WHEN GOD MOVES A STONE (Easter – part 1)

On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside. [Mark 16:3-4 (NLT)]

Easter tombAlthough Jesus repeatedly predicted that He’d rise from the dead, the women didn’t bring clean clothes for a living man that Sunday morning when they went to the tomb. Instead, they brought burial spices of their own with which to anoint His dead body. Because of the Sabbath, Jesus’ burial was rushed and His body laid in a borrowed tomb. Although Joseph and Nicodemus had anointed Him, perhaps the women were concerned that, in the men’s haste to finish before sunset, they hadn’t done a proper job of preparing the body. The spices they brought would conceal the stench of decay and, out of love for Jesus, they wanted to complete the burial rites properly.

Not knowing about the guards Pilate had posted at the tomb, the women wondered how they would manage entry into it. Many Judean tombs were caves. The opening was covered by a large disc-shaped stone set into a groove cut in the bedrock. Getting the stone in place was fairly easy as it was rolled down a slight incline to cover the tomb’s opening. Several men, however, would be needed to roll it up the incline. “Who will roll the stone away?” they asked. Even though the women didn’t know how it would be done, they trusted that it could be done and proceeded in faith.

For a moment, consider that heavy stone at the cave’s opening. It was impossible to remove from within the tomb but it wasn’t removed so Jesus could exit the tomb. The Messiah who raised the dead, walked on water, and healed the sick certainly didn’t need anyone to move the stone for Him. Regardless of size, no boulder could block the way of the one whose resurrection meant that death had been conquered. That stone wasn’t moved so He could get out; it was moved so that His followers could get in, find the tomb empty, and share the good news!

The women didn’t let their reservations about moving the stone stop them from going to the burial site and serving their Lord. What about us? When we are called to serve Him, do we worry about the stones that might block our way and allow them to stop us? Let the Easter story remind us that, just as that stone was removed for the women so they could tell the good news, God will remove the barriers blocking our way from sharing the resurrected Christ!

Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” [Matthew 28:5-7 (NLT)]

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He [Jesus] rolled up the scroll, gave it to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. “Today,” he began, “this scripture is fulfilled in your own hearing.” [Luke 4:20-21 (NTE)]

evening primroseIn writing about Blaise Pascal yesterday, I mentioned that he, along with Pierre de Fermat, laid the groundwork for probability theory back in 1654. I remember a school friend writing her term paper on probabilities who began by testing what’s called the “birthday paradox:” in a room of 23 people, there is a 50% chance that two people will have the same birthday and, out of 75 people, there is a 99.9% chance of two people’s birth dates matching. Imagine her surprise when the first two people she asked had the same birth date! That, of course was sheer coincidence but, if the next 30 people she asked also had the same birth date, another explanation would have been necessary.

I know nothing of permutations, exponents, or probability theory, but even I know when coincidence can’t explain the improbable. Consider the improbability of anyone fulfilling the many Messianic prophecies found in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Messiah would come from the seed of a woman (not a man) and be born of a virgin in Bethlehem. He would be from the line of Abraham, a descendant of Isaac and Jacob, of the tribe of Judah, and from the house of David. The Messiah would spend time in Egypt, would be a Nazarene, and a messenger would prepare His way. He would be a light to the Gentiles, give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, visit the Temple, and enter Jerusalem as a king on a donkey. The Messiah would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, falsely accused, and stand silent before His accusers. He’d be mocked and ridiculed, his hands and feet pierced, dice would be thrown for his clothing, and would die with the wicked but be buried with the rich.

Taking just eight of the some 300 fulfilled Messianic prophecies in Hebrew Scripture, mathematics professor Peter Stoner calculated the odds of one man fulfilling them by coincidence at 1 in 1017 (100,000,000,000,000,000). Putting those many zeros into perspective, Stoner likened it to covering the entire state of Texas with silver dollars piled 2-feet deep, placing one marked silver dollar among them, and expecting a blindfolded person to wander through the state and pick up the marked coin in his first try. Stoner then figured the odds of one man fulfilling 16 of those Messianic prophecies at 1 in 1045 and of fulfilling 48 of those prophecies at 1 in 10157, a truly mind-boggling number. Although the odds against one man fulfilling all those prophecies are astronomical, that’s exactly what Jesus did! Looking at it purely from a mathematical viewpoint, Professor Stoner concluded, “Any man who rejects Christ as the Son of God is rejecting a fact proved perhaps more absolutely than any other fact in the world.”

While probability theory proves that Jesus is the promised Messiah, intellectual assent is not quite enough when it comes to our salvation because it’s not the same as believing in Jesus. Faith is more than an acceptance of facts; it is a commitment to those facts. A profession of intellectual belief is meaningless until it makes a discernible change in us! Nevertheless, Stoner’s use of probability theory to prove Jesus is the promised Messiah helps bolster our own faith. Moreover, it enables us to defend the validity of Scripture and the truth of Jesus’ identity to those who don’t believe.

And we have the prophetic word made more certain. You will do well to hold on to this, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star shines in your hearts. You must know this first of all, that no scriptural prophecy is a matter of one’s own interpretation. No prophecy, you see, ever came by human will. Rather, people were moved by the holy spirit, and spoke from God. [2 Peter 1:19-21 (NTE)]

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That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there. [Acts 16:9-10 (NLT)]

hope cloverI can’t say that I’ve ever had a dream or vision as clear cut as was Paul’s. If I ever did, I’m not sure I’d be as quick as he and his companions were to trust it. In Paul’s case, however, the dream helped him understand why the Holy Spirit previously prevented the men from preaching in the provinces of Asia and Bithynia (modern day Turkey). After hearing the Macedonian man’s plea, Paul finally had a clear sense of God’s direction. Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke headed west to Troas, set sail across the Aegean Sea, and made their way to Philippi in the Roman province of Macedonia (northern Greece). Paul’s obedience to that call took the gospel west toward Europe and changed Western civilization forever!

Nearly 300 years later, Irish history was changed when the man we know of as St. Patrick had a similar dream. Born Maewyn Succat around 387 in Roman Britain (Scotland), Patrick was kidnapped by Irish marauders at the age of sixteen. Taken to Ireland, the boy was sold into slavery and labored at herding and tending sheep. According to his memoirs, as Patrick prayed several times a day during his captivity, his faith grew and he felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. After six years of enslavement, he had a dream in which God told him, “Your ship is ready.” The young man escaped, walked 200 miles to the coast, and found some sailors who took him back to Britain. Once home, Patrick had another dream in which he was given a letter titled “The Voice of the Irish.” Upon opening it, he heard the voices of the people who’d once enslaved him calling, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” Initially reluctant to answer the call because of his lack of education, Patrick began religious training. He returned to Ireland about 15 years after his dream and the man known for explaining the Trinity with the three-leaved single stalk shamrock evangelized all over the land for the next thirty plus years. Patrick is said to have converted over 135,000 people, established 300 churches, and consecrated 350 bishops.

While we’re not likely to have such vivid dreams as Paul and Patrick, we should listen for the “Voice of the Irish” and be looking for a “man from Macedonia” in the people who cross our paths every day. They’ll probably look and sound much like everyone else and yet they’ll have a pressing need to know Jesus. May we respond as readily as did Paul and Patrick. We probably won’t change the world as did they, but we surely can change the world for someone.

God’s plan for enlarging his kingdom is so simple – one person telling another about the savior. Yet we’re busy and full of excuses. Just remember, someone’s eternal destiny is at stake. The joy you’ll have when you meet that person in heaven will far exceed any discomfort you felt in sharing the gospel. [Charles Stanley]

For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” [Romans 10:13-14 (NLT)]

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Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths. [Psalm 119:1-2 (NLT)]

Yellowstone RiverA few miles from our Illinois home, a giant ski jump towered over the treetops. Originally erected in 1905 by Carl Howelsen and a group of Norwegian skiers living in Chicago, it’s been rebuilt over the years and is still used today. In a curious coincidence, in 1913, the man who loved the mountains and deep snow found his way to the Colorado mountain town we once called our winter home. Although Howelsen returned to Norway in 1922, he left an indelible mark on the town by introducing it to recreational skiing and ski jumping. Not far from the hill named for him, stands a statue of the man known as Flying Norseman.

Howelsen never returned to Colorado, but I heard his son, Leif Hovelsen, speak at the dedication of that statue several years ago. It was then that I learned the legacy Howelsen left his son was even greater than the one he left our mountain town. When Leif was just a boy in 1930s Norway, Carl sent him on a delivery. Upon his return home, it was discovered that the boy had been short-changed. When his father insisted that he return and get the proper payment, the youngster balked. Not wanting to face the man who’d cheated him, the lad offered to make up the difference from his own savings. His father, however, insisted that he return to get the correct payment. It wasn’t about a few kroner, explained Carl. It was that every time we accept things like cheating, thievery, hate, depravity and deception, a little bit of our integrity erodes until none remains.

From Leif Hovelson’s life, it’s obvious that he took his father’s words to heart. Unable to accept the evils of Nazism during World War II, 19-year old Leif smuggled radio parts out of Oslo to members of the resistance fighting the Nazi occupation. Betrayed by a friend, he was captured by the Gestapo in 1943. As he was dragged from his home by soldiers, his mother’s parting words were, “Leif, never forget Jesus!” It seems that he never did!

Although he’d been placed in solitary confinement in a concentration camp, threatened with death, regularly interrogated, and tortured badly enough to lose much of his hearing, Hovelsen set his heart on reconciliation rather than revenge. After the war, he spent years in Germany working to help that country rebuild its moral and spiritual foundations. Choosing to love rather than hate, Hovelsen dedicated his life to Moral Re-Armament, an international movement with Christian roots and based around the “Four Absolutes:” absolute honesty, absolute unselfishness, absolute purity and absolute love. One of the core ideas of the movement was that changing the world begins with making changes in oneself. For Hovelsen, that change began when his father warned him of spiritual and moral erosion.

When I think of Carl Howelsen, I don’t think of the legacy he left to the sport of skiing and to the town that now boasts of 98 winter Olympic athletes. I remember the advice he gave his son and the impact it had on him.

Let us remember that, every time we accept that which is unacceptable, a little part of our soul wears away. While it takes water centuries to eat away at rock, it only takes one bad decision to start eroding our souls. We live in a world where immorality, prejudice, greed, selfishness, corruption, and dishonesty constantly assault us. If we are to be people of integrity, it is God’s standards, rather than the world’s, that must be our standards. Moreover, we can’t maintain the absolutes of honesty, unselfishness, purity, and love on our own; for that we need the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sow a thought, reap an act. Sow an act, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.
[Attributed to both Charles Reade and Ralph Waldo Emerson]

I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. I hate all who deal crookedly; I will have nothing to do with them. I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil. [Psalm 101:2-4 (NLT)]

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As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. [Proverbs 27:17 (NIV)]

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, [Hebrews 10:24 (NIV)]

plumariaIn ancient times, when an iron tool became dull, another iron implement was used to give it a finer polish and sharper edge. It’s not just tools that can become dulled—so can minds and spirits. Good Christian friends who act as whetstones can make us accountable, keener, stronger, and more enthusiastic and valuable. Rather than allowing us to grow dull and settled in our comfort zones, they sharpen us with challenges that make us better disciples for Christ.

The Greek word translated as spur in Hebrews 10:24 was paroksysmós. Often translated as motivate or stimulate, the NIV’s use of spur seems most accurate. Paroksysmós was a noun meaning a provocation which literally jabbed into someone so sharply they had to respond (as a spur does to a horse). As with a stubborn mule, sometimes we need to apply the spurs to get someone moving and, sometimes, we’re the stubborn ones who need that extra encouragement or motivation!

Whenever I read Proverbs 17:17 or Hebrews 10:24, I think of a special friend who both sharpened and spurred me! One of a small group receiving daily email devotions from me in 2014, she doggedly insisted that I have a devotional website. I didn’t claim to be the least qualified and from the weakest clan as did Gideon, but I came close by pointing out my lack of computer skills and religious training. Like Moses, I protested and offered several reasons why I wasn’t the woman for the job but she had an answer for every one of my objections! Then, instead of giving me Aaron as God did for Moses, she gave me her technical skill, designed the site, loaded several older devotions, and patiently walked me through the steps required to prepare photos, post devotions, and maintain the site. She sharpened and spurred me as a good Christian friend should!

Today marks my 2,073rd post on “Devotions of the Heart.” Staring with about 20 followers from my email group, I now have 576 followers. The site has been viewed over 48,500 times by over 28,700 people from 162 countries. That’s a drop in the bucket when it comes to celebrity influencers whose followers and views number in the millions but these devotions aren’t about numbers, fame, product endorsements, or me. They’re simply about sharing the Word of God and the only thing I endorse is Jesus! All the glory belongs to God but the thanks go to my iron-sharpening friend who wasn’t afraid to apply the spurs! Without her, you wouldn’t be reading this!

Friendship isn’t about what we get from it; it’s about how we serve God through it. My friend did what we all should do for our Christian brothers and sisters—she sharpened and spurred me by challenging, motivating, inspiring, helping, and encouraging me to become a better disciple for Christ. When iron is used to sharpen iron, both pieces improve and, by sharpening me, my friend sharpened herself, as well! Discipleship is not about maintaining the status quo—it’s about moving forward. Let us sharpen and spur on one another in Christian love.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. [1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)]

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. [2 Timothy 4:2 (NIV)]

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INVESTING TALENTS – Matthew 15:14-30 (Part 2)

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. [1 Peter 4:10-11 (NLT)]

great egretYesterday, I wrote about Jesus’ Parable of the Three Servants, often called the Parable of the Talents. Although I used it as an example of excuse making, that’s not what the parable is about. This parable comes right after Jesus’ description of the end times and the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids in which He urged readiness for the Day of the Lord. Immediately following this parable about the talents, Jesus spoke about the final judgment. The story of these three servants makes it clear that, when that last day comes, the master will settle accounts: faith will be rewarded and the righteous servants separated from the false ones.

In this parable, before going away on a trip, the master entrusts his money to his three servants according to their individual abilities; no one receives more or less than he is capable of handling. When the master (Jesus) returns, his servants (Christ-followers) give an accounting for how they fulfilled their responsibilities and used the talents. While we think of talents as natural abilities or skills, in Jesus’ time, a talent was a unit of measurement used to weigh out gold or silver. A talent was the largest quantity at the time and a talent of silver was about the equivalent of an average worker’s income for twenty years. The master in this parable entrusted each of his servants with a fortune. Rather than bags of silver, however, the talents entrusted to us by God include our wealth along with our time, natural abilities (talents), spiritual gifts, and bodies. This treasure entrusted to us is no more ours to keep than were the bags of silver given to the servants theirs. The treasure belongs to the master; his servants are but caretakers of His gifts.

Instead of entrusting us with His investment portfolio, Jesus entrusts us with His ministry and the furthering of His Kingdom. Scripture tells us exactly what He expects us to do with the treasure He’s given us: spread the gospel, love God, love others (including our enemies), forgive those who have wronged us, be hospitable to outsiders, and be an example for the world by feeding the hungry and caring for the poor, imprisoned, and sick. How we achieve His purpose will be different for each one of us because a different sack of talents has been entrusted to each one of us. Whether the sack is filled with gold, silver, copper or iron, we each have been given exactly the right amount of what God expects to use. In writing about this parable, D.L. Moody said, “Many thousands of watch springs can be made out of a pound of iron. See that you improve faithfully the talent God has given you.”

When the master commends the first two servants for the return on his investment, he doesn’t say, “Well done, my good and successful servant.” He says, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” The third servant, however, is punished but not because he failed to give the master a good return on his money; he’s punished because he didn’t even try. Rather than invest the money or put in a bank and get interest, he simply buried it. He isn’t punished for being unsuccessful; he’s punished for his lack of faith! The master didn’t expect him to double the investment as did the other servants, but he did expect him to do something with it! The faithless and lazy servant squandered the opportunity given to him; we must not do the same!

God does not demand that we be successful. He only asks that we be faithful in using the treasure He has entrusted to us. We honor God by using our talents to work to further His Kingdom; the success of our endeavors, however, is up to Him!

We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful. [Mother Teresa]

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. [Colossians 3:23-24 (NLT)]

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