could now.  On the last evening of his visit, the two men stood at the end of a jetty and watched the sun set into the Gulf of Mexico.  Coxe was seething with bitterness.  He said, ‘You know, Dad, if we could take all the great moments we experience in our lifetimes and put them back-to-back, they wouldn’t last twenty minutes.’  Keeping his eyes fixed on the setting sun, his dad responded simply, ‘Yup.’  Stunned, Coxe turned to him.  His father then looked steadily into his eyes and added softly, with the wisdom of Job, ‘Precious, aren’t they?’”  –Ben Patterson (Waiting, pp.21, 22.)