CORNERSTONE

When we attended the Grand Ole’ Opry we noticed an odd circle of older wood, front and center stage. We later learned that this patch of boards is from the original stage at the Ryman Auditorium. It was brought to commemorate the history of the original venue, and contemporary artists have the honor of walking the exact same boards as historical artists. Similarly the gathering of believers I worship with is not meeting in its original building. When the newer building was constructed, the cornerstone of the original building was brought along as an homage to the founders and history of the local church. The cornerstone is considered foundational, and represents the  whole building.

In ancient times, the cornerstone was the principal stone placed at the corner of the building. The cornerstone was key, as the most solid and  carefully constructed of any in the edifice. Biblical references to Jesus as the Cornerstone of his Church (comprised of both Jews and Gentiles) are many.

Among the book of Isaiah’s many references to the coming Messiah, several refer to him as the cornerstone, as in 28:16-17: “So this is what the sovereign Lord says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line.’” Through the prophet Isaiah, God is speaking of his Son when He refers to the Cornerstone, the one who provides the firm foundation for the lives of all who trust in him. Isaiah used construction terminology to make his point because these are things the people would have understood.

The cornerstone metaphor is continued in the New Testament  For example, when the apostle Paul is writing to the Ephesians for the purpose of helping them know Christ better, in chapter 2, verses 19-21 he says: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.”  1 Peter 2:6, affirms what Isaiah said centuries before  in exactly the same words.

The question for us today is this: Is Jesus the Cornerstone of our lives? So many things compete to be the foundation of our lives! If our happiness and peace are based on anything temporary, our lives are built on shifting sands, and will not stand the trials and storms of life. We need to continually bring our focus back to the one solid Rock, Jesus Christ, who paid the price for our salvation, once and for all. He is our foundation now and for eternity.

“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;” (Psalm 118:22)

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Something Greater

Recently I noticed an ad for the Marines with the slogan: Are You Ready to Commit to Something Greater than Yourself? No doubt this ad has been effective in persuading lots of young people to enlist in the Marines. It is a high impact message. I think it strikes a chord in us because God placed a need inside of us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

People seek to fill this need with lots of stuff. People join organizations, health clubs, and country clubs. People spend up to thousands of dollars to watch the Super Bowl in person when they could watch it from the comfort of their living room. Why? We as a culture have decided the Super Bowl is a big deal, and people want to be a part of it, to witness it firsthand and to be a part of the energy and roar of the crowd.

Lots of people show up at Church for similar reasons. You can read your Bible at home or watch church services on TV, but there is something about learning and worshipping elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder with like-minded others. The book of Hebrews cautions us not to forsake gathering together for a reason. God created us social beings. We need one another in ways we don’t usually even recognize.

In the twelfth Chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul points to God’s reason for giving people this need to be a part of something bigger. Often quoted out of context, when read together, these verses actually build his case:

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Paul is talking about being committed to something greater than yourself. Presenting our bodies as living sacrifices runs in direct conflict with the pattern of this world which is competition and self-promotion. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (What is God’s will? Paul is about to tell us…)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Our minds are transformed as we embrace the upside-down Kingdom where the first become last and the shared goal is service for the benefit of others. In this context, to think more highly of ourselves than we should is to imagine ourselves to be self-sufficient. The truth Paul teaches us here is that no individual gets all the gifts. We are interdependent by design. We need each other. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Bold text is my commentary.)

Not thinking more highly of ourselves than we should in this context just means knowing who God wants you to be in the Body of Christ (i.e., how he wants you to serve others). Conversely it means accepting who you are not, and not judging others because they lack your particular gift (when God has another plan for them entirely).

Here’s the take-away. None of us is all that on our own. But together, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are the Body of Christ, and that’s pretty great!

For the Body of Christ to function as it should, each part is needed to join the others for the Glory of Jesus. As we press on to the finish line, picking one another up when we stumble, pushing and pulling one another along when we hesitate, cheering one another on when we grow weary, let’s fix our eyes on Him who called us to be a part of something—something greater than ourselves.

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DAYSPRING

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Words can be misleading. Even in the English language, the meanings of words change over time. So any book translated centuries ago can lead to some mysteries and misunderstandings, even when read by a fluent English speaker. For example, the word peculiar used to simply mean unique or set apart, and then there is the word gay.

Of the various names given to Jesus, Dayspring is one of the most beautiful and elusive names. Like many words in current use at the time of the King James translation, Dayspring can conjure misleading images of gurgling water sparkling in the sunlight. It is found in the Old Testament as the translation of shachar, “Hast thou caused the dayspring to know his place?” (Job 38:12). This is no doubt intended literally for the dawn. In the New Testament, the same translation is given to the Greek word anatole, literally “a rising,” as in Luke 1:78, “The dayspring from on high hath visited us.”

If, as by most commentators, it be taken to refer to the Messiah, it probably implies prophetic knowledge that the conception of Jesus had already taken place, and that the Messianic era was at hand, when the Jewish world should be filled with spiritual splendor. It certainly compliments the Gospel of John’s opening imagery about light flooding the darkness. After 400 years of silent darkness, the dawn was breaking and the Messiah was coming.

In our lives, yours and mine, there are times of darkness. When we are enduring them, it seems as if they will never end. Our hope is in Jesus, who suffered in total darkness in order to bring us light. On the third day, he arose. And so, hope rises with him. He will redeem all that is lost. In our fear, he speaks peace; in our despair, hope; in our darkness, the promise of the bright dawn of a new, everlasting day.

(Luke 1:78) “Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us..”

Reference: Encyclopedias – International Standard Bible Encyclopedia – Dayspring

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The Thanksgiving Key

When I was a boy, I cared for a neighbors’ dog when they were out of town. To get to the food and supplies, I needed to find the key, strategically hidden under a rock. The thing is, anyone could have found the key but, they needed to know to look for it.

Scripture holds some keys for us. Some are hard to find while others are hidden in plain sight. The thing is, most of the time, we are not looking for them. We are looking for information to gain knowledge or, we are looking for easy unconditional promises God makes for us, so we forget to look for a key. Such a key is gratitude.

In our search for peace, we can easily overlook gratitude as a key. Jesus’ words were true when he said he gives us peace, not as the world gives, but peace that lasts, peace without lethal addiction and, peace without conditions. If someone gives you a new house and hands you the key, in what way is using the key a condition for having the house? Rather, the key is the means for entering in to abide and live and spill and do all the things that make a house your home. Giving thanks is such a key. The Apostle Paul puts it this way:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7New International Version (NIV)

These verses are great examples of how we can get stuck and forget to look for keys. Many people (I have been one) look no further than the first phrase and, they turn it into a rule: “Be anxious about nothing.” So your boss calls you into a mandatory one-on-one meeting or, your wife calls you from the emergency room, or your son is in an automobile crash with no details available and you feel like such a sinner because, here you are, anxious.

Take a deep breath and read the rest of the sentence. It says to take everything, every situation to God. Not only that, but bring along thanksgiving. Thanksgiving? What an unlikely response in fear inducing situations. A key, hidden in plain sight, that opens the door to peace that transcends all understanding.

By turning to gratitude, we honor God and, we shift our focus–to his goodness, to his faithfulness, to his character, to his promises. Like the child who wakes from a nightmare and cries out for Daddy, cradled in his arms we hear him say, “I have you. Don’t be afraid.” In that context “be anxious in nothing” takes on a whole new meaning. It is not about a rule, it is about relationship with the Faithful One who will never leave you or forsake you (even when your emotions say the opposite).

It has been said that in the Bible, thanksgiving always precedes a miracle. Read the story of Lazarus again and find the key of thanksgiving, hidden in plain sight. It was there all the time. We just weren’t looking for it there.

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Relationships: Follow the Flag!

For centuries, soldiers in battle would follow the flag of their country or regiment. This helped them to keep moving in the right direction in the disorientation of combat. It also kept them from being separated from their comrades.

When asked for a few biblical principles to heal and improve relationships, an acrostic I like is FLAG, as in–follow God’s flag for relationships.

F is for FORGIVENESS.

If you get close to another human being for long enough, they will disappoint you, hurt you or, even betray you. If you eliminate from your life every person who causes you pain, you will end up alone. You were created for community. Forgiveness is YOUR get out of jail card; it sets you free from resentment, bitterness, and eternal replays of the offense against you. Forgiveness is not excusing the offense, (some things are inexcusable), rather it is letting go of your options to judge and punish the other person. Forgiveness is different from the pain you feel when you recall the offense. You may still be hurt and make the choice to give the other person to God–who alone knows what the other person needs (e.g., discipline or blessing). When we postpone forgiveness we fear that God won’t get it right. But he will, and he may be waiting for you to get out of the way. Boundaries often need to change, but forgiveness is not an option, it is a command.

Bear with one another, forgiving whatever grievances you have against one another because Christ forgave you. Colossians 3:13

Pray: God help me to forgive as you have commanded. You are God and I am not, so I hand the person over to you. When I am tempted to pick this back up and help me to give it back to you. I still feel pain about this, so I ask you to teach me whatever it is you would have me learn (compassion, patience, grace) and bring good from it to further your Kingdom. Amen

L is for LOVING HONESTY

Like Billy Joel sang, honesty is hardly ever heard. Maybe we think honesty has to be brutal. Maybe we have heard the word connected to rude, unsolicited opinions about inconsequential matters. But if Jesus came in grace and truth, and Paul exhorts us to speak truth in love, maybe there is a better way.

Speaking truth in love we will all grow up into the head of the Church, Jesus. Ephesians 4:15

Truth means many things. It is one of the gospel’s two legs, the other being grace. The truth is, I need a savior. There is nothing I can do to be good enough to be in God’s presence. There is only one remedy for my sin, and it is trusting in the righteousness of Jesus Christ to make me right with God. That’s where grace comes into play, because God has made that provision, not because I deserve it but, because he extends his grace for all who will accept it. This is the benchmark and foundation for loving truth. We who believe can extend it to others because we have received it from him. Before we can accept his grace, we have to recognize the uncomfortable truth that we need it.

In human relationships, truth may be expressing loving concern for the path of a brother or sister. We are commanded to restore gently those who are overtaken by a fault. As with the gospel, we can lay it out there but, ultimately we are not in control of the other person’s response. Sometimes what appears to be an unfruitful intervention takes time and, people can eventually give in to the truth. Honesty may also mean asking for what we need in a relationship, while remembering that our biblical perspective need to be what am I giving, not what am I getting. Other people cannot read our minds so, it is sometimes necessary to spell things out for them, Do it lovingly and you will get better results.

Pray: Father, help me to see your truth in all things and help me to know when and how to speak the truth in love. It is not loving for me to withhold a truth another needs to hear, but keep me from my own pride lest I stumble. Amen

A is for AGAPE love.

This is the kind of love a parent (hopefully) has for a child who is learning a new task (like walking or talking). The parent does not punish the child for not being proficient in his first efforts but, meets the child where he is (often on the floor), encouraging and believing in him. These attitudes from the parent encourage the child to get up and try again. Coming from the Holy Spirit who is infinitely patient with us, this kind of love never gives up, never fails, and gives the other person the benefit of the doubt. 1 Cor. 13

Above all, love one another deeply because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

Jesus “new command” was simply, “Love one another,” as it fulfills every other command in Scripture. We know agape love in that while we were still defiant, Christ died for us. This love is the result of the Holy Spirit who indwells every believer. It is not a matter of us mustering up more love; it is a matter of getting our selfish egos out of the way and asking how can I be salt and light?

Pray: God, I ask that you remind me of your love for me and of your desire that your love flow from me. I need this so that the camera in my mind stays focused on you and others and not on self. Let me put my ego (my sinful nature) to death so that I can live fully and abundantly for your glory. Amen

G is for the GOOD STUFF

One of the main traits of lasting relationships is the ability of partners to focus on the positive. We know the negative is there. Every human has different expectations for others and reality is, those expectations are not always met, even when we communicate honestly and lovingly. Similar to gratitude, focusing on what is good in relationships keeps our hearts open and helps us overlook our unmet expectations.

Whatever is good, true, right, pure, lovely, excellent, of good report, worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. Philippians 4:8

Pray: Father, please help me to choose  to think about what is right in the relationships you have given me. Help me to remember that you cause everything to work for my good and so, help me to turn my focus away from what I see as imperfect in others, even as I hope they will do for me. Teach me to be an encourager, acknowledging the good in others and cheering them on. Amen

BOTTOM LINE

There is no formula that guarantees every relationship will meet your expectations. You need to let go of that overall illusion. We are not in heaven yet, and we are not gods of our own little worlds. We live here with others who will sometimes make choices we do not agree with and, some of those choices will have a painful impact on us.

However, God is pleased when we choose to do these things. As we walk in fellowship with him, his Spirit prompts and empowers us to love in ways we never imagined. This is a win in and of itself. Often, we get back what we send out in relationships (think of echoes) and our relationships can only be enriched as we follow God’s flag.

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Q & A: The Foundation of Healthy Relationships

Healthy Relationships

This post is a summary of part of an interview I recently gave in a local church.

· How would you encourage people to have a healthy foundation that would lead to healthy relationships?

Relationship with God is meant to change everything. When we trust in Jesus to be our salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell inside of us. He begins a remodeling process in us that takes the rest of our lives. We have to cooperate with Him in this process. It is possible to be a Christian and remain self-centered and unloving. So talking with God, thinking about God, and learning about God are ways of deepening that relationship.

“7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:7-19New International Version (NIV)

Relationships require some kind of communication. The main way God talks to people is through his Word, so time in the Bible is huge. If we lack a biblical foundation, we are guessing what God wants (if we are thinking about what God wants at all). By becoming familiar with the Bible we are building a frame of reference. Then the Holy Spirit can bring a passage to mind just when we need it. You don’t have to spend hours every day, a few minutes a day adds up over time. You can listen to CDs or download Bible audio versions if you struggle with sitting down to read.

“12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12New International Version (NIV)

Ready to stop playing games? Ready for relationships based on more than selfish needs and competitive motives?  Ready to get serious about a relationship with God that can have a positive, eternal impact on your relationships with others? Make Him a priority and see what happens. You will be amazed.

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King of kings, Lord of lords

The phrase “king of kings” is found in Scripture six times. Once, the title is applied to God the Father (1 Timothy 6:15), and twice to the Lord Jesus (Revelation 17:14; 19:16). The other three (Ezra 7:12; Ezekiel 26:7; Daniel 2:37) refer to either Artaxerxes or Nebuchadnezzar, kings who used the phrase to describe their supposed sovereignty over their respective realms (Persia and Babylon). The phrase “lord of lords” is used in Scripture five times and only referring to God (Deuteronomy 10:17; Psalm 136:3; 1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16). It is significant to note that, used together, the two phrases refer only to Jesus the Christ.

In 1 Timothy 6, Paul is concluding his letter to Timothy, reminding him to fight the good fight and keep his profession of faith.Timothy is to do these things “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,” whom he describes as “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion.” The title indicates one who has the power to exercise absolute dominion. In the case of the Lord Jesus, his realm is all of creation. Paul takes pains to emphasize the unique nature of Christ’s rule, calling Him the “only” Sovereign, who is “alone” and “unapproachable.” The rule of Jesus stands alone and above all. Jesus trumps all.

The other two uses of the phrase, those in Revelation, refer to the return and final conquest of Jesus. The implication is that ultimately all other rules will be conquered or abolished, and He alone will reign supreme as King and Lord of all.  The writer of Hebrews says of the Lord Jesus: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). The next verse describes Jesus as “much superior” to the angels. Clearly, His rule is absolute.

Paul clarifies this rule is derived from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In Philippians 2:5-11, he discusses the lengths to which Jesus went to atone for sinners, and concludes that this is the reason that “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 9-11).

Finally, the Book of Revelation fully reveals the Kingship of Jesus. In chapter 5, the Lamb (Jesus) is the only one in all creation found worthy to open the scroll containing the judgments of God (vv. 2-5). In chapter 11, voices in heaven proclaim that the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of Christ, and that He will reign forever and ever (v. 15). In chapter 12,  the authority of Christ is what causes Satan to be thrown down to earth (vv. 9-10). In chapter 17:12-14, the Lamb conquers all those gathered against Him, and John stresses that He conquers because He is King of kings and Lord of lords. Finally, in chapter 19, we read of His triumphant coming to strike the nations and tread the winepress of the wrath of God, having the authority to do so as King of kings and Lord of lords (vv. 11-16).

Jesus being King of kings and Lord of lords means that there is no greater authority. His reign over all  is absolute. God raised Him from the dead and placed Him over all things, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:21-23).

In a world that questions or ignores his existence, we followers are challenged to remember his authority over us. His commands (e.g. love one another) are not mere suggestions. But what he calls us to do, he also empowers us to do. Why wait for a final judgment day to bow to him? Everything in the universe is his, including you and all you call “yours”. Offer it to him now because, he only has your best interest at heart. And as Paul writes in Colossians 3:15, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,” because Jesus trumps all.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6wL1IvMuWo

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