A Hope and a Future

Thriving Amid the Exile

Several weeks ago, our church read an excerpt from Jeremiah’s letter from God to the exiled Israelites in Babylon. It struck me as I was hearing Jeremiah’s words read out loud that they were just as prescient for our day as they were then.

A People Deaf to Warnings

In 597 BC the Babylonian armies invaded Israel and Judah and eventually conquered the capital city of the Jewish people in 586 BC. The Fall of Jerusalem to Babylon is one of the great tragedies of the Bible. The walls and buildings of the city of Jerusalem were literally disassembled and the Temple built by King Solomon was destroyed to its foundations.  Many people were deported into exile, including the entire royal court.

All of the destruction and deportation was anticipated and foretold through the writings and preaching of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was not a particularly popular person in his day with the ruling class. Truth tellers are often difficult to hear.

False prophets rose up. Prior to the exile, they preached a message of denial. After the exile, they preached a “quick fix” approach, promising the exile would be a short few years, and that God would restore things back to the “good ole’ days” quickly. The truth was more severe.

The problems with the nation were deep and they went all the way to the top. Corruption existed at the highest levels—with the kings themselves, Ahab and Zedekiah. These men would ultimately be judged by God unto death for their spiritual adultery with foreign powers and gods, for their rebellion against God’s commands and for their lies.

Hope, But Not False Hope

One of the most cherished parts of Jeremiah’s writings are his promises of hope to the people of God amid their exile. As severe and devastating as the Babylonian exile was, it was not the end of the story. All hope was not lost. However, such hope should not be falsely understood; restoration would not come quickly. There would be no quick fix. The exiled Jews in Babylon needed to take a long, multi-generational view. It would take 70 long years to turn things around and for Israel to be ready to return to Jerusalem. Here is a portion of God’s letter to the exiles. It said:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.

For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile (Jeremiah 29:4-14).

The letter encourages the people that they need to take a long view. It is critically important that they live and even thrive during the exile. In other words, it was incumbent upon them to thrive even though the culture around them was foreign to them—not their home. They should even seek the welfare of the city in which they live so that they can thrive for the long term with the city’s good favor.

Restoration would come eventually. God promised to give them “a hope and a future”, to prosper them with good plans. But, it would take a good long while to see such blessing. By adopting a long view mindset, the Israelites would stay strong for the long haul and stay faithful to God for generations.

Our Day…

The writers of the New Testament considered the secular Roman Empire in which they lived a type of Babylon. The church is the exiled people of God. Peter called the church in the world “scattered exiles” (1 Peter 1:1). This world is not our home. Even though we are citizens of the United States from an earthly perspective, our true and lasting citizenship is in heaven, in a city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).  We are destined for the New Jerusalem and the heavenly city prepared for the new earth after the consummation of all things. In the meantime, what are the faithful people of God to do?

Some false voices suggest that the problems are not that severe. That one day soon, we can get things turned around. Beloved, if the election of 2016 has taught us anything, I hope that we have learned that there is not a sinless messianic presidential figure in the offing who will lead the United States of America back to the promised land that it once was.

The faithful need to be disillusioned with the pundits and the politicians who preach a message of false hope and quick fix. The problems that this nation has are deep and intractable. The truth is that it will take generations for this nation to be restored. They will not be solved in the short run with government solutions. On the contrary, national restoration of the United States will come from many generations of faithful consistent witness and discipleship by the church.

If the Foundations be Destroyed…

In Psalm 11, David asks: “If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?” There are times when it seems as if the very ground underneath our feet is coming out from under us. This political season may have shaken our confidence in the very institutions which we rely on for stability. However, David knows that if your trust is not in earthly foundations but in the Lord’s sovereign rule, all is secure. Here is David’s answer to his own question:

The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord’s throne is in heaven;
his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.

The Lord tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.

For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face (Psalm 11).

God remains firmly in control of all events happening in the United States of America. He is sovereign over all. So, what will the righteous do?

Go on Being Righteous.

No matter how bleak the circumstances are in this land of exile, our hopeful confidence is ultimately not in the government of the United States of America or its elected leaders. As beautiful and wonderful as our nation is (God has truly shed his grace on thee) our hope and help is in the promised restoration that will only come by the sovereign hand of God and in his sovereign timing.

In the meantime, we take the long view. We go on being righteous, in season or out of season. We proclaim the good news. We plant and build churches, we do good deeds that build up the kingdom of God. We build houses and raise families. We study the scriptures together in community, and we seek the things of first importance, Jesus Christ, and him crucified and raised.

The Lord is in his Holy Temple and he calls us to live and thrive in the midst of exile. We should always seek the welfare of the nation and cities in which we live. By getting involved in the affairs of our community and being the salt and light of Jesus Christ, we manifest the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. Elections do matter, and we are called to engage in the affairs of our communities and our nation so that the place where we live will be strong and good.

But for God’s sake take the long view, do not be discouraged or lose hope by the affairs of this world. We will remain in exile a good long while. As the Lord promised the people of God of old, his words continue to ring true:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11-12).

Something else helped the men of D-day: their rockhard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And, so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer he told them: Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we’re about to do. Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkenss for the promise God made to Joshua: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.” -Ronald Reagan, Normandy 6/6/1984

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!

What am I doing with my life?

Here is a Personal Question

“What am I doing with my life?”

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.

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

Marvelous Manifestation of the Lord

A Miracle in the Temple

After Jesus’ death, the Apostle Peter was preaching in the temple complex and a crippled man (he was lame from birth) was presented before the Apostles. In the name of Jesus, they healed the man and he immediately stood up and began to walk. When the chief priests and scribes heard news of the miraculous healing, they arrested the Apostles. Then, they brought them before the courts of the chief priests and all of them were gathered together, and they questioned them.

Here is the story from Acts:

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them,

“Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” –Acts 4:1-12

Like Jesus with the Parable of the Tenants (see the last post), Peter connects the power-proverb of the builder’s rejection (Psalm 118:22) with the Jewish leadership’s rejection of Jesus. Where Jesus
was more subtle, Peter makes the point absolutely explicit: “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders.”

He takes the connection even further. Compare the proverb to the sentence which immediately precedes it:

Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders which has become the chief cornerstone.

The good news of Peter’s message in the Temple is that the chief cornerstone has been established, set in place by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. If the crucifixion of Jesus is the rejection of the stone, Jesus’ resurrection establishes Him as the Chief Cornerstone! In the last post, I concluded by asking the question. “But, what exactly did the Lord do that is so visibly marvelous?” The answer is: “God raised Jesus from the dead!” 

Peter teaches that for this reason there is “salvation in no one else–for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Following the resurrection, Jesus now has become the primary reference point and marker for the proper placement all other building blocks in society and life. His life is the starting point for all who would have life. By finding true alignment with the Chief Cornerstone, the risen Jesus Christ, people are saved–indeed the world is saved!

The establishment of the chief-cornerstone in the risen Jesus Christ provides a particular and exclusive means of salvation for the entire human race. For Peter and the Apostles it meant that their lives and their fundamental loyalties would be governed by Jesus Christ over the command of men. The Jewish priest forbade their continued preaching in Jesus name: Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied,

“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” –Acts 4:18-20

The implications of God’s establishment of the Chief-Cornerstone are dramatic and absolutely significant for every person on the planet. It means that each one of us must ask critically important questions of our selves and the culture that is built up around us.

Today’s Builders

So let’s ask some important questions about our own community.  Think about and evaluate the current structures and systems that have been constructed in our modern day society. Consider the works of today’s leaders and builders. In considering the political systems, the education systems, the economic systems, businesses and corporations, have the builders of our day taken their reference point and bearings from the risen Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone?  Have the builders of our day said, “we will use Jesus as our singular point of reference for every single thing we construct? Can you identify positive and negative examples?

Where do you see examples of structures and systems that center on Jesus as the Chief Cornerstone? Do you see examples where the builders have sought to establish systems around alternative cornerstones? Can you identify the alternative cornerstones, even name them? Join the discussion and post a comment by clicking here.

 

A Driving Intensity

A Driving Intensity

An example in the Old Testament of one who was a great finisher is a man named Caleb. Caleb was one of the warriors of God who was with Joshua and the other spies when the Israelites first arrived at the threshold of the Promised Land.

It first did not take them forty years to get to the Promised Land. That may be a surprise to read! They got there quickly and crossed over the River Jordan with a group of spies. The spies came back from the Promised Land with a mixed report. Yes, they said, it’s everything that God said it was, a land filled with milk and honey. They brought back some pomegranates and some really great things – but then they also had a little bit of a scary report:

So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height… and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” –Numbers 13:32-33

The fear of the giants spread through the camp. Everybody started to grumble against Moses and Aaron, and said, “What did you do bringing us to this land just to get us killed?”

But two other men, Caleb and Joshua, said, NO. It’s ours. It’s a good land. Let’s go—God is with us! While everybody grumbling and whining about the difficulty of the task—Caleb and Joshua showed the character of finishers. So God sent the Israelites to do forty years of laps around the desert.

In the book of Joshua, you pick up back with the story of Caleb again. The Israelites had started to conquer the land under the leadership of Joshua. But they started to falter in their conquest of the land. Things started to get tough and the tougher strongholds of those groups identified by the spies were holding fast. The Israelites could not vanquish them and so they started to give up on these tougher assignments and these tougher jobs—they started to quit.

Caleb was by then 85 years old. Here is the character of driving intensity (This is all found in Joshua 14):

“You know that what the Lord said to Moses, the man of God, about you and me? Back then I was 40 years old when Moses, the servant of the Lord, sent me to explore the land and I brought him back a report according to my convictions…” Hear the character of determination which Caleb manifest; he had convictions, “… but my brothers who went up with me and made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I however followed the Lord, my God, wholeheartedly, with single mindedness.”

“So on that day, Moses swore to me, the land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever because you have followed the lord, my God, wholeheartedly.” Caleb was saying this: Just as the Lord promised, it’s time for me to claim my promise. That’s basically what he’s saying. He’s kept me alive for 45 years since the time he said this to Moses while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today 85 years old and I’m still as strong today as the day Moses set me up.”

Caleb was as vigorous to go out to battle at age 85 as he was when he was 40. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day!

You heard him. Caleb was a finisher. I love the way the story ends. So Joshua blessed Caleb and gave him Hebron as his inheritance… and there’s this little parenthetical statement at the end of the story here (Now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba, Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim.) Not anymore. It is called Hebron, because 85-year old Caleb went up there and defeated the mighty Arba and changed the name! How? Caleb had determination in the strength of the Lord. Give me those hills! Caleb was taking names for the Lord at eighty-five years old!

Do you have a driving intensity like Caleb? Do you yearn to finish what God’s put you on this earth to do! It does not matter how old you are, or how young you are! What matters is that you accomplish your call! What matters is that you have a fire in your bones that says “Give me that hill country!”

The Adversary

The Adversary

The evil one seeks to trap you and keep you from being productive in the work that God has called you to do. God is not the only one who has a plan for your life. Oh, we have an adversary, Satan, who has schemes, traps and tricks. He tries to get us off track and prevent us from completing the work that we have been called to do by God.

His primary tool is the temptation of self-sabotage. Remember when the Devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and tempted Jesus to throw Himself off? He challenged Jesus to take a suicidal self-destructive leap! How many times do we self-sabotage? The evil one does not change his tactics. He is always trying to move us in to self-destructive behaviors. The problem is that we fall for it.

Some of these temptations come in the form of opportunities, actually. They can be distractions. He tries to get you to do things in improper timing. Remember when Jesus’ mother tried to get Him to do the miracle at the wedding feast of Cana and He had to say, “Mom, it’s not the right time?”

When Jesus was very clear with his disciples what He had to do, the work that He had been called to do? When he said “I am going to suffer at the hands of the chief priest and the scribes. I’ve got to go to Jerusalem. I’m going – I’m going to die and then three days later, I’m going to rise from the dead.”

What did His best friend say? “This should never happen to you, Lord.” In other words, “I’ve got some advice and my advice is that you should just call off the Crucifixion. That doesn’t sound like a good idea Jesus.” Those who love you the most can be like that– they’re looking out for you, but sometimes they can take you off task for fear of risk. Jesus threw Peter’s words off instantly.

Get behind me, Satan.

Yes, Peter was a friend, but at that moment, Peter was a friend speaking the Devil’s sabotaging words into Jesus’ life. His words come in the form of human solutions, earthly kingdoms, quick fixes, and even protective concern. Sometimes Satan’s sabotage comes through our own fears, our own avoidance of pain, hard work and struggle.

He is sneaky and tricky and he wants to tempt us so that he can stop us from fulfilling God’s call in our life, and he does it in very subtle ways. The bottom line for Satan is that he does not want us to finish. Don’t ever underestimate him or deny him. He does not want you to finish, he will stop at nothing to stop you!

“Save yourself,” they said to Jesus on the cross. “Save yourself if you are the Son of God.”

Rather they should have encouraged the One running the ultimate race on behalf of all humanity: “If You are the Son of God, finish the work that You have been called to do! Go Jesus, Go!”

The voice of Satan is always tempting and taunting you to quit. How is Satan tempting you right now to give up on the race that is set before you? What are the things that Satan is using, his strategies, the little temptations to sin in your life? What is he doing to distract you from fulfilling your call?

Let the words of James encourages you…

Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. –James 4:7-8