What will it be like when we get there?

When we get there

The meditations of a pilgrim anticipate the destination. The pilgrim’s mind is filled with ideas of what it will be like when he “gets there.” We do the same thing; on long road trips to vacation sites, our thoughts are filled with anticipation and excitement.

The goal of a Israelite pilgrim was Jerusalem. For there God’s presence manifested itself in a special way within the Holy of Holies, in the temple of God. The temple was known as God’s house. Oh, it did not contain Him, but the temple was the footstool of the Heavenly King whose throne was in heaven. At Jerusalem, man could approach the very throne of God.

The Meditations of a Pilgrim

Psalm 122

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

122:1 I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
2 Our feet have been standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem!

3 Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together,
4 to which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
5 There thrones for judgment were set,
the thrones of the house of David.

6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
“May they be secure who love you!
7 Peace be within your walls
and security within your towers!”
8 For my brothers and companions’ sake
I will say, “Peace be within you!”
9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

Jerusalem was the place where all the tribes of Israel would go to offer praise to their king, the Lord. It was the place where justice reigned (v.5). It was a place of security. Jerusalem was a place which was safe and peaceful.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that “here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Old Jerusalem in all its glory is a mere shadow of the great glory of the heavenly Jerusalem. We are citizens of that heavenly city. As pilgrims to that city, we should meditate on what it will be like when we “get there.” In one sense, we are already there; for even now, the temple of God is the people of God. We are at the footstool of His throne every time we assemble for worship. Now we can offer Him praise at His feet and petition Him for peace and security. Yet we are on a long road trip to the New Jerusalem. There, we will see God’s face. There, righteousness dwells and justice reigns. The glory of God will be seen in its fullness.

Prayer:
Heavenly King, your Kingdom must be a glorious place filled with great joy and love. Heaven will be great, Oh Lord, for you will be there. I cannot wait to be with you and see you face to face.

Here is the Church and Here is the Steeple…

Little Lies We Learn as Children

There is a little children’s rhyme that we all learned as children. It uses hands to creatively teach about the church:

Here is the Church
And Here is the Steeple
Open the Doors
And see all the People!

The childhood rhyme is Biblically incorrect! While we often call the physical building and place of worship for the people of God, a Church, that is a misnomer. I go so far to call it a little lie. Little lies like this have been taught to us as children, and they have done great damage. Subtly and powerfully, they shape our vocabulary and thus our thinking and values as the people of God. The Church is NOT a physical building with a steeple and doors. Yet, we persist in using the word with that reference and meaning.

The institutional church itself has reinforced the vocabulary. A couple of years ago, the Bishop corrected me when I referred to St. Peter’s worship space as “the Sanctuary”. He said, “Properly, the sanctuary is the space behind the altar rails and building should be referred to as ‘the church’.” From a technical architectural vocabulary perspective, he was not wrong.

The reforming instinct in me cannot accept his correction. I have worked hard to never refer to a physical building as “The Church” because of the misaligned priorities on buildings, programs and institutions.

Empty Tombs

In the New Testament parlance, the Church is the gathered worshiping People of God. Rather than the building, the Church would be what you see when you open the doors and look inside the physical building. Monday through Saturday, the Church has left the building! Without the resurrected People of God gathered, the building stands vacant like an empty tomb!

As the angel who told the women looking for Jesus inside the rock-hewn tomb, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen!” Yes, there are many beautiful “church” buildings built around the world, with wonderful architectural features and gorgeous stain glass windows. They are built to the Glory of God! However, without a vibrant Holy Spirit filled, worshiping body of Christ, they are empty albeit beautiful sepulchers.

Whenever the New Testament uses the term “church”, it is always referring to the redeemed and holy people of God. It does describe church in terms of building and structure but always as a building made with living stones on the divinely appointed cornerstone.

The church building is alive!

Biblically, we should not say we go to church as so many of us are apt to say, but rather we should say we are the church! The church is a community of people whose lives are completely centered on Jesus, living stones built into the precious cornerstone.

Paul used this same imagery in his letter to the Ephesians. He says,

“You are being built into a holy temple, one stone placed upon another, incorporated with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. In him, the whole building is joined together and rises to become a Holy Temple in the Lord. In him, you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

So does that mean that we should not build physical buildings for the church? Not at all! Yet, the institutional tools and structures that we have created with human hands out of wood, metal, bricks and mortar are merely tools and institutional supports for the spiritual living Church, the body of Christ. This is an incredibly important distinction for us. Why? Our primary focus is properly on the living organic Temple of the Lord.

The resurrected life is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ and the community and people that have been incorporated into the New Temple that is his Body. As in times of the Old Testament, the People of God find themselves serving worldly physical and institutional structures, rather than the physical and institutional structures supporting the people of God.

This was the corruption of the political, religious and economic systems which Jesus confronted in his day when he overturned the tables of the money changers in the old Temple.

The challenge in our day is to renew our emphasis on the True Church, the Living Stones, the New Spiritual Temple, The Body of Christ. The people of this world value the physical stones, but the Lord values the living stones. As the Apostle Peter writes, they are chosen by God and “precious to him.”

Question for thought and discussion: Do you agree that the people of this world place more value on worldly structures and institutions than people? Do you see this happening even with the Church? How do we get back to the right emphases?

Express your thoughts and comments here!

How important is community to a relationship with God?

The Stone and The Stones

The Apostle Peter wrote a letter to all the churches in Asia Minor where he told their members,“You are precious stones!” Hear that! Peter called the people of God “precious stones”.

Here is the full quote:

As you come to Him, the living stone, who was rejected by mankind but chosen by God and precious to him, so you also are like living stones that are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)

The cornerstone proverb is shaping up to be at the heart of the resurrection vision of the New Testament. The proverb is quoted six times in the New Testament, always in reference to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The cornerstone is just the beginning. The larger vision is of stones on top of the stone. The people of God take their bearings and their marker from Jesus, first and foremost with Him as the central foundation stone.  However, the proper alignment of ones life is not merely to the person and work of Jesus. Our lives are to be incorporated first into Christ and second into the people of God. Our bearings start with centering our individual lives on the Chief Cornerstone, but then we are to be incorporated into a larger structure called the Temple of God.

Body and Temple

There two primary archetypes that the New Testament uses for the Resurrected Life: the Temple of the Lord and the Body of Christ. An archetype is a recurrent symbol or motif. For the New Testament, these two are intertwined, the body is a temple and the temple is a body.

Under the Old Covenant through Moses and David, the Temple of God is made with physical stones. Under the New Covenant, the stones are alive!

The “living stones” were prophesied in the Old Testament. During the days of the prophet Isaiah, The Lord promised to build with a living cornerstone,

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Isaiah never knew the name of whom the is prophecy was anticipating because he lived several hundred years before Jesus was born! However, we know the precious cornerstone is Jesus Christ. Jesus is a living stone of a much larger structure. What Peter is arguing is that the larger structure being constructed is a holy Temple in the Lord. We are being built into a “spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5)

By trusting in him as the beginning reference point, a community is built based solely and squarely on him, a people who are in alignment with him–a holy priesthood and spiritual sacrifices. The living temple is also a living body of believers. In Jesus, God is building a community of people. In this way we cannot say that we are aligned to Jesus, without also being in relationship with the people of Jesus, the Church. Is it possible to have a proper alignment to Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone, without having connection to all of the “living stones” that make up the larger Temple structure?

For discussion in the comments here: Is it possible to have a solidly aligned relationship with Jesus but have a completely disconnected relationship with His people? What is the value of community to your personal relationship with God?

What am I doing with my life?

Here is a Personal Question

“What am I doing with my life?”

House on Sand

The question strikes close to home. As you consider your family and your personal life ask, “what I am building?” Personally, as an individual, have you accepted Jesus Christ as the Chief Cornerstone of your life? Are you constructing your life around His Name? Or, are you simply making a name for yourself?

If you have said “Yes” to Jesus then what you have said is, “That stone right there is the number one marker, and from that place I will lay every other brick in my life. Every little piece of the edifice, I will center and align upon him, because he is the plumb. He is the Chief Cornerstone.”

Have you done that in your life as you have built your career and financial life; as you have built your marriage; as you have built your home; as you have raised your children? Have you aligned every aspect of your life, your vocation, everything, with Jesus Christ as your Chief Cornerstone? Now that’s a tough question.

It is not a hard question to ask, but it is a hard question to answer honestly. Why? Because more often than not, the answer is “No.”

As I argued in the last post, we live in a nation that, in these last days, has built according to the human blueprint rather than God’s blueprint (even contrary to its own pioneers and founders). The pressure is on every one of us to conform to the pattern of this world and give up core values aligned on Jesus Christ. The culture may be OK with Jesus being a “decorative fixture” in your life. But, make Jesus the center of all you are and all you do, and you will find yourself at odds with the prevailing winds and tide.

Some people do say, “Yes to Jesus.” But then merely make him a fixture and an add on to a self-focused and self-constructed life. As if to say to the Lord:  “I’m going to put you up here as a decorative stone; as something that is attractive that I like to look at occasionally.” But that is not the way God has ordained things, is it? Jesus is not to be the decoration on an existing structure but rather the foundation and starting point. He is the Chief Cornerstone! While the builders of our day may reject that, and while we may even be some of those builders, God has ordained his plan for our lives. His plan is ultimately for our good.

Wise and Foolish Builders

Jesus taught that there are really only two types of builders in this world, wise and foolish. He illustrated his comparison of the two with a parable known as “The Wise and Foolish Builders”:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. –Matthew 7:24-27

Looking on from the outside, the two buildings which these two builders constructed could have appeared quite similar. However, one was built like a house of cards and the other built to last. The difference in the two structures lay not in what was seen above the surface, but what was unseen and hidden. The difference lay in the deep foundation. Notice that Jesus identifies the wise builder as the one who “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice”.

GK Chesterton once opined, “It is not as if Christianity has been tried and found wanting, it is that it has not been tried.” Actually, Christianity has born tremendous fruit for life and blessing in the life of everyone who has tried it. Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone, he has been set in place for our guidance to offer a life of blessing and goodness.

What am I doing with my life?

Without him as our foundation stone, we have no direction and are endanger of being washed out. Our society promotes a philosophy called “secular relativism”. Its only and highest value is tolerance. The result of this philosophy is a society where people do whatever they want in their own eyes. The Lord would have the peace of Christ rule and govern our hearts. Instead, the spirit of the age promotes self-rule. The pressure is on for you to construct a life according to the pattern of this secular world according to your own self-constructed plans. Ask yourself: What am I doing with my life?

As Jesus warned, it is just a matter of time before a structure constructed without a proper foundation will be tested. The storms of life will come. The home of a foolish builder will fail the structural challenge–and it will fall with “a great crash”!  Sadly that has been the tragic story for so many individuals, marriages and families in our day.  The trial of faith will come to all of us personally…the strength of a structure will be proven by the deep foundation of a personal life built on the Rock. Again, Jesus identifies the wise builder as the one who “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice”. In Jesus’ parable the storm came to both houses, but the house built on the rock–it did not fall!

For discussion: In the comments, offer an encouragement or some ideas to someone who may be wondering what personally needs to be done in order to rebuild a life on the rock…post your thoughts here!

 

What is the Jerusalem of the New World?

Follow the Clues of the First Builders

Yesterday was the National Day of Prayer. Like the celebration of Thanksgiving, these moments are reminders that the United States of America was founded around the cornerstone of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Whether we are talking about a nation, a business, an education system, a family or one’s personal life, there are fundamentally two ways to build: according to God’s blueprint or to according to man’s blueprint. To build according to human-centered blueprints is to reject the fundamental design of Jesus as the principle and only starting point for construction.

Site of James Fort

In my last post, I asked for reflection on today’s builders. Are the current leaders of our country building according to the divine blueprint or the human blueprint? From the earliest days, the people who pioneered this great nation sought to build according to the divine blueprint with worship of Jesus Christ as the Chief Cornerstone.

Consider the founding of the Jamestown Colony and the oldest remains of a Protestant church building ever discovered in the New World. For many years the site of the first fort at Jamestown
was believed to have been lost to water erosion by the meandering banks of the James River. However historian and archeologist, William Kelso did not believe the prevailing theory:

Almost all the archaeologists and historians told me it couldn’t be done: find the site of the 1607 James Fort on Jamestown Island. No way. Clearly, they said, the fort site—the place of England’s first permanent New World settlement—was long lost, washed away by James River shoreline erosion. The lost theory made perfect sense. After all, the first settlers chose the island to seat the Virginia Company of London colony because the river channel was close enough to the shore to moor their ships to the trees. Since the area near the channel had long eroded away, the conclusion that the fort site went with it was hardly illogical. (William Kelso, James Fort, Lost and Found)

Using the earliest maps and common sense understanding of the core values and commitments of the earliest settlers, Kelso explored a theory which began with the Church as the starting point. In his thinking, the colonists would have placed the church in the center of the fort.

Like any archaeological venture, digging had to start where there appeared to be the best chance for success. Where was that? The one remaining above-ground relic of seventeenth-century Jamestown is a brick church tower. Early records made it clear that the original church was “in the midst” of the fort. It followed that if that tower in any way marked the midst of the fort, then digging between it and the river shore might just intersect the remnants of a fort wall. It would take a dedicated group of experienced archaeologists and field school students that first summer season to prove it.

We did.

(James Fort, Lost and Found)

For hundreds of years, the ruins of a brick church building have been standing on James Island as a big “X” marking the exact location of James Fort. Prior to William Kelso, no other archeologist or historian ever thought to consider that the James Fort could actually be surrounding that very church structure. Just let that sink in, prevailing archeological wisdom could not find the remains of the old fort because they never thought to locate the church in the center of the colonial community–but not William Kelso!

The Jerusalem of the New World

By using the church as the key point of reference, Kelso has uncovered “Ground Zero” for the founding of the United States of America. The brick church structure was an newer, bigger and stronger version of the older wooden church building that was built in 1608 when the fort and colony were first established. As such, the brick tower was acctually not the center of the fort, but it provided direction and the needed starting point to find the once lost James Fort. There was an earlier church building that was the central structure of the fort complex. In 2010, the Jamestown Rediscovery team uncovered its most important find as they excavated the first church structure ever built in colonial America.

Then in 2010 excavations uncovered remains of Jamestown’s substantially built church, the first Protestant church in America, and the church where Pocahontas, chief Powhatan’s favored daughter, married tobacco planter John Rolfe. Remains of the church included enormous postholes with impressions of upright timber columns exactly twelve feet apart found near, but slightly southeast of, the center of the fort. The holes defined a rectangular pattern suggesting an overall twenty-four-foot building width and a probable sixty-foot length.

The Jamestown church, built in the spring of 1608, was described as “a pretty chapel,” with dimensions matching the archaeology. The discovery of four perfectly aligned graves at the east end of the post pattern left no doubt about the building’s identity. These have to be the church’s chancel burials, traditionally the place reserved for very high status people. (James Fort, Lost and Found)

As the first Protestant church, this 1608 church could rightly be called the first pioneer mission outpost of Protestant Christianity in the New World. As William Kelso says, “This place is hallowed ground to the history of the United States and is in a sense the Jerusalem of the New World.” Exactly 400 years ago this past month in April of 1614, the history books tell us that John Rolfe and an Indian princess named Pocahontas were joined in Christian Marriage at that altar. A visitor to historic Jamestown can stand in the very spot where Pocahontas would have been baptized and married. I know this because my wife, Brooke and I have stood there! It is quite likely that my 9th Great-Grandfather, Randall Holt, and his young bride, Mary Bailey, were married on that very spot around the Christmas season of 1626.

Jamestown is the crucible of the American system of governance and common life. On July 30, 1619, the first representative legislative assembly and government of the New World would be established with the founding of the House of Burgess—they assembled in the choir of the James Fort church! That day twenty-two representatives were chosen to represent the voice of the people of the colony. During their six day session, they passed several new laws including prohibitions against gambling, drunkenness, and idleness, and a measure that made Sabbath observance mandatory. Oh my, how our contemporary society’s priorities have changed!

A Modern Day Tragedy

The whole story of the rediscovery of James Fort illustrates the modern day tragedy of contemporary American life. So many of the current leaders and builders of our nation simply do not see, believe or comprehend the clear signs posts pointing the way. As a body, our nation cannot seem to find its way because we do not believe the markers that point to the central reference point—the worship of Jesus Christ as Lord. Without centering community life on the Chief Cornerstone, we have no bearings or point of common reference upon which to build a common life together in true peace, justice and freedom.

The assembled body of Christ no longer stands as the central unifying structure in American cultural life. As such, we have forgotten our history and our roots and are in grave danger of repeating many of the disastrous errors of human history. Like many self-focused false builders of the past, we will stumble and fall over the rock of Christ to our own detriment.

They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,

Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame. –Romans 9:32-33

We will either build with Jesus Christ as the Chief Cornerstone, or we will stumble and fall over him. God has established him as primary. It is for us to get with the program and align our lives properly around him. The founders and Ancient Planters of Jamestown, understood this simple fact of reality. For all of their own faults and failings, trials and tribulations, their own legacy in building remains clearly unearthed for all of us to see.

I am grateful for the good work and passion of William Kelso who has literally rediscovered for the people of this nation to see with their own eyes the foundational building stone of our country. Out of the ground, we can clearly see that the founders and pioneers of our nation put the worship of God through Jesus Christ as first order priority and central to their common community life.

William Kelso writes of his personal satisfaction in discovering the lost fort of Jamestown,

In fact, that rather crude and fragile English fort site is really my most treasured favorite artifact. From that place eventually grew the British Empire, spreading lasting traditions of democracy, rule of law, private enterprise, and the global English language. Life on a good part of the earth has never been the same. (James Fort, Lost and Found)

My history professor at the University of Florida, William Woodruff repeatedly taught our World History class that:

“The two most significant and pivotal events in all of world human history are the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the founding of the New World.”

Indeed, we see that these two key events of world history are intricately connected. The founders of the New World had Jesus Christ as their first principle. Faith in the Chief Cornerstone, Jesus Christ is what primarily made the first Adventurers of the New World the men and women that they were.

Today, the current builders of our national common life have lost sight and memory of the foundation of God upon which our nation found its early strength and character. Even when they look for direction in the history of the nation they often miss its the central foundation stone. The general population carries on with daily life with only 15% attending church on any given Sunday. We would do well to dig deeper following the reference points and markers that will lead us to unearth the core and central foundation stone of life.

While the dynamism and success of the Virginia Colony can be attributed to a lot of different factors and contingencies of history, the central component of the colony’s common life is now indisputable as simple matter of fact. At the center of it all, the Ancient planters and founders of the most exceptional nation the world has ever known set the worship of Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone of their lives and community. How can we reform and renew our communities and common life around the same Chief Cornerstone?

What does that knowledge of our nation’s foundational stone evoke in you? Leave your reflections and comments here.

For Further Reading: William Kelso, Jamestown, the Buried Truth, William Woodruff, A Concise History of the Modern World