Wednesday, March 26, 2008

We are living stones

A few weeks ago we chose the name Living Stone Bible Church. Amanda and LJ took a week to create a "short list" of church names for the group to consider. We all voted and Living Stone Bible Church won. The name of the church was inspired by I Peter 2:4-5:

4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
I thought it was appropriate to do a bit of research. Why is Jesus called a living stone? Also, why are we called living stones. Why does it make sense for Living Stone Bible Church to be the name of this new church. Consider I Corinthians 3:10-17 which compliments the I Peter passage nicely:

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If any one's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
The temple is now us. No longer does God's spirit live in a building as described in the Old Testament. Instead it lives in us - the church. The construction of this new temple began with Jesus. He is the very first piece of construction material that was inserted. This is why Jesus is referred to in the Bible as the cornerstone.

In the same way, we are also living stones. God is building his temple, his spiritual home out of each of us. We are built on the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, it is our responsibility to minister to those around us and tell them about the hope of salvation that he offers. We are also to praise God and glorify him.

I worked for a masonry company a few years ago. I am not a mason, but I've seen a few stone walls built. It all begins with a big pile of stones. I mean a really big and messy pile. All sizes and shapes of stone. Some little. Some big. Some thick. Some thin. And none of the stone is ready to be installed in the wall. There isn't a square corner in the pile.

Installing stone in a wall is nothing like installing brick (unless the stone is a cut stone such as limestone). A mason can grab just about any brick off of the stack and install it next. But, with stone the mason has to find just the right piece of stone to install next. And, even then the mason will use his trowel to shape the stone. He strikes the edges and the corners of the stone in order to make it just the right size for the opening in the wall. When he's finished it is beautiful. There is something completely random about it and yet beautiful at the same time.

God sets us in our place in a similar way. He picks us out of a huge miserable mess of a pile. He shapes us and re-sizes us and then he places us in just the right place in his temple. There we serve. We serve along side other living stones. Each of us are very unique and different. Each of us bring a different set of gifts and talents with us.

However, God is the master mason. He has a knack for finding just the right stones to set next to each other so that their differences compliment each other. The pattern appears to us as random and chaotic. But, not to God. He chose each stone for a specific reason and purpose. And, as you stand back and examine all of the stones ... it is beautiful ... it has strength ... it is a testament to the craftsmanship of the master mason.

In Christ,

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Do you love Jesus?

Do you REALLY love Jesus? Or do you just say that you love Jesus?

You can lie to your friends. You can lie to your family. You can lie to your spouse. You can even lie to yourself. But, you can not lie to Jesus. He is not persuaded by your words. He can see directly into your heart.

Peter answered him, "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away." Matthew 26:33
Peter is bold. He is brash. He is the same disciple that will pull out a sword to defend Jesus when he is arrested in Gethsemane. He will later become a leader in the church after Jesus returns to heaven. But, in this verse, we see that Peter's pride can get the best of him - just like the rest of us.

Jesus knew that Peter was just a man. He knew that Peter was prone to sin, to fear, to weakness. Peter had to be shown that he DID NOT love Jesus in the same way that Jesus loved him. It was all part of Jesus' plan for molding Peter into the man that he needed to be for God's purposes.
Jesus said to him, "Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." Matthew 26:34
I think even at this point Peter does not want to believe what Jesus has said. And yet, deep in his heart he probably knows that Jesus is right. He knows that he is capable of denying Jesus.
Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!" And all the disciples said the same. Matthew 26:35
Spiritual pride is as damaging as any form of pride. If you lean on your own strength and courage as Peter does here, you invite disaster. Peter needed to learn that he must expect his own strength and courage to fail him. He needed to learn that he had natural limitations. He needed to learn that he would only be successful when he leaned on God.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13
If Jesus did not teach him this valuable lesson, Peter would continue to try to serve God through his own strength and fail over and over and over.

The final chapter in this story is found in John 21.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. John 21:15-17
My father was strict. He wasn't mean. Just strict. I was disciplined every time I deserved it growing up (and I'm a better man for it). I say this to say that I can sympathize with Peter here. This is the first time we see them discussing Peter's denial of Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75) as predicted. I bet Peter was nervous. Really nervous. I bet he could barely make eye contact with Jesus. He probably wanted so badly to talk to Jesus about it. But, he was probably frozen with shame and humiliation.

So Jesus asks the question, "Peter, do you love me?" Twice he asks Peter the same question using the same Greek word, agape. This translates in English to "unconditional love." It's the kind of Love that Jesus has for us. It's the kind of love that Peter had claimed to have for Jesus. And, in both cases, Peter is unable to say, "Yes, Jesus, I love (agape) you." Instead, he says, "Yes, Jesus, I love (philia) you." Philia translates roughly "brotherly love."

Peter has moved beyond lying to Jesus. He now knows that he has limitations. He wants to love Jesus with an agape love. But, he knows that it is not possible for him to love as Jesus loves. He knows that he in human and bound to fail at times. He knows that his own strength will fail him.

Jesus has made his point. It has been an incredibly painful and humbling lesson for Peter to learn. But, it is finished. Jesus finally lets him off the hook with his final question, "Peter, do you love (philia) me?" Peter's response says it all, "You know all things; You know that I love (philia) You."

And, Jesus answers again, "Feed my sheep" which may be the most profound statement in the entire story. Jesus did not give up on Peter. He did not set out to prove that Peter was unfit to serve. Jesus does not require that we be perfect to serve him. He does not require that we love him or others with a perfect agape love. Instead, he requires that we be acutely aware that we must lean on him in order to accomplish his will.

He asks that we love him and feed his sheep.

In Christ,

Friday, March 21, 2008

Sharing the gospel - #2

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete." I John 1:1-4

We have experienced Jesus.

We read his word (the Bible) and it changes us. It shows us the sin in our life. It encourages us with hope for the future. It explains God's unbelievable love for us. We read about God's promises to protect us and provide for us. We watch as God interacts with his chosen people in the old testament. We notice the way that Jesus communicates with his disciples in the new testament.

We see the impact of God in our life. We notice his provisions. We feel comforted by him when we are sad or depressed. We are encouraged when we see our friends and family filled with joy and happiness because of their relationship with Jesus. We acknowledge his power and might in things like oceans, mountains, deserts, hurricanes, and tornadoes. We are touched by the beauty we see all around in the things he has created.

From the beginning God has planned to offer the world salvation through Jesus. Death is the proper consequence for the sin in our life. However, life is available through Jesus. He is the manifestation of this plan.

Furthermore, from the beginning, God has had a specific plan for communicating this with the world: us. We have the privilege of experiencing Jesus. But, then we also have the responsibility of sharing this experience with others. As far as we know, this is the only way that God plans to spread the Gospel.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sharing the gospel - #1

"Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, ... " I Peter 1:8

These verses represent a wonderful reason for sharing the Gospel. It's not that you should look at others and think, "He should stop sinning, he's a bad person." It's not that you should tell them about Jesus only so that they will stop doing such terrible things!

No. It's because you have an inexpressible joy in your heart that is there because Jesus is your savior. It's not like a relationship with a person. Well ... there are similarities. But, it is also very, very different. There is something very calming, very peaceful, very joyous about knowing Jesus. Just to pray. To listen. To read his words in the Bible. It's great. It's perfect. It's satisfying. It's happiness.

It's hard to explain the feeling in a way that does it justice. And, I think this is what Peter is referring to here when he describes it as, "inexpressible." And, I think that is why it is foolishness to those that don't believe that Jesus is the Messiah. It's difficult to explain. And when we try we come across sort of like bumbling zealots.

Some of the terminology that we use is even specific just to Christianity. That is why it is sometimes jokingly referred to as, "Christianese." It is gibberish to many people. In fact, I think sometimes it is perceived as some sort of brainwashing. We refer to being born again. Kids talk about Jesus living in their heart. When we take communion we talk about figuratively eating and drinking Jesus body and blood.

Still, a relationship with Jesus is the one thing that people need the most. It might be nearly impossible, at times, to explain. But, nonetheless it is the difference between life and death - both now and for eternity.

In Christ,

Monday, March 17, 2008

God is in control

There's one thing that can be said for sure about Living Stone Bible Church: God is in control. Every step of the way it has been completely clear that this is God's church. This is not my church. I feel like I am just along for the ride.

He has hand-picked the people that He wanted involved. And, I am continually amazed at how marvelously the group's gifts and talents fit together.

My prayer for this church is that God's will would be realized - whatever that may be. I have no vision for how big or small the church will be. I can't see 5 years ahead. Honestly, I can't even see 1 year ahead. And yet, I have an unmatched peace about the future.

I find myself with each day becoming more and more focused on preparing to preach ... and preach well. Having taught the Bible in a Bible study for years I have experienced the power of the Word. It has changed me forever. And, more importantly God has used me to change others. God's Word has the power to save eternally.

In Christ,