WASHING THE FEET – MAUNDY THURSDAY

If any of you wants to be great, he must be your servant. If any of you wants to be first, he must be the slave of all. That’s how it is with the son of man: he didn’t come to have servants obey him, but to be a servant – and to give his life as “a ransom for many.” [Matthew 20:26b-28 (NTE)]

tri-colored heronWhile the accounts of the anointing of Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36-50 and John 12:1-8 are similar, they are different events and different people were involved. Luke tells of an unnamed woman and John tells of Mary of Bethany. Although both women wiped Jesus’ feet with their hair, the unnamed woman, a notorious sinner, was an uninvited and unwelcome guest in the Pharisee’s home. Mary was a well-respected and devout friend of Jesus and welcome in her sister’s house. Pharisees were present at one and Christ’s disciples at the other. Where the Pharisees saw a sinful woman’s bad character, Jesus only saw a repentant sinner. Where the disciples saw an extravagant waste of money, Jesus saw a woman who offered a gift of love. He defended one woman’s actions by pointing out that she’d done what His host had failed to do. He defended the other woman’s extravagance by reminding his disciples that she was preparing Him for burial.

They were different times and different places but both women humbled themselves at Jesus’ feet. Both women took on a job that belonged to servants and, while most people chased after Jesus because they wanted something from him, neither woman asked anything of Him. Instead, they offered all they had. One woman’s old life died as she washed His feet and the other woman’s brother, who died, now lived. Their generous acts declared the women’s faith in Jesus as the Messiah. We may come to Jesus as a repentant sinner or we may come to him with praise and thanksgiving but, like both of these women, we must always come with a humble heart that is ready to serve.

The most radical act of humility and service, however, occurred shortly after the disciples argued over who among them was the greatest. That night, in the room where they’d gathered for their Passover meal, Jesus (the greatest of them all) knelt at the feet of His disciples. Knowing full well that soon one of them would betray Him, another would deny him, and all would desert him, Jesus humbly washed their feet. That was God incarnate kneeling in front of them and washing their feet but we don’t read of any of the disciples offering to wash His!

Today is Maundy Thursday and several Christian denominations will have communion services in remembrance of that last supper. As a visual reminder that loving Christ means service and there is dignity in serving others, some churches also will observe a religious rite called Washing of the Feet. As members of the Body of Christ, we are to follow His example by serving one another in humility and love. Like the unnamed woman, Mary of Bethany, and Jesus, we must have the heart of a servant.

One of the principal rules of religion is, to lose no occasion of serving God. And, since he is invisible to our eyes, we are to serve him in our neighbour; which he receives as if done to himself in person, standing visibly before us. [John Wesley]

“Do you know what I’ve done to you?” he asked. “You call me ‘teacher,’ and ‘master,’ and you’re right. That’s what I am. Well, then: if I, as your master and teacher, washed your feet just now, you should wash each other’s feet. I’ve given you a pattern, so that you can do things in the same way that I did to you.” [John 13:12-15 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE WAGER (Part 2)

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. [Romans 1:20 (NLT)]

sandhill craneIn researching yesterday’s devotion, I learned some interesting things about Blaise Pascal. Along with building the first digital calculator (c. 1642), he invented the syringe, created the hydraulic press, and, along with Pierre de Fermat, formulated the fundamental principles of probability theory.

It was when reading about Pascal’s Pensées, a compilation of notes and essays about Christian apologetics, that I saw mention of “Pascal’s Wager.” Curious as to what gambling and Christianity had in common, I read on. Perhaps it was Pascal’s interest in probabilities that led him to present the choice between belief and disbelief in God as a coin toss but, instead of betting on heads or tails, the bet is about God’s existence. After pointing out that making a wager is not optional, he asked how we’d bet. In mathematical terms, Pascal explains that, if God exists, and you bet that He does, you have infinite gain (eternal life) but, if you bet He doesn’t, you have infinite loss (loss of paradise and an eternity in hell). If, however, God doesn’t exist and you bet that He does, you lose nothing and, if you win, you gain nothing. Simply put, a winning bet on God pays off far better than a winning bet against Him and, if the bettor happens to be wrong, the one who’s bet against God has far more to lose than the one who’s bet on God.

If it should turn out that God doesn’t exist, Pascal says to the one who made a losing bet on Him: “Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side? You will be faithful, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. Certainly you will not have those poisonous pleasures, glory and luxury; but will you not have others? I will tell you that you will thereby gain in this life, and that, at each step you take on this road, you will see so great certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you risk, that you will at last recognise that you have wagered for something certain and infinite, for which you have given nothing.”

Summarizing, Pascal says: “According to the doctrine of chance, you ought to put yourself to the trouble of searching for the truth; for if you die without worshipping the True Cause, you are lost. ‘But,’ say you, ‘if He had wished me to worship Him, He would have left me signs of His will.’ He has done so; but you neglect them. Seek them, therefore; it is well worth it.”

Pascal’s wager does not prove the existence of God and wasn’t intended to do so; it simply tells us that belief in God is the best choice! There are, however, valid Christian criticisms of Pascal’s Wager. True faith doesn’t come from probability theory or a cost/benefit analysis; it comes from being born again. Pascal’s Wager seems to base belief in God on a risk and reward system that speaks of a heavenly reward without mentioning loving Jesus, obedience, or bearing fruit. His wager also fails to mention that there actually is a cost to following Jesus—one that is not always easy to pay. Whether we’re betting or choosing, the one thing about which we can’t argue is Pascal’s very first premise—the choice is not optional. We cannot sit this one out, the consequences are eternal, and the stakes are high.

Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists. [Blaise Pascal]

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? [Mark 8:34-37 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE GOD-SHAPED HOLE (Part 1)

Wilson Arch - Moab UtahYet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. [Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)]

Our children gave us a jigsaw puzzle for Christmas and, as I struggled to complete it, I wondered if I should thank or curse them for their gift! After staring at an opening, I’d try to find the one piece out of 1,000 that would fit. Since the puzzle’s edges were one color, I confess to a bit of pride when I completed the puzzle’s border. After assembling several sections of the interior, I ran into difficulty finding the right spots for them. Eventually, I realized why—the left side was shorter than the right! With a puzzle that large, while each piece is unique, some are nearly identical; a close fit, however, isn’t good enough and the border had to be redone. As I struggled to find the perfect fit for each opening, I thought of the phrase about everyone having a God-shaped hole that only can be filled by Him. While it doesn’t come from Scripture, the concept is Biblical and I wondered about its source.

The saying may have been inspired by Augustine of Hippo’s word from his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” As a young man, Augustine attempted to fill his restless heart with things like paganism, revelry, drunkenness, empty philosophies, idleness, and decadence. Having tried to fill that void with everything but God, Augustine still felt empty until he heard a voice say, “Take up and read.” Reaching down, he picked up the book beside him and read the first thing he saw—the words from Paul’s epistle to the Romans urging them to stop participating in “the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness…sexual promiscuity and immoral living…quarreling and jealousy,” and  to “clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.” [13:13-14] Augustine had been living the life of debauchery about which Paul warned the Romans but, in the Apostle’s words to clothe himself in Jesus, he finally knew how to fill the emptiness in his life and immediately transformed. Augustine ended up being one of the most influential voices in both Roman Catholic and Protestant theology.

Some sources wrongly attribute a quote about having a “God-shaped vacuum” in our hearts to the 17th century French mathematician, physicist, and religious philosopher Blaise Pascal. While close, that’s not what Pascal said. In Pensées, a book written in defense of Christianity, Pascal wrote of an “infinite abyss” that man vainly seeks to fill with things that aren’t there. Since Pascal came along more than 1,200 years after Augustine, perhaps the ancient theologian’s words influenced him.

Like Augustine, Pascal had a conversion experience but, unlike him, Pascal never led the life of a libertine. Nevertheless, shortly before having a mystical vision in what he called a “night of fire,” Pascal complained of the dissatisfaction, guilt, lack of purpose, and boredom in his life. After his vision, Pascal committed his life to Christ, left the world of science and mathematics, put his remarkable mind to work for God and, like Augustine, left his mark on Christianity.

That “God-shaped hole” is man’s innate longing for something far greater than anything found in this world. Perhaps it’s the “eternity” God plants in our hearts that keeps us from finding complete fulfillment in earthly pursuits and passions. As happened with my puzzle, we often try to fill the emptiness in our lives with pieces that don’t fit and, while some may come close, only the perfect piece works. Nothing—not fame, wealth, education, possessions, shopping, popularity, ritual, false gods, self-indulgence, or even family, can fill that God-shaped hole. As for the puzzle, I eventually gave up and returned it to the box—perhaps, someday I’ll try again. Fortunately, seeking God and fitting Him into the emptiness in our hearts is far easier!

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself. [Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII (425)]

 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. [Jeremiah 29:13-14 (NLT)]

His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. Acts 17 27-28 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

BE ON THE LOOKOUT – ST. PATRICK’S DAY

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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SHARPENING and SPURRING

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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