CATHOLIC WITH A SMALL “C”

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 2:20-21 (NLT)]

We believe in…the holy catholic church. [Apostle’s Creed]

snowy egret - clam passAs a little girl, I remember asking a friend what her religion was. When she simply replied, “Christian,” I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to know whether she was Protestant or Catholic and, if Protestant, was she Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, or Episcopalian. She, however, kept insisting she was Christian. Like many, I was confusing religion with denomination. As a youngster, when reciting the creed, since we didn’t attend the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I wondered why we said we believed in the catholic church when we didn’t go there. It wasn’t until my confirmation class that I understood what believing in “the holy catholic church” meant.

After two decades of membership in a Christian church in town, a friend recently left it to attend another one. As one of the “prayer warriors” at her previous church, she received a weekly list of prayer requests. Within a week of changing churches, however, she stopped getting the list. She contacted the pastor, shared that her love for her brothers and sisters in Christ did not stop when she changed her place of worship, and asked to keep receiving the lists so she could continue offering her prayers for their needs and praises for their blessings. Unfortunately, her request fell on deaf ears. Perhaps, just as I did when a child, the pastor has confused one’s place and manner of worship with what it means to be part of the church.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ may belong to different churches and worship in different ways, but we all are members of the holy catholic church. That “catholic” with the small “c” is not to be confused with the capital C as in (Roman) Catholic. To avoid misunderstanding, some Protestant churches prefer to say “holy Christian church” when reciting the creeds. Regardless of the term used, this catholic (or universal Christian) church is what’s left over when all the church buildings burn down and the priests and ministers leave town. The term originates from the first century and the words of Ignatius of Antioch: “Where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.”

Indeed, wherever Christ is, there we find the church. Without a doubt, Jesus tells us to pray and there is power in prayer. Why anybody would arbitrarily decide who is allowed to pray for someone or whose prayers God will hear is beyond me. I’ll gladly welcome any prayer sent my way, regardless of who prays it or where they attend church. If they believe in and worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, they are my brothers and sisters and members of my church—the holy catholic church—the church of Christ!

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. [Galatians 3:26-29 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

GONE IN A FLASH – EASTER MONDAY

And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him. [Hebrews 9:27-28 (NLT)]

Zermatt - Switzerland - crossAfter warning us not to put them in our pockets and accidentally take them home (or put them in the dryer if we did), small pieces of paper were given to everyone in attendance at last week’s Good Friday service. Following the sermon, we were asked to write a sin (or sins) for which we repent on the papers, come forward, and nail them to a cross resting on the steps before the altar. Listening to the hammering echoing in the sanctuary, I thought of what it must have sounded like two thousand years ago when Jesus and the others were hammered to their crosses: the loud pounding of the hammers, the commotion of the crowd, the mockery of the soldiers, and the cries of agony from the men as those blunt tipped nails pierced their bodies.

Those slips of paper were made of nitrocellulose; often used by magicians, they are commonly known as flash papers. Once we’d nailed our papers to the cross, the pastor ignited them and they instantly disappeared in a brilliant display of fire. Nothing, neither smoke nor ash, was left of them. What a powerful illustration of the way Jesus’s blood, shed on the cross as those nails were hammered into Him, made our sins disappear forever.

Next to the small olive wood cross on my desk, I now have a three-inch square-cut nail, a souvenir from Good Friday’s service. The cross, with its distinctive grain, artistic shape, and smooth finish, is so beautiful that it’s easy to forget it represents an instrument of torture. The dark rustic nail beside it will better remind me of the sacrifice Jesus made for all of us. Paying the price for our sins, His death brought us back into fellowship with God the Father. After the joy of Resurrection Sunday, however, it’s easy to forget the magnitude of that sacrifice until Lent rolls around next year. Let us never forget the miracle of forgiveness that occurred when a suffering bleeding and totally sinless Jesus endured torture and death for the forgiveness of our sins.

He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. [Martin Luther]

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit. [1 Peter 3:18 (NLT)]

Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. [Ephesians 2:18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HE WAS BETRAYED – HOLY WEEK

On the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.” [Mark 14:27-28 (NLT)]

Station of the Cross - V - LorettoIn the days leading up to his crucifixion, the people who claimed to love Jesus the most failed him in many ways. When Jesus asked Peter, James and John to keep watch with him in the Garden of Gethsemane, they fell asleep, not once but twice! During the Last Supper, Peter vowed he’d never deny Jesus, even if it meant his death. The rest of the disciples echoed this pledge. Yet Judas had already arranged to betray Jesus and, within a matter of hours, Peter would deny Jesus three times. When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, most of those brave disciples deserted Jesus and ran away.

When the mob shouted they wanted Barabbas to be freed, where were the disciples? Did no one ask for Jesus to be saved? No, the mob called, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” More important, where were all of those people who had been healed by Jesus? Just a few days earlier, a crowd had shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Where were they? Why were they silent?

The disciples weren’t even there to carry the cross for Jesus; that task fell to Simon, a stranger. Only His mother, some of His women followers and John stood at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified. The other disciples were absent; disillusioned and fearful for their lives, they had scattered. It was a dying criminal who showed his faith in Jesus when he said, “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Once Jesus took His last breath and died, it was a Roman soldier and not a disciple who declared, “This man truly was the son of God!” The disciples were not even there to help bury their teacher. That responsibility was taken by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, members of the Jewish high council and secret followers of Jesus.

The disciples, confused and frightened, lost hope and  failed Jesus both as disciples and as friends. In spite of their denial and desertion, Jesus forgave them and charged them with the task of spreading the good news of His resurrection. Jesus knew it is better to be a believer who sometimes fails than not to believe at all.

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28-18-20 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.