Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cornerstone!

Any builder knows that the most important way to start any building is to select the right cornerstone. The cornerstone will be the piece that the building will rest upon or fall upon. Psalm 118 is a festal hymn the Israelites sung as they went up for festivals at appointed times of the year to being their offerings and sacrifices to God. And they sang, "Give thanks to The Lord for He is good, His love endures forever", reminding themselves that it was only God who could open the gate for the righteous to enter.

Here is some good background information on the cornerstone, "The image comes from the ancient quarries where highly-trained stonemasons carefully chose the stones used in construction. No stone was more important than the cornerstone because the integrity of the whole structure depended on the cornerstone containing exactly the right lines. If the cornerstone was not exactly right, the entire building would be out of line. For that reason, builders inspected many stones, rejecting each one until they found the one they wanted. Rejected stones might be used in other parts of the building, but they would never become the cornerstone or the capstone (the first and last stones put in place).
Www.jesus.org

So what does it mean to say the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone? The builders could represent the Jews as they built the temple and worshipped God there. There were times in Israel's history where they were invaded and the temple was destroyed. These were periods of great distress for the people as they wondered if there God was destroyed as well. It is to this situation that prophets like Jeremiah write to Israel reminding them that God will keep His promise and a Messiah will come to restore the people and bring a new temple. The problem was when Jesus came they didn't recognize him, because they were looking for someone who could rebuild the physical temple. Yet Jesus came to build a spiritual temple, in which He would be the cornerstone. With Jesus as the cornerstone, the building would be built perfectly and be an everlasting one.

This is the sense in which Peter translates this in the New Testament,

"As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."

This is also the sense in which Paul says, "you are the body of Christ, and each one a part of it." Also when Paul, "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit", meaning we don't just live unto ourselves but we too are being built into the spiritual house God is building and will finish someday.

So a question today for us might be, what are you building your life upon? Are you building your life with Jesus as the cornerstone and being part of the spiritual house that will last forever? Or are you building your life on something else? As many other have rejected Jesus as the cornerstone, we could even in an indirect way by building on another foundation. As you build your life on Christ, you too become a precious stone in the house where we will worship God forever with all God's people and sing, "Give thanks to The Lord for He is good, His love endures forever!"

Psalm 118
19 Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord
through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.

Jeremiah 33
14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[a] will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Attitude Adjustment!

When kids grow up they spend a lot of time imitating their teen idols. Whether it is a movie star, rock star, or athletic star. Of course there is nothing wrong with having someone to look up to, ultimately they are all human beings who are fallible and fragile.

But Paul has someone else he is trying to imitate, The Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is teaching this young Christian community to treat each other as a reflection of Jesus. At the heart of it is considering others as better than ourselves, and looking to serve their interests before ours. Well how can we possibly do that? Paul tells us to not only imitate Jesus, but have the same mindset as Jesus as we look at Jesus attitude we can see three things.

1. He did not consider equality as God as something to be grasped. If anyone had a right to think something was beneath them it was the Son of God. But Jesus did not use his position for his own personal gratification.

2. He emptied himself and became a servant. Yes the Son of God did not only not hold on to his deity, but he became a servant. A servant gave up all their rights to serve their master to serve others.

3. Jesus humbled himself and became obedient even to death on the cross. Jesus not only have up His rights as God, but He also gave up His life. And because Jesus was God, we can say God died for us.

So as Paul reasons with the Philippians on how the should treat each other he urges them to imitate Jesus. One day he
Says that every knee will now down and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. But for now what can we do if He is our Lord? We can imitate him. We cannot consider ourselves as better than anyone, but serve them according to their needs. Unless we think of ourselves as better than God, nothing should be beneath. And as we serve others we remember it is Jesus we are serving. And one day when everyone realizes who He is, He will say to us,"Well done good and faithful servant. Come receive your reward which has been laid up for you in heaven."


Imitating Christ’s Humility
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pour Out Your Spirit Lord!

One of the phrases most used to describe how the Holy Spirit is activated is seen twice in today's readings. In both Isaiah 44 and the fulfillment of that prophesy in Acts 2, these passages say, "I will pour out my Spirit". In the quotation from Joel, we see that the Spirit will be poured out on all people young and old, men and women. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus' disciples, just as Jesus had promised.

And in both cases the pouring out of the Spirit causes great growth to occur. In the Isaiah passage the pouring out of the Spirit is likened to streams of water being poured out on dry ground. And grass will grow in the meadows and poplar trees by the flowing streams. In Acts, after the Spirit is poured out, the people will see dreams and visions and prophesy in the name of The Lord. And wonders will happen in the heavens above and signs on the earth below.

The bottom line is the Spirit is the means by which the power of God comes on earth as it is in heaven. When we look at the change in the disciples before and after the receiving of the Holy Spirit, the pouring out of the Spirit is the only way to explain it. The disciples go from bumbling around and being afraid to be associated with Jesus, to men who are used by God to start the Church by the Spirit's power working through them.

As we look for the church today to have an effect on the society around us, we too need to renewed by the Holy Spirit. When we try to do ministry in our own strength and power, we see little fruit or growth. When we rely only on ourselves, whatever fruit we see is manmade and has little effect in the kingdom. But the Good News is that those who believe in Jesus have been given the power of the Spirit. I think the problem is we realize so little of the Spirit's power and wonder why our ministries are showing little or no growth.

As we rely on the Spirit, we are really relying God, because there is one God expressed in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the work we do is the same that Jesus did, as it is also the Spirit of Jesus. We see the Trinity at work here. The Father creates us. The Son redeems us. The Spirit sustains us and empowers us, but it is all the work of and the same God.

So how do we realize the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and ministry. I think the first thing is to be aware of and recognize the Spirit. When we are given discernment, we are gifted to see what is of God and what God is doing. Also we can pray the words the early church when it prayed, "Come Holy Spirit!" By recognizing and realizing the power of the Holy Spirit it consciously moves us to dependence on God, even in our weaknesses. And as we pray it is the Spirit who intercedes with sighs and groaning that are only understood by God.

As we begin each day and remember to pray with the Spirit's power and then walk by the Spirit's power we too can be like that water poured on the dry river bed, that leads to trees flourishing by the flowing streams. And we will realize as that it is "not by might or power but by my Spirit says The Lord. Amen.

Isaiah 44 Israel the Chosen
44 “But now listen, Jacob, my servant,
Israel, whom I have chosen.
2 This is what the Lord says—
he who made you, who formed you in the womb,
and who will help you:
Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant,
Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.
3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
4 They will spring up like grass in a meadow,
like poplar trees by flowing streams.
5 Some will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’;
others will call themselves by the name of Jacob;
still others will write on their hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
and will take the name Israel.

Acts 2:14-24
Peter Addresses the Crowd
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’[a]

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why Should I Read the Bible?

Psalm 119 is an acrostic, with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet having a paragraph that gives instruction concerning God's word. Today's section is titled,"Beth" pronounced "bet" in Hebrew. It was the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The order from the beginning is, "aleph, Beth, gimel, daleth ..." Students in Hebrew school would memorize large chunks of the Torah, the first five books of the bible, also called the "Pentateuch".

Today, the psalm writer gives us insight to the centrality of the Word to Jewish piety and how rabbi's taught people to, "hide your word in my heart". And, of course, the writer gives several benefits to living according to God's Word. He says, in effect, the only way you can lead a life that is pleasing to God, a life of purity, is by the power of God's word being applied in your life. And as one learns to understand God's word it becomes pleasing to us as well, like delicious morsels of bread.

So what are the practical ways this verse instructs us to be lovers of God's word? First, it says to seek God with all of your heart. We read God's Word to seek him and to know him. And the ways we hide God's Word in our hearts is first of all to read it. Then, to recount it, or memorize it. And, then to meditate on it and consider God's ways. Meaning, we read not only to understand it, but then to ask the question, "what does God want me to do about this?"

The primary purpose of the bible is to lead us to Jesus, but it also is a trustworthy guide and path for our lives. Reading the bible not only reminds us of God's plan for humanity that centers on God sending Jesus to the world to save us, but the bible also teaches us how to "really live". God has inspired, through the 66 books of the Old and New Testament, how we can know Him and lead a life pleasing to Him.

Please hear this is to not try and lay a guilt complex on you. Pastors are always telling you to read the bible more often and more diligently. But maybe we don't explain nearly as much why you should read the bible. What inspires me to read the bible is to realize that these are actually God's words spoken to us, His followers, over thousands of years. The bible has "stood the test of time". The bible promises never to lead you astray as you are led by the Holy Spirit to ask the question, "what would you like to say to me today?" I find when I read the bible expecting God to show up and show me something new about who He is, it gives me a completely different motivation than just, "well I guess I really should read the bible".

My prayer is that we would continue to hide God's word in our hearts, and it would transform us to lead lives worthy of our heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Beth

9 How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
10 I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
12 Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Risky Worship

Six days before Jesus' death, his friend Mary and Martha and their brother, Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead, threw a dinner party. Part of the occasion was giving thanks for Jesus' miracle for their brother, and the unintended purpose was to anoint Jesus for the cross. While Mary was serving as usual, Mary anointed Jesus with pure nard an expensive perfume, whose fragrance filled the house. This is called spikenard, and was made up of oil derived from varying kinds of flowering plants, like lavender. It was also used as an incense in the temple of worship back in the Old Testament. It was very expensive as well. When translating into today's worth, it is estimated to be about $10,000.

The fact that Mary anointed Jesus with the oil by using her hair was also an act of extreme devotion. In some ways it might have been considered scandalous, as women were not allowed to let their hair down in public. Meanwhile, all Judas can do is complain that it wasn't used for the poor. Of course Judas in his jealous heart is already starting to be filled with other plans. Judas does not yet have his mind on heavenly things, and is mainly preoccupied with money. Later he will sell out Jesus for a mere pittance.

So what can we learn from this story? Importantly we see what true worship looks like. For Mary shows us that worship is a matter of offering up to God what is ours in response to who He is. Mary knew she was worshipping the living God, who would prove this a few days later. Coincidentally Mary would be one of the first people he revealed himself to, after he was raised from the dead. Not only was worship costly for Mary from the sense of buying the expensive perfume, but she also showed her love of Jesus by anointing him with her hair. As we have said Mary's worship was not only costly but also risky. Letting her down was a cultural "no-no", but she was more interested in admiration of Jesus, than cultural taboos.

It makes me wonder what kind of worship I offer to Jesus. What do I hold back? Am I more concerned with what people think about me, or what I think about Jesus? When is the last time I worshipped Jesus in a risky and costly away? My tendency is to stay in my comfort zone and not take risks. When we understand the magnitude of what Jesus did for us in love, I think we will be less concerned about what others think and more caught up in offering ourselves back to him in thanksgiving and gratitude. How might Mary's example inspire you as we near Holy Week, and remember what Jesus did for us in giving us everything?


Jesus Anointed at Bethany
12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint[a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.[b]” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
M
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you,[c] but you will not always have me.”

9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Different Kind of Priest!

Usually when we think of a priest, we think of a priest in the Catholic Church who wears a cleric collar and can't get married. In the Old Testament, the Great High Priest was chosen by God, and once a year would go into the Most Holy Place and offer sacrifices to God. This included offering the innocent lamb, who was slain for the sins of the people. So the author of Hebrews, who is writing mainly to Jewish Christians, wants to use this analogy to explain why Jesus was and is the great high priest.

Here is how Jesus is a different kind of Great High Priest.

1. Jesus was born a man and went through all the temptations we did. We sometimes miss that He was tempted in every way. You can imagine what that means for you?

2. Though He was tempted in every way, he did not sin like the Most High Priest did. Therefore, the high priest had to make sacrifices for his own sins, not just the people.

3. Jesus was both the high priest and the innocent lamb of God, who took away the sins of the world.

4. Since Jesus was tempted in all the ways we are, he is gentle and merciful with us because he understands the human condition. I.e. We don't have to hide from Him!

5. We can approach God's throne with confidence that we may receive mercy in times of need. Did you hear that? We can approach God with confidence when we have sinned and need forgiveness. This is not confidence in ourselves, but in Jesus who lavished His grace upon us on the cross, because of His great love for you and I.

Is that Good News for you? I'm not sure God could have made it any clearer how we can approach him and have a relationship with Him through Jesus. I guess the only question for us is do we believe it???

Jesus the Great High Priest
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

5 Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Clean Up My Heart God!

When we say the church is a hospital for sinners, not a mausoleum for saints, this is one of the passages that confirms this saying. David, who God says was a man after God's heart, and the greatest king of Israel, still had to battle his sinful nature. And when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, another man's wife, he definitely had lost the battle.

But today we see the depth of his confession before God. Importantly he says, "against you and you only have I sinned and done what is evil in my heart". Though David's sin had far reaching consequences, fundamentally he has sinned against his Father in heaven. And in the beginning of the psalm he pleas for God's mercy and asks God to "blot out all his transgressions." Sin leaves a stain on us, and it is God who cleans us. David says "wash away my inquity and cleanse me from my sin."

My favorite part of the psalm is when David prays, "Create in me a pure heart in me, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of my salvation, and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me." David knows not only does he need forgiveness, but he is going to need a new and clean heart, which only God can grant him. He is looking for transformation of his heart, and a willing spirit so that he might not fall into this type of sin again. He realizes he is powerless over sin and it has made his life unmanageable. And he realizes the only power that can stem this tide, comes from God alone.

During Lent one of the themes is confession. Like David we have an unclean heart. We often confess in the Lutheran church, "I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed. By what I have done and by what I have left undone." Can you pray the prayer with David, "create in me a clean heart"? Where did you need to be honest with God today. David said his sin took away the joy of his salvation and sapped his spirit. God doesn't want us to live our lives with this weighed down guilt. Confess your sin today! Allow God do create in you a clean heart and a willing spirit. God has given you His Holy Spirit so that you might not sin against Him.

Psalm 51
For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.