3 – Cornerstone

Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ ~Isaiah 28:16

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORDS’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. ~Psalm 118:22

Jesus is our Cornerstone. All three of the synoptic gospels reference the time when Jesus is speaking in the temple, following the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The chief priests and elders have challenged his authority to teach, and Jesus proceeds to tell them two parables regarding the kingdom of God and who will be a part of it. In the second parable, the wealthy owner of a vineyard has cared for and leased his land to some tenants. When it was the harvest, he sent servants to retrieve the fruit. The tenants beat and killed them. Again he sent servants and again they were killed. Finally the owner sends his son, believing they will respect him. The tenants instead kill his son in the hopes of gaining his inheritance. Jesus is drawing a parallel between the chief priest and Pharisees and these tenants – through Israel’s history, prophets, servants of God, had been sent to lead the people to repentance and now before them was the Son. Yet instead of repentance, the leaders through the years had created more religion, tradition and rules.

Here now in front of them was the Christ, Messiah, their Savior who would rid them of all sin, sacrifice, and empty religion. For He had come to set the foundation for true relationship with God built on grace, forged through His sacrificial love and death, that we may be saved. He knew the path of the next few days, and He called for repentance but knew rejection.

A cornerstone, often called a setting stone or foundation stone, was the first stone set in masonry foundations. All other stones were set in reference to this stone, determining the entire structure. This stone kept the walls straight. The total weight of the building would rest on this stone, so if it were to be removed, the building would collapse.

Jesus is the foundation, the stable, immovable set point on which the redeemed are built, both corporately and singularly. This picture of Jesus is not just a prophecy that He fulfills; we see the continued teaching of this idea all through the New Testament. Peter referenced Jesus and Ps. 118 when he was brought before the Council following Pentecost in Acts 4:11. Then in 1 Peter 2:4-8 Peter explains that as we come to Christ, the living Stone rejected by men but chosen by God, we too are living stones being built up as a spiritual house to worship God though Jesus Christ. Paul also uses the same word picture in Ephesians 2:19-21. In Romans 9 Paul declares that righteousness comes through faith, but many will stumble over the stumbling stone as they seek to work their way to righteousness.

The beauty of salvation is that not only do we freely gain relationship with the One who is the cornerstone on whom our hope rests and our faith is built, but we also join Him in declaring to this lost world that true stability and peace are from Him. Peter reminds us that the world watches our walk. To the lost, the Cornerstone is an obstacle to trip over, even to the lost pious ones who desperately seek righteousness in works and law.  But to the found, He is the sure foundation, a tested stone who ensures our salvation, forges relationship, and ultimately returns to bring us home. He alone deserves the glory.

2 – Light of the World

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ~John 8:12

Looking at different names for Jesus this advent season, Jesus Himself declared he was the Light of the world. He was speaking in a part of the Temple court during the Feast of Booths most scholars agree. In the temple court there were two huge lanterns burning as part of the Feast – these were symbolic of God’s presence as a fire by night, pillar of cloud by day that led the Israelites in the wilderness. Now during the feast, people would congregate around them to sing and dance, remembering God’s provision.

Jesus stands within this celebration and he points to what was and declares He is. The cloud and fire were the very presence of God – the Israelites knew that. Ex. 13:21 explains, “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.

Then in Exodus 40:34-38, we see the presence of God through a cloud covering the tabernacle the Israelites have erected. Moses was not allowed to enter initially because the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. The cloud by day and the fire in it at night, centered in the Holy of Holies, led the people throughout their journeys.

1 Kings 8:10-11 speaks of God’s presence in the temple that Solomon built, because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the LORD. 

Finally in Ezekiel 11 the glory of the LORD leaves the temple as the people of Judah fall to Babylon in judgment, leading to years in captivity and the destruction of the temple. When the Jews return to rebuild the Temple, God’s presence does not return in physical form to the ark of the covenant or Holy of Holies. The Shekinah (glory of the LORD) had departed in its physical form of cloud by day, fire by night.

And now Jesus declares, “I am the Light of the world.” The Glory of God had returned to Israel as Light as John details in John 1. And Jesus takes what was now merely symbolic and puts flesh on it. He openly declares that He is the Light that will guide all men out of the darkness of sin and death. We see Jesus teaching this truth to Nicodemus in John 3:16-21, in John 9:5 when he heals a blind man, & finally John 12:46 when he cries out, “I have come into the world as light so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” 

The darkness of the soul that blankets the sin works of men can be dispelled by only Jesus. His presence however is no longer an external entity, waiting on sacrifice in a temple. He indwells the heart of the believer. Only He can rid your heart of the vestiges of sin that move and have power in darkness. For whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 

1 – Man of sorrows

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. ~Isaiah 53:3

Sitting around the table for what we call “Morning Meeting” today, this phrase “Man of Sorrows” was brought up and wondered about by the boys as we were reading through different prophecies for the coming Christ. So we began to take this one title apart, looking to understand more fully what was meant by Isaiah in this prophecy.

In Hebrew the phrase “Man of Sorrows” signifies sickness or pain, suffering, anguish. Jesus’ flesh was just as frail as mine or yours. He was easily injured just as we are, and his nerves weren’t stronger or less responsive. He opened Himself up to illness, pain and fatigue – all things that are part of the curse of sin.

He was a man so full of suffering, rejection and pain that it becomes one of His titles. Why?  Christ’s life began in rejection and sorrow. Herod sought to kill him as a child. We see the lack of initial understanding of his parents at 12 in the temple, and then as he moved into ministry, the Pharisees actively led the Israelites in rejection of him and sought to trick him at every turn. His ministry moved among the lowly, afflicted, the lost. Christ saw the people without a shepherd and it grieved him deeply in Mark 6. Most crowds however used Him for what He could do and then left. For Christ spent years on earth seeing the depths of the hearts of men – their layers of sin that result in an outcome of death, despair, hopelessness. This grieves him deeply daily. He seeks to consistently speak to their need for salvation through Him, yet He fully knows the path and the cost of salvation for himself.

He grieves in the Garden afflicted with great sorrow  so much so that He sweats blood. At the time of his greatest need, he asked for companionship from his disciples, a fellow banding together to walk with Him in final sorrows, but He was still rejected by those who claimed to love Him most.

On the way to the cross, in His torture, man ceases to see Jesus as human, ceases to have a measure of compassion and instead metes out the greatest level of punishment prior to the crucifixion. Then on the cross He is afflicted with true spiritual suffering so great that has no bounds as the sins of the world are placed on Him. He experiences the fullness of God’s holy wrath; the full breaking of their glorious union – the tearing away of it in order to save you and me. He was broken in sin and death, wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. For we are healed by His stripes, brought to peace through his chastisement.

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him, Isaiah 53:2. We live in a culture that openly values beauty, majesty, great form – those who possess these are given platforms, power, attention. Christ was none of these, therefore then as now He was despised and rejected. But despite his great sufferings He willingly walked to the cross out of love so that the free gift of grace would abound to many, leading to justification, righteousness, and life.

Learning

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  ~Romans 8:15

I have had a week like no other – the kind of week that you wished never happened. The kind of week where everything seems to be going wrong, and it is all tied to you. No, it hasn’t been full of devastating news or horrific circumstances. Just enough hardship in circumstances to become discouraging and overwhelming. Most of the issues have centered around glass and more specifically, it breaking. The first thing I broke was my entire back glass in my vehicle backing into my own garage door. Yeah, that was a good move. On my way to Bible study with my precious littles in the back seat, I just backed right into the bottom panel of the garage door, shattering the entire back glass, messing up the top portion of my car, and for good measure denting my garage door. God has a way of getting my attention! I then experienced the frustration of having a package inexplicably lost on its way to Texas for my son’s birthday. The shipping company had no idea where the package was and could not even trace it as they had made some error in their initial intake of it. They were very sorry but not very helpful. Plus according to them, I had also not insured the package to its value, so replacement wasn’t really an option either. I cried. I quietly cried in that package store. Not really because the package was lost, but because I knew the cost of my day, and I had caused most of it.

My week went on – I got estimates (they were huge!) on replacing car and window parts, the package finally showed up in another state and was rerouted. And I stabilized for a moment. But then over the weekend I asked Troy to take down a light fixture for me so that I could clean it. And I shattered it. It slipped out of my hands into the sink and shattered into countless pieces. And again I was faced with my actions costing greatly and once again having to confess failure. The next morning as I washed the morning dishes, (you’ve probably guessed by now) 2 different glasses drop into the sink and shatter. Now I’m not sure I have ever shattered one glass in my sink before but certainly not two back to back. By this point I just mutely shook my head and began my glass cleanup routine.

As I cleaned, the Lord and I had a great conversation. It began with me whining, but as it should, it ended with truth and beauty. I’m not interested in your glass, Bethany, not in your care of things or driving ability, I am solely interested in you. And I want you to see in the destruction and subsequent confessions and replacements the picture of my grace. I want you to have such security as my daughter that all your failures are simply places where my strength and my provision and my glory can shine. These are all earthly things, but when their destruction defines you, paints stories in your mind of your worthlessness, discourages you in other parts of life then they highlight the value you place on your abilities and actions. 

My identity is not defined by my actions. Not by my successes nor by my failures. It is not shaped by my hands at all. God and God alone shapes my identity as his daughter, wholly and dearly loved, one precious in His sight, fully accepted because of Jesus Christ’s work on my behalf. And God works on this area with me over and over again. Because like a dog returns to his vomit, I will return to this death sourced idea that somehow I shape my identity in God’s sight. That my actions and reactions are part of the equation for His pleasure in me. That the way I successfully navigate this life can somehow help Him in the work He has, and therefore my missteps can also mess His plan.

When in reality, the more I recognize my desperate need for His help every day, in planning and executing the mundane things in life as well as the exciting, when I am surrendered to His Spirit, the easier it is to walk through these difficult moments. Because my eyes aren’t on me. They are on Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of my faith.(Heb. 12:2)  And He uses these glass shattering weeks to highlight my ever increasing need for Him.

Planting Seeds

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity. ~Psalm 133:1 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. ~Romans 12:10

Our God is relationship oriented. The very essence of the Gospel is his offer of relationship through Jesus Christ’s death for our sins. He calls us as parents to impart to our children the importance He places on relationship. The way we love one another is the display of the Gospel to the world. We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) To speak consistently and clearly on the value of loving one another well is an imperative from Him. The culture we live in says that sibling rivalry and squabbles are normal; just ignore them, don’t engage and they will mostly stop; children do it for the parent’s attention; they’ll grow out of it, etc.  No, I don’t think they will.

Encourage God’s love to grow between siblings – training them in righteousness applies real life here. There will be few relationships that will trigger flesh in a child more than a sibling. Welcome this. It is our opportunity to begin talking with our child about the Gospel. Just like in marriage, the intimacy of family life will highlight our natural desires for self.

It is also an opportunity to cast a vision before them in terms of why God purposely placed them in this family and in this order. Spend time looking at the why question that springs from their lips. Don’t run from the dislike they may spew at another. Sit in it with them, help them discern the lie they have welcomed regarding that sibling and begin instead to help them rewrite with God’s truth.

I think sometimes as believers we have bought the lies of the enemy that say siblings don’t have to like each other just because they happen to be born into the same family. Really? Where is God’s sovereignty in that? Do we really get permission to throw out the commands to love one another because we are “accidentally” born with annoying people? Or will we embrace the transforming power of God’s love that teaches how to love the difficult because we have been deeply loved? Do we understand that God has a purpose for our children as big sister, younger brother, etc to learn the truths about His love and lean/depend on Him to help them love and care for someone else. This walk right now as a child who follows Jesus will lead and prepare them for what He has planned for them as an adult.

We can break up fights and tell kids to stop yelling/hitting and if we stop there, we are missing the discipleship of our child. If all we do is fuss at the fussing, we will never help our child examine their heart as to what motivates their action or response. They may conform to our edict of no fighting, but the heart remains unchanged apart from Gospel application. Behavior can just go underground as resentment, bitterness, and ultimately hatred. And it will stunt their walk with a loving, forgiving God.

We have the rich opportunity to walk with our children in learning how to love intentionally the way we have been loved – forgiving fully, expressing frustrations in a way to seeks resolution and peace, and acknowledging their own contribution to the argument and why they are motivated to respond in sin.

 

The Vine, the Vinedresser, and me

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ~John 15:5

Have you ever felt worthless in God’s kingdom? You look at your body of work and all you see are errors, mistakes, sins and defeat? You cannot get a handle on your tongue; you are not patient with your family; every time you turn around you are faced with another way you have sinned against another or God.

We have a child who right now is in a crisis of faith. They are in a season of pruning, but they believe they are in a season of failure. They look at the way their sin seems to explode all over the place, and they want to hide it, stuff it back in, cover it up with niceties or retreat. Poke them a little bit about one of these errors, and they may explode in anger. There is apathy, a mask they wear to act as if they don’t care how many areas are in shambles. And when you tread just a little through these first layers of defense, there is profound discouragement and fear. The aching knowledge of their inability to “do it” and concern over being perfect, checking the boxes they have laid out for themselves, creates a huge emotional chasm. And only Jesus Christ Himself with all His grace, His mercy, and His love can fill it. The Gospel must become a lifeline, not just for salvation but for daily, minute to minute life.

Salvation for this child is not in question. They are completely secure in knowing Jesus Christ paid the penalty for their sins, and they would absolutely tell you how vital He is in their life. But just like a Galatian from years ago, they have decided that their walk everyday is theirs to do, to somehow muster up the right combination of fruits either to prove to God how much they love Him or to add to their salvation. The wrecking of their carefully ordered life exposes the limits they have placed on God’s great grace, as if it is merely that little bit more we need to get over the hurdle when added to all the good acts we do.

Many times I too have walked in these ruts of the faith, tripping as I focus not on Him but on what I carry, making sure I don’t drop anything, or dirty these clothes I have placed over my clothes of righteousness. And when I see my life wrecked, I wonder how He could love me. But just like this child, it is an opportunity to once again see the depths of His love for me, the grace that gushes like a tidal wave, and to tightly hold to the One who is at work, refining and changing me more and more into His image.

Pruning is an important part of the walk of faith. Jesus draws the parallel boldly in John 15 – He sets up very clearly that He is the Vine, his Father is the Vinedresser, and we are branches. A vinedresser has one goal with his plants – to maximize the fruit as he shapes its growth. In pruning vines, the goal is to maximize the amount of one year old growth or wood because only in 1 year old branches is fruit made. Older wood produces only leaves and shoots. A vine dense with older wood has little fruiting wood and poor air circulation which leads to fungus and disease. So every year 70-90% of growth needs to be removed in the winter. Also the vinedresser wants to shape the vine’s growth on a structure conducive to the harvesting of the fruit.

God actively prunes the believer, slicing through lies, cleaning off dead or nonproductive areas, shaping our hearts and minds. He uses hardship, suffering, crises of faith, but through all of these events, he uses His living and active Word. Hebrews 4:12 says that his Word discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart. We can trust that God desires us to be completely dependent on Him, not just for salvation, but for everyday walking with Him. He prunes us back, tightly leaving us right up against Jesus the vine, in the position of abiding, clinging to the source of life. And it is the position that is most desirable because in the pruning I learn anew that I don’t have to perform or carry the right things to Him. His love flows through me, His truths become my own, His ways of righteousness grow in me creating fruit for His kingdom and His glory. So my child, welcome the pruning for this is where your intimacy with Jesus will grow, and be glad He cuts away your self sustenance. Let the truth of His love and grace flow through you, filling you with peace as you rest in Him.

The Need to Meet

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ~Hebrews 10:24-25

 

As a mom I have the privilege of walking with my children in the deepest parts within if they will allow. In a conversation with one of them the other day, when they were brave enough to crack open their heart and lay out their battles, I was struck by how common the battle really is. This one was aching, churning, and warring within over the lack of spiritual fruit and the feelings of worthlessness and doubt.

In this passage from Hebrews, the author has just stated that we can come before God confidently because of Jesus Christ’s blood shed for our sin – our faith is assured, our hearts clean from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with His water. We are to hold tightly to the Gospel because Jesus is faithful. He who justifies will continue to sanctify us, and one day He will return and we will be with Him eternally. But it’s easy to waver. It’s easy in the moments of the day to see sin, to see failure, and accept the enemy’s lies of defeat or discouragement.

If I can encourage you in one area, it would be to listen intently and pray fiercely in moments of discipline with your children. Be willing to be up long past your bedtime in order to allow the Holy Spirit time to hack off the calluses on your child’s heart to expose the soft tenderness underneath in which He works. Dwell with your children there in their exposure, not as the one who has it all sorted out but as a fellow sinner redeemed by His grace, seeking to walk out the faith He has given in the daily mess of life.

I am not one who is quickly convicted and repents with vigor; the Holy Spirit is patient, often tender, and works with me on my sin to bring me to repentance on issues. So why do I think that my young believing child is going to do an about face in ten minutes? I shouldn’t because I fully believe that most of the time they will hide behind an apology without delving into the motivations of their heart and allowing the ugliness of their sin to be seen and met with grace. Many days I have to remind myself to slow down and take the time to ask probing questions and really listen to the answers. Invest the time.

This verse is a bedrock verse for me in terms of discipling my children. I know we often quote this in order to support going to church, but I think it aptly applies to parenting and discipling anyone.

  • Let us consider – In the Greek, the meaning here is to think up and down, exactly, attentively; to fix your eyes or mind upon. Let me consider my child, let me spend the time praying for the Holy Spirit to enlighten me to the climate of their heart, the winds of doubt or fear that may be blowing, the storm that may be quietly occurring underneath a thin layer of protection.
  • how to stir up one another to love and good deeds – to stimulate or incite in another the agape love solely based in the Holy Spirit and from which actions flow. Parenting and discipleship are not about behavior correction. It’s about pointing or directing that child to the truth of the Gospel in direct opposition to the lies of this world and calling them to walk in faith.
  • but encourage one another – parakaleo in the Greek; to make a call being up close and personal; to admonish or exhort; there is a legal connotation to this word – to make an exhortation from a close place that stands up in God’s court. This encouragement must come from intimacy, and intimacy grows with time invested.

So I want to encourage you – if we were across from each other at coffee or lunch, I would exhort you to spend time with the One who intimately knows your children, seeking His truth for their lives. Fight the impulse to make other things more important than seeking the heart of your child. Ask the quiet questions about their faith and listen intently to what they know and what they believe. Point them to the Word, to direct truths that meet their doubts or fears. We do not grow their faith – that is the work of the Holy Spirit. But we can walk together with them in their journey, encouraging and cheering them on. The laundry can wait.