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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PERSONALITIES – EARTH DAY 2018

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” [Genesis 1:28 (NLT)]

Until recently, I didn’t know that scientists have identified personality (distinctive behavioral traits) in animals as diverse as elk, fish, ferrets, spotted hyenas, spiders, sea anemones, rodents, lizards and birds. Introversion and extroversion have even been identified in octopuses! Of course, the same characteristic will present differently in various species. An introverted octopus, for example, will stay in its den while feeding and try to hide by changing color but an introverted human might stand alone at a party or have difficulty getting a date. As for a shy African penguin named Tubbs who’s wintering at our local zoo—he takes his food into the back corner of his den to eat it, usually stands with his back to the other penguins and zoo visitors, and, like many timid fellows, hasn’t had success with the ladies.

We recently became acquainted with Tubbs and his friends Missy, Squirt, and Sal when we met their keepers and went behind the scenes at their exhibit to feed them. Initially, the penguins all looked alike but, when we looked more closely, we realized their black chest spots are as unique as fingerprints on a human. Like zebras, jaguars, monarch butterflies and the rest of God’s creatures, even though we may not discern their differences, no two are exactly alike. God never repeats himself.

As we fed these fascinating birds, their distinctive personalities began to emerge. Along with the socially awkward Tubbs, we met the outgoing Missy who, unfortunately for Tubbs, has a crush on her human keeper. The hen-pecked Sal follows his domineering mate Squirt wherever she goes. Although the other penguins prefer eating their fish head first, Squirt insists on getting hers sideways. It is penguin instinct that makes Tubbs gorge himself in preparation for molting but it is his timid personality that caused the curious penguin to peek around a corner at us rather than stand at the doorway with the others.

That scientists have found personalities and emotions in everything from limpets and crabs to coyotes and water striders amazes me. Before meeting the penguins, I’d thought of personalities only in domesticated animals and attributed them to training and environment. I hadn’t considered the possibility of undomesticated animals having distinctive personalities and the ability to feel and express emotions. Scientists have found that even the Caenorhabditis elegans, a worm with only 302 brain cells, can learn and remember and that honey bees can exhibit optimism and pessimism. Animals may not be able to speak in a way that we can understand or exhibit emotions in a way we recognize, but there is nothing dumb or unfeeling about any of God’s creatures. Their complexity and diversity point to our unlimited Creator and His intelligent, imaginative and loving design. God created every living thing and none of His creation happened by accident.

Sunday is Earth Day and ending plastic pollution is this year’s mission. Plastic pollution endangers African penguins like the zoo’s delightful foursome but it also threatens the survival of every other kind of sea bird along with seals, sea lions, sea turtles, fish, whales and dolphins. God commanded us to keep and care for His creation, not to exploit or abuse it. As title holder to the earth, He will hold us responsible for the way we care both for it and the creatures with whom we share it. For the sake of Tubbs and the rest of God’s creatures who are unable to speak for themselves, let us be better stewards of God’s beautiful earth.

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee and that they love the sweetness of life. [Attributed to St. Basil the Great]

You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority—the flocks and the herds and all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, and everything that swims the ocean currents. [Psalm 8:6-8 (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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MAKE IT SPECIAL

Lowdermilk Park - Naples FLRemember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. [Exodus 20:8-10a (NLT)]

I’ve always thought of the first four commandments as being about our relationship with God and the next six about our relationship with people. The fourth commandment, however, seems to be a bridge between the two sections. It has as much to do with us as it does with God or our neighbor. Reminding us that we have six days in the week to work, it tells us to stop work on the seventh and to keep the Sabbath holy by setting it aside and dedicating it to God. Knowing how mankind loves to bypass rules, we’re told not to miss the point by expecting others to work for us either. Rather than a “thou shalt not” law, this commandment is a gift to us from God—the gift of rest!

As happened with many of God’s commands, the Israelites took a simple law and, by adding their own restrictions and interpretations, made what was a blessing into an inconvenience. Since His hungry disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath and Jesus had no qualms about healing on that day, He often came into conflict with the Pharisees about His Sabbath observance (or lack thereof). When criticized, Jesus made it clear that the Sabbath was made for man and should not be an onerous legal requirement.

While Christians aren’t bound by the Old Testament directives, Jesus never said to ignore the Sabbath. For most Christians, other than attending church, Sundays seem much like any other day. Parking lots are full at the grocery and mall, cell phones and the internet keep us in touch with work, the kids have sports and homework, and Sundays have become the day to complete everything that didn’t get done during the week. With families scattered every which way, even the traditional Sunday dinner (complete with cousins and grandparents sitting at the table) is but a distant memory.

Being retired, my husband and I have six Saturdays and one Sunday in our week so we can rest any time we want! The Sabbath, however, is more than taking a nap in front of the TV. God said to make it holy which means to set it apart. We can do that by taking something away (as did the Israelites with work) or by adding something to it (as we are doing).

On Sundays, we’re attempting to disconnect from the world and connect with one another, family, friends, and God by consciously doing something out of the ordinary. It can be as little as playing Rummikub or doing a jigsaw puzzle together to a bags tourney with our neighbors or a barbecue for church friends. Trusting God for enough hours in the other six days, we’re deliberately setting aside time for relaxation, laughter, fun, and fellowship.

How Sunday can be set apart from the rest of the week, in a way that both honors God and nurtures us, will vary from family to family. It’s probably naïve to think children won’t do homework and working moms and dads won’t have to play catch-up with chores. Nevertheless, we must remember why God gave us this commandment. He wants us to recharge our batteries: to rest from the week’s busyness, to take a break from our daily routine, to connect one another, and to rest in Him. When we neglect the Sabbath, we neglect ourselves and turn whatever it is we do the rest of the week into tedium and drudgery. God doesn’t need a Sabbath, but we surely do.

Thank you, God, for Sundays. May we make them days of worship, renewal, rest, peace, and joy.

A world without a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile, like a summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden. It is the joyous day of the whole week. [Henry Ward Beecher]

Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” [Mark 2:27-28 (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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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)]

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