THE CORNERSTONE

You are God’s building. Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. [1 Corinthians 15: 9b-11 (NLT)]

oleanderTwo members of our small group attended Easter service at a Christian church in another town. Imagine their shock when the pastor began his sermon by saying he didn’t believe in the resurrection. Thinking his statement had been made for shock value, they patiently waited for him to make a case for Christ and defend the truth of Easter. Unfortunately, he only offered a feel good message about new beginnings. I was reminded of their story when another pastor mentioned his experience when a youth pastor. After one of the teens complained that he talked too much about Jesus, he was called into the senior pastor’s office and told that Jesus just should be a “side dish” in the church youth group!

As for the resurrection—can it be Christianity without the risen Christ? Without Easter, we just have a man who said some beautiful and wise things and was killed for his words. While He may have had a great message, he was either delusional or a liar. In the early church, an Apostle was someone who had personally known Jesus both before that dark Friday and after that glorious Sunday. Without the resurrection, Peter and the rest of the Apostles were equally delusional or liars who perpetrated a fraud with their claims of an empty tomb and their witness to the risen Christ. Without the resurrected Christ, everything that happened after the crucifixion and much of what happened before is suspect. When we read Acts, we find that the essence of every sermon preached is the resurrected Christ. Without the resurrection, how can we believe Jesus was God in flesh? Without the risen Christ how can we believe in the Holy Trinity, the resurrection of the dead, or the truth of the New Testament?

There are plenty of authors who make excellent cases for the resurrection and I’ll leave the Christian apologetics to them. Believing in the resurrection doesn’t mean we totally understand it, can explain how it happened, or know exactly what the body of the risen Christ was like but we don’t need those answers to believe in the risen Christ. Jesus is the cornerstone of Christianity and, if Jesus is still dead, so is our religion

As for a “side dish Jesus:” side dishes are optional and you can take as much or as little as you want or skip them altogether. They’re like the Brussels sprouts or green beans at Thanksgiving dinner. Jesus, however, is not a side dish; along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, He’s the main (and only) course! Rather than a turkey, our Triune God is more like one of those Turduckens: three meats (turkey, duck, and chicken) rolled into one. When you slice through it, you get all three—each one equally delicious and equally essential. If we are going to call ourselves Christians, it seems that both the resurrection and Jesus are fundamental to our faith.

I don’t know about that doubting pastor from Easter but I do know a little about that teen who thought there was too much Jesus in her youth group. Her youth pastor refused to back down and, rather than put Jesus in a side dish, He kept the risen Christ front and center. The teen who objected to the main dish Jesus? Shortly after that meeting, she accepted Jesus—not as an optional add-on but as her Lord and Savior!

Scripture often referred to Jesus as the cornerstone: the foundation upon which the church is built. The cornerstone of a building gives it a reliable and firm foundation; it is indispensable and prominent. May the risen Christ remain indispensable and prominent in our witness as we build His church!

You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. [Ephesians 2:19b-21 (NLT)]

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RESURRECTION PEOPLE

To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. [Acts 1:3 (RSV)]

rabbitBy now, the visiting family has returned home; the jelly beans, Peeps, and chocolate eggs have been eaten; the Easter lily has wilted; the baskets and bunny décor are back in their boxes; and the hardboiled eggs are long gone. While Easter has been put away for another year, the story didn’t end with the resurrection.

Rather than stop with Jesus’s resurrection on Easter morning, the miracle continued for the next forty days during which Jesus was seen, not just by the disciples, but by hundreds of people. The gospels and Acts record his appearances and Josephus is just one of many secular ancient historians who refer to Christ’s presence after death. Although the resurrected Jesus seemed to be less limited by time and space than when He was a man, Scripture tells us that He talked, walked, ate and drank and could be touched just like anyone who hadn’t endured crucifixion, death, and burial. Can you imagine what it was like for those fortunate enough to spend time with the resurrected Christ? No wonder their faith was so strong that they were willing to endure terrible persecution and horrific torture rather than deny their Lord.

While we can only imagine what it was like when people spent time with the risen Christ 2,000 years ago, we can come close to that experience when we take Communion. Hearing the words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” we tend to think of the Last Supper and Jesus’s sacrifice for our sins. But, when we eat that bread and sip that wine, we are as close to touching the body of the resurrected Jesus as we will get here on earth. In this Christian ritual, Jesus actually is present; I’m not sure how that happens (and theologians have argued this for centuries).  Nevertheless, I am sure that He comes into our presence with that bread and wine. In some miraculous way, the resurrected Jesus is present in our present. About this mystery John Calvin wrote, “It is a mystery too sublime for me to be able to express, or even to comprehend; and to be still more explicit, I would rather experience it, than understand it.”  Wisely, C.S. Lewis said, “The command after all, was ‘Take and eat,’ not take and understand.”

In what we know as “The Great Commission,” Jesus told His disciples to go out into the world and spread the news of salvation. We must never forget the beautiful promise included in His words: “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” We are Resurrection people, not just on Easter or until Ascension Day forty days later. We are Resurrection people every day of the year. The resurrected Christ lived on earth among men for forty days and He continues to live in us today.

We should come to the Lord’s table with the confident expectation of meeting Christ there, of receiving there a blessing. [Rev. Chas. A. Savage]

I speak as to sensible men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. [1 Corinthians 10:15-17 (RSV)]

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BEGGARS CAN’T BE CHOOSERS

Give us this day our daily bread… Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:11,26 (RSV)]

BIG CYPRESS FOX SQUIRRELThere’s an old proverb, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” meaning don’t find fault with something received as a gift or favor. Another adage that goes along with it is, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” I thought of those sayings when a friend told of walking into a taco stand when a street person sitting near the entrance asked him for money. Instead of money, my friend offered to buy him a burrito. Once at the counter, he ordered two bean burritos only to hear his homeless dining companion complain, “I ain’t eatin’ no $%2#!* bean burrito—I want a steak one!” My friend has little money to spare but, since the man was getting vociferous, he ordered the steak burrito for his guest and a bean one for himself. Apparently, the man wasn’t familiar with the above proverbs or with the one about a half a loaf being better than none!

Recently, I came across a cartoon drawn by Lynch. It showed Jesus, with piles of loaves and fish, surrounded by a multitude of people calling out to Him: “Is it gluten-free? Is there a vegan option? Are there nuts in those loaves? Was the bread baked locally?” and “Does the fish contain mercury?” While it is just a comic, I imagine some people actually may have muttered things like, “Isn’t there any falafel? I wanted olives! Aren’t there any grapes or figs?” or even, “Is this the best He can do?”

Jesus’s miracles of feeding thousands reassure us that God cares for His people. Moreover, shortly after teaching us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” He reassured us that, since God cares for the birds, He surely cares for us. Although God is concerned about meeting our necessities, sadly, our vision of what is necessary is usually far different than His. We don’t understand what our daily bread is or isn’t. It’s not brioche, a gluten-free all-natural blueberry muffin, one of the $20 deluxe loaves found at New York farmers’ markets, or the £21 ($28) English Shepherd Loaf made from organic Somerset spelt flour, Cotswolds spring water and Cornish sea salt. Moreover, our daily bread probably doesn’t include the extras like Nutella©, honey, fruit preserves, pate or avocado spread. Daily bread is what’s necessary and nothing more.

The words, “We are beggars; this is true,” were written on a scrap of paper found in Martin Luther’s pocket when he died. We are no different than the homeless man at the taco stand or the hungry people gathered on a hillside and probably no more appreciative. Let us reach out and gladly accept God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, Holy Spirit, and daily provision on His terms, not ours. Perhaps, after asking God for our daily bread, we might want to add another prayer: “Help me recognize my needs and appreciate your provision.” Let us remember that beggars can’t be choosers.

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. [Matthew 6:31-32 (RSV]

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WHOSE SIDE?

When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?” “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” [Joshua 5:13-14 (NLT)]

red-shouldered hawk

The Israelites had just crossed the Jordan River and were preparing to conquer Canaan when Joshua came upon an armed man. Joshua was a stranger in a foreign land and I wonder if he brandished his sword when asking, “Friend or foe?” Neither Canaanite nor Israelite, the man identified himself as the commander of the Lord’s army. As to whether he was friend or foe, he said his loyalty was to neither side. His allegiance was to God and the only side he was on was God’s! Recognizing him as a divine being, Joshua fell to the ground.

Jump ahead 500 years to King Asa of Judah. Under attack by the Ethiopians, Asa turned to God for guidance. Rather than ask God to be on his side, he prayed that Judah’s side was God’s. In spite of overwhelming odds, Judah’s army was victorious, not because God was on their side but because they were on God’s. Asa then committed his kingdom to seeking God with all their heart and soul. Unfortunately, twenty-one years later, the King forgot whose side he was on. He depleted his nation’s treasury by committing himself to an alliance with Ben-hadad of Aram. Although the alliance at first appeared to be a success, the prophet Hanani rebuked the king for violating his covenant to seek the Lord. His foolishness meant that Judah would continue to be at war for generations. Asa, so sure he was on the right side, never bothered to find out if he was on God’s side.

During the Civil War, one of Abraham Lincoln’s advisors commented that he was grateful God was on their side. The President replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Whether the dispute is ours or someone else’s, getting involved eventually means taking sides. It’s not a question of which side we’ll support. It’s a question of prayerfully determining which side is God’s and understanding there’s a good chance that God has a side all His own. Perhaps, we should take a lesson from Joshua and Asa before taking sides, drawing lines in the sand, making threats, burning bridges, creating alliances, waging battle, or committing ourselves to a cause. It’s not who’s on whose side that matters; it’s simply a matter of whether or not we’re on God’s!

The Lord will stay with you as long as you stay with him! Whenever you seek him, you will find him. But if you abandon him, he will abandon you. [2 Chronicles 15:2b (NLT)]

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. [2 Chronicles 16:9a (NLT)]

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PAYING THE PRICE

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. [Galatians 6:7 (NLT)]

osprey“It wasn’t worth it!” I grumbled while applying cortisone over four painful red bumps on my foot. When walking around the lake at the botanic gardens, I’d spotted an osprey in a nearby tree. To get a good shot, I had to step off the paved trail into what I knew to be fire ant territory. Having had previous encounters with these stinging insects, I knew better than to stand there in sandals, but I did it anyway; the picture wasn’t worth the price I was paying for my poor decision.

It’s not just fire ants that cause us to regret our poor choices. Wanting to sow his wild oats, the prodigal son enjoyed himself while recklessly spending his inheritance but, when the hungry young man was slopping pigs, he knew his wild living hadn’t been worth it. Adam and Eve (and the rest of mankind) paid a hefty price for a bite of an apple: banishment from Eden, painful childbirth, marital discord, toil and death. I wonder if David thought adultery worth the price he paid: his first son by Bathsheba died, he was humiliated when Absalom publicly took his wives, and violence and rebellion plagued his family. King Manasseh knew better than to build pagan shrines, sacrifice his own children, and place a carved idol in the temple. The price he paid was being led away to Babylon in bronze chains with a ring in his nose. Fortunately for him, Manasseh was given a second chance by God; not everyone is so lucky. Lot’s wife had been warned; was that last look at Sodom worth the price she paid? Then again, as a pillar of salt, she could gaze at the city’s ruins forever.

After nearly 3000 prescription pills were found in her possession, a sheriff’s deputy in a northern community pled guilty to “attempted possession of a controlled substance.” Punishable by up to a year in prison, she was sentenced to seven days in jail and a year of “conditional discharge.” Less restrictive than probation, conditional discharge means the court retains jurisdiction over her with several provisions including drug and alcohol evaluations, no employment where she might have access to drugs, and no use or possession of a firearm. Since the original charge was negotiated down from felony possession (meaning four to fifteen years in prison), most of us would think she got off easy. Apparently expecting probation with no jail or restrictions, the defendant was shocked by what she considered a harsh sentence. As a deputy, she couldn’t plead ignorance of the law or its consequences; nevertheless, she thought the price she paid too high. My study Bible speculated that had David known the cost of his sin, he might not have bedded another man’s wife. I disagree. As a king, David knew the law given in Leviticus: the punishment for adultery was death for both he and Bathsheba! Like the deputy, he knew the consequences and like her, he got off easy.

Stepping onto an ant hill has painful consequences but so does sin. The penalty I paid for that photo was negligible compared to the cost of many of our poor decisions. When choosing between right and wrong, the price we pay can be far greater and longer lasting than a few insect bites. Although Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross and God promises forgiveness when we repent, we still have to face the consequences of our sins here on earth. We, however, are not the ones who get to pick and choose what those consequences will be nor do we get to complain and say, “But God, it wasn’t worth it!”

Temptation can be tormenting, but remember: The torment of temptation to sin is nothing to compare with the torment of the consequences of sin. Remorse and regret cannot compensate for sin….though sins can be forgiven immediately – the consequences can last a lifetime. [Edwin Louis Cole]

No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. [Hebrews 12:11-13 (NLT]

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THE EMPTY TOMB

You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! [Mark 16:6 (NLT)]

empty tomb - north naples churchYesterday I mentioned the wooden cross and rustic nail on my desk that serve as reminders of the terrible price Jesus paid for our salvation. Although early Christian symbols included a dove, ship, lyre, anchor, and fish, the cross has become the universal symbol for Christianity. While Coca-Cola’s logo, Nike’s swish and McDonald’s golden arches may come close, I doubt there is any so recognizable sign in the world. Nevertheless, a gruesome instrument of Roman torture seems an odd symbol for a faith that preaches such things as reconciliation, sacrifice, forgiveness, hope, love, and peace. While I’d never wear a miniature gallows, guillotine, or electric chair on a chain around my neck, I do wear a cross. Although it symbolizes everything that happened to Jesus on that dark Friday two thousand years ago, the cross would be meaningless if the tomb had not been empty Sunday morning.

As we walked out of worship service on Easter morning, we came upon a large replica of a stone tomb. The boulder that had covered its opening since Friday was rolled away and it was empty except for some linen cloth resting on a ledge. Like the women who came early that first Easter morning (and Peter and John who arrived later), a few curious children entered the tomb. No angel was there to reassure them, but they didn’t need one. They’d come from Sunday school and know the Easter story well. At worship services, they’ve joined their parents in saying: “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.” Rather than frighten them, that dark empty tomb reassured them of Jesus’s continual presence in their lives.

Jesus’s death upon the cross is important but it is His rising from the dead that demonstrates triumph over evil, sin, hate, and death. It is the empty tomb that allows us to say these words in the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ…[who] was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again… I believe in…the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

Out of curiosity, I searched the stock of several Christian supply stores using the word “tomb.” There were plenty of books, choral collections, CDs, and songs with “tomb” in the title, some Easter stickers depicting an empty tomb, and even a “Raiders of the Empty Tomb” kit, but there were no empty tomb t-shirts, paper weights, jewelry, or wall décor. Apparently, there is no danger of an empty tomb replacing the cross as the universal symbol of Christianity. Nevertheless, when we see a cross, let us never forget that the story of God’s love for us did not end at Golgotha. It didn’t even end with the empty tomb three days later. The story of God’s presence, grace and love continues today.

Christians do not believe in the empty tomb, but in the living Christ. [Karl Barth]

So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. [1 Corinthians 15:21-23 (NLT)]

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