Cornerstone

Matthew 21, Psalm 94

By definition, a cornerstone is “a stone that forms the base of a corner of a building, joining two walls.”  Historically, the cornerstone was the first stone set in a new building.  It was carefully selected and placed, becoming the reference point for the rest of the building.  The Bible often references the cornerstone of our lives.  This stone is special and set apart, selected and laid by God himself (Job 38:4-7).  It has been tested and it is precious. These ensure a firm foundation (Isaiah 28:16).  This cornerstone is an anchor point for an entire building; his temple.  It consists now of apostles, prophets (Ephesians 2:19-21), saints, the chosen as his royal priesthood  (1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Peter 2:9).  Each of us, placed securely and carefully around the cornerstone.

We get to choose a cornerstone upon which to build our own lives.  Just like the Jews in Matthew 21, we have a choice.  We either choose Jesus for that stone, or we reject him as that stone.  Trouble comes in the rejection.  You see, failure to place Jesus as the cornerstone, doesn’t mean that we have built an inferior house.  No, it means that we have built a house without God.  A house without life (Genesis 2:7, Acts 17:25).  In fact, Matthew 21:44 gets right to the point, reminding us that our rejection results in death. 

As we consider that truth, it is right to consider our current state.  Maybe our lives already have Jesus as the cornerstone.  In that case, the fruit will be obvious.  Our lives are exuding love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  If these are missing, however, what are we to do?  That, my friends, is the wonderful thing about the Gospel. 

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22)

In order to receive his mercy and place him as our cornerstone, there is only one thing required.  Believe.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

Luke 13

I am a reader. Those who know me will probably smile when they read those words. In my free time, I am rarely without a book in my hand. When I was younger, I read mostly fiction – especially the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden series. My favorite author, though, was Louisa May Alcott. I read and re-read every book she ever wrote because I loved how she created a story. Even though her books were fiction, I felt as though I were reading a true story – her plot and details were that believable. And I always learned something from her books.

Jesus is the master story-teller. Over and over in the New Testament, we read of our Savior using a story to make a point or to teach a lesson. In doing so, He teaches about complex topics like faith and grace and salvation. We see this over and over in Luke 13, our chapter for today.

Jesus uses the parable of a barren fig tree to teach about how to live a Godly life (Luke 13:6 – 9). He compares the kingdom of God to both a mustard seed and to leaven used in baking bread (Luke 13:18 – 21) He uses the idea of a narrow door to represent the fact that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (Luke 13:24 – 30; John 14:6). The people to whom He was talking would have had as difficult a time as we do now understanding concepts like the kingdom of God, faith, and salvation. Fig trees, mustard seeds, leaven and doors, though? They understood those. They were familiar with these objects, because they used them in their daily lives. By using stories, Jesus made complex topics more easily understood.

As Jesus ends this time of teaching, He laments over the lost in Jerusalem, saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). As I finish writing this devotion, it is Monday morning, and our country is waking to the news of the massacre in Las Vegas. Jesus’ poignant cries over Jerusalem remind me that my Savior also weeps today, along with those who grieve.

Salvation Test

In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.  – 1John 3:10

The NIV starts verse 10 out this way, ‘This is how we know’.  All throughout Scripture, obedience and love are the hallmarks of a true believer.  1 John 3:10 answers the question every believer should test themselves on: how do I know that I am saved?

God assures believers of their salvation through the Spirit. (1John 3:24)  A believer’s renewed heart compels them to obey the will of the Father in obedience to His word and to love God and others in deed and truth.  The presence of Christ in a believer is unmistakable to them over time.

And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. – 1John 3:24

Obedience and love.  Like all of Scripture, 1 John chapter 3 continues to return to these two hallmarks of a believer.  As you read through today’s Scripture: 1 John 3 and Psalm 41, be on the lookout for these.  As you enjoy the fellowship of Christ today, feel the Spirit leading you to obedience and love.  

If you have not committed your life to Christ, placed your trust in Him alone and repented from trusting in all other promises, imagine for a moment what your day would be like if you had.  Your whole life made new.  Ever going with a Companion who will reign in your heart and will never leave you.  A companion who is Master over all, King of Kings, who leads you beside still waters in righteousness, who makes you to lie down in green pastures. 

 

Remind The People

A few days ago, our Bible Journal community began reading the book of Titus together. This is a short book, so we are actually finishing it up today! Paul begins the last part of his letter with the words, “Remind them” (Titus 3:1). In the NIV version, it reads, “Remind the people.” He then lists several things that he wants Titus to be sure to tell the people in the churches he is overseeing: “…to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people (Titus 3:1).

All of these admonishments are as relevant today as they were when Paul first penned these words. Each relates to living in community with others – and living in community is hard work! Paul understood that it was necessary to encourage people to pursue behaviors that lead to a healthy community and society.

There is one section of this verse that Paul returns to twice more before he ends this letter. In verse 1, Paul writes, “…be ready for every good work…” (Titus 3:1). Later, in verse 8, he writes, “…so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to good work.” (Titus 3:8). Finally, in verse 14, Paul states, “Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works.” (Titus 3:14) Clearly, doing what is good is important to Paul.

In our lives today, what does this look like, to “devote ourselves to good work”? It can be any number of things. Good work can be working at the job God has called us to to the best of our ability and with integrity. It can be something practical, like blessing a friend with a meal. It can be anything, really, that reveals Christ to someone else.

And what is the benefit to our doing good work? Is it for our own salvation? No. Paul states this clearly: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us rightly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7, emphasis mine). That verse is a long one, but the part I want us to focus on today is this: devoting ourselves to good works does not save us. Only Christ in his mercy does this. However, doing good works might draw others to us, giving us the opportunity to share the “the reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Today, let’s consider how we can do something for the benefit of someone else, and let’s always be ready to share the reason for our hope: Jesus.

Faith, Righteousness and Glory

Are you a rule follower?  Have you ever thought about why?  Most of us were taught that we either follow the rules, or get punished.  If that is you, I have another question for you.  Who do you believe God to be?  The judge?  The wrathful prosecutor?  An angry father?   Do you fear his punishment and condemnation?  Believe it or not, our answers to those questions can help us understand our faith.  Or, maybe they highlight our lack of faith.  According to Paul in Romans 4, if we believe those things about God, we are living according to the law.  How can we tell?  Let’s first consider righteousness.

How could I ever consider myself righteous?  I am painfully aware of how short I fall from God’s expectations, which is to say that I am disobedient to him and his commands.  I am sinful. But, to say so, invites the condemnation and wrath that I fear.   Even worse, to believe it, is to ignore Jesus.  Truly, because of Jesus death and resurrection, I do NOT fall short of God’s expectations.  In fact, I fully satisfy them.  That is the message that Paul is preaching today in Romans 4.  In verse 25, Paul explains that Jesus was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  So, does Jesus make us righteous?

Yes, Jesus can make us righteous.  In fact, the Bible elevates believers in Jesus to Priests and Saints, but there is a catch to reaching this mark.  We must believe. We must have faith.  Paul uses Abraham as an example.  Faith for Abraham was being “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:13).  Remember, Abraham was 100 years old, yet his faith in God’s promises enabled him to push through physical weakness (Romans 4:19).  Furthermore, “no unbelief made him waiver.”  Abraham’s unwavering posture points to mental toughness.  Faith in God, therefore, provided everything he needed to persevere and succeed.  That’s powerful!  So, the real question of righteousness looks less like living according to a strict set of rules and more like knowing, trusting and believing that God, through Jesus, has a plan for my life.

Finally, what is the evidence that our faith is full and real?  Glory.  Not to us, but glory to God.  Looking at verse 20, we see that Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.”  We can conclude that faith is fully manifested in us when we give God glory for everything in every way.  Ironically, living for God’s glory means that we cannot possibly entertain thoughts, or engage behaviors that are contrary to his nature.  To do so would negate our belief and therefore, his very existence.

It’s that simple.    Faith, righteousness and glory do not come from finding all the right things to do in the Bible.  Instead, our perfection now and eternally, comes through “the one whom the Bible reveals,” Jesus Christ.  Believe it!

Chambers, Oswald (2011-05-01). My Utmost for His Highest, Classic Edition (Kindle Locations 2064-2066). Discovery House. Kindle Edition.

A Lesson from the First Missions Trip

Some believe there is a reason that in this account of the first great missionary move of the church there is both the presence of a false convert and a true believer. Perhaps one of the lessons here is that this is a reality of ministry. (Matthew 13:24-30)

Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ unto them. (Acts 8:5) After hearing and seeing the miracles, Simon, the Sorcerer, having in the same city proclaimed to be great and having been given heed as the same, believed and was baptized proclaiming Christ. (Acts 8:9-13) Simon the Sorcerer, after witnessing a new miracle, the laying on of hands by the apostles that the believers might receive the Holy Spirit, desired this power for himself and offered to pay the disciples to procure it. (Acts 8:18-19) The Apostles exposed him as false and rebuked him. (Acts 8:20-23)

Here we see the intention of Simon’s heart. Apparently he was not interested in God because solely because he loved God in the true sense of the word, that is; loving someone for what you can do for them, but instead, for a selfish, lustful desire, that is; “loving someone” for what they can do for you. He seemingly was not interested in God except that he might procure the power of God. Except that he might then use this power for himself and sow to the flesh more and more. (Galatians 6:7-8) In this case, Simon the Sorcerer seemed interested in the power of God to fuel his prideful quest of being great among the people. It was found out that is was really all about him and not God.

Perhaps some good questions to reflect on and return to:

  • Do we love God for what we can do for Him (serve Him) or are we more interested in what He can do for us? Are we more interested in God or His stuff (blessing, etc.)? In your heart (your deepest and most subtle desires); Are you for God or is God for you? ‘For’ here being in the useful sense of the word. 
  • Do we love others for what we can do for them or what they can do for us?

Painting: Rembrandt, The Baptism of the Eunuch, 1626

Salvation On A Curve

Today’s reading: Luke 13

Jesus is an incredible teacher. He has so much to reveal but it always seems that He waits for the perfect time to do it. Often in response to a question. His ‘answers’ to questions seem to get right to the root of what is really going on. I feel like the space between the question and the answer is often where I find a lesson.

In today’s reading Jesus was asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” 

In my estimation, in the space between the question and the answer here Jesus redirects the questioner’s thinking away from comparison and towards personal faith. Almost as if to say, ‘look, it doesn’t matter how many will be saved. What matters is that you be one of them.’ Comparison is empty. Salvation has nothing to do with out doing anyone. Salvation is not on a curve with our peers. We can not gauge salvation by looking to the culture. Praise God, He has revealed to us the truth and the truth stands alone as the standard, unchanging, never moving, the rock of our salvation.

The Christmas Story Continues

Revelation chapter 12 gives us the truth about Christmas. It is about the eternal destiny of all mankind. It is about war, Satan and his angels, Michael and his angels, God, a virgin birth, a mass murder of infants by evil in high places and principalities of this world and, Praise God, Christ’s ultimate victory. But it doesn’t stop there. It is not just a historical view. It reaches forward to where we are now and where we are headed. The Christmas story continues. It helps us understand the realities of the post war world we are living in.

Often times when thinking about a past war, victors will recall images of celebration. Their post war snap shots are flooded with newspaper headlines that read “Peace!” or “It’s Over!”. These types of images often come from the victors territory and can give the victors a false sense of finality. The war may have been won but the reality may be that the victory was the beginning of the end, not the actual end. However on the other hand the losers’ dominion presents a very different picture. One that is easier to discern; the war has been won, but battles still rage and lives still hang in the balance. 

On the other side the picture will often look something like this; failed states left in ruins, void of leadership and often rampant with lawlessness. The victors have left behind remnants of their soldiers to help the failed state find their way. These soldiers are most always up against remnants of a different sort, remnants of the enemy. 

Post war, the enemy most often deploys a covert strategy. They go underground to continue the fight covertly, doing all they can undermine the victor’s agenda and to strengthen their camp. What seems to motivate them is the hope of carrying their agenda forward at some future time. Living to fight another day. History has shown us that of these sorts the worst is often the hopeless. The ones who know they will never gain the strength to ultimately win but deceive and give false hope to that end anyway. Who still refuse to let go of their agenda and determine themselves to ‘take as many with them’ to their hopeless end as possible.

The end of Revelation chapter 12 makes it clear, the War is won but not over. the battle still rages and Christians are in enemy territory. The enemy is present, powerful and hopeless. In my estimation, a Christian’s role then is that of the remnant of the victor in enemy territory post war, there to help people find their way to the right side. There to provide a beacon of truth amidst all the undercurrents of deception. There to save people from hopelessness.

Perhaps this is the gift of Christmas that Christians wield in post war enemy territory. The light that Christians have been given to shine in the shadow of deceit and through the darkness of hopelessness that the enemy works so hard to create. May your light shine this Christmas season. May your Christmas be merry and bright!

 

Today’s reading: 2 Chronicles 25; Revelation 12; Zechariah 8; John 11

Suggestions for prayer: Ask God to help you steward the gift of Christmas well for Him. Ask Him to help you give the gift of Christmas.

Contemplating Life As Worship

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. -1 Peter 4:11

The entirety of our lives is made up of what we think, say and do. Our active and passive response to what we are born into, what happens to us, and our surroundings — situations that unfold.

Whether we see it our not, God is the author of life; of our lives. Each breath we breathe is from God. His plan includes us. Part of that plan is our free will, our ability to uniquely decide how we’ll respond to the world as it presents itself, including interaction with each other.

Through studying the Bible and from insights gleaned from friends and sages, I have come to believe I should glorify God in all things, making my life a constant act of worship. But without some understanding of who God is, this is difficult. Even though God’s revelation is available to us all and His law is written on our hearts, it seems impossible to consistently glorify God.

If I was able to subjugate every thought, and every word, and every deed to God’s power; or to fully understand His purposes and His perfect plan for my life, who would I be then? It’s worth thinking about. A life focused on giving glory and power to God in all things — a perfect life, perfect alignment with God’s perfect will.

My hunch is this would be better than any life I could dream up, construct, or will into existence on my own. It’s crazy to think about this perfect life I am unlikely to attain — yet by my faith in Jesus, and through His grace, God considers me worthy of total righteousness, offering me a different kind of life. One in which I am able to receive God’s love as if I were His perfect child.

Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross offers the best example of God’s perfect love. This is the reason I choose to surrender all, bowing down to the maker of heaven and earth.

Thank you God for giving me freedom in the deliverance from my sin, through my submission to you. Thy will, not mine be done, as it is in heaven and on earth. Amen.

1 Chronicles 23; 1 Peter 4; Micah 2; Luke 11

A New Covenant

But God found fault with the people and said: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.Hebrews 8:8-9

As I read about this New Covenant I wonder: Why did we need one? How does it work?

God once made a covenant with His chosen people. These were the descendants of Noah, and the children of Abraham. He promised to bless them and save them; and to save the world through them. They, in exchange were bound to his law, essentially the Ten Commandments. Law that focused primarily on loving God and each other, putting God above all while striving for purity and relying on ritual sacrifice to receive God’s atonement for sin.

As I read through the book of Kings and 2Kings, it reinforces the tremendous disappointment God experienced in the almost constant rebellion of his people. Though God appeared at crucial times, rescuing His chosen people, offering many signs and wonders, still they turned away — worshiping other gods, sacrificing their children, and leaning on their own understanding.

The New Covenant came despite God’s disappointment, perhaps even because of it. It came as an expression of His constant love for people. This is not His plan “B” but the final reconciliation, through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Considering our tendency to rebel, it’s remarkable God extends salvation to us. When we receive God’s grace, in an instant our sins are washed away and we are made righteous by faith! No longer under the power of the law, we are set free in Christ and given freedom to pursue a relationship with the one true God. A holy God who declares our innocence, though we are guilty. A self-sacrificing God, who takes our place on the cross and dies for our sins so we don’t have to.

The New Covenant is based on an act of love that restores the fullness of God’s intended relationship with us — His created beings. Once set free from sin, we are able to pursue holiness in the power of God’s Holy Spirit and a life in the presence of a living God who offers everything we cannot attain on our own. In this way we are blessed with peace, freedom, power and joy in the truth and security of an eternal, dynamic relationship with the very creator of the universe! This is the New Covenant. Thank you God!

Reading: 1 Chronicles 1–2; Hebrews 8; Amos 2; Psalm 145