Rocks

I’ve been thinking about rocks.

I don’t usually think about rocks at all.

Lately I’ve found myself thinking about them a lot.

It all started this past spring when PB and I started a landscaping project.

We were in way over our heads, but had no choice because every landscaper we contacted was scheduled into 2022. We spent a lot of time wandering around the garden center looking at trees and bushes and plants. And rocks.

One day the owner took pity on us and came out to help us make decisions about landscaping stones. An hour later, our heads were swimming with information about stones, rocks and boulders. He wasn’t just a good salesman, he was absolutely passionate about rocks and became more animated as the minutes ticked on. We learned the pros and cons of every type of landscape stone. We heard stories of how he hunts for and finds rocks with unusual shapes and colors. We were given a tour of his prize boulders.

When we finally got to the car I shook my head and said, “That guy was nuts!” PB and I agreed that we had not met many people with such fervent excitement about anything, let alone rocks. As we drove out of the garden center I commented, “If only more Christians were as excited about Jesus as that man is about rocks.”

In the days that followed, something weird happened. I started seeing rocks everywhere. I began to check out my neighbors’ landscaping stones. I noticed boulders at the end of a friend’s driveway. I saw a pile of rocks in a field and was tempted to go pick up a few. Then PB and I took off for a few days and we came home with a stack of rocks in our car. What was happening?

I think I’ve figured it out.

The crazy garden center guy drew our attention to something we previously hadn’t paid any attention to. His enthusiasm and joyful energy struck us as a bit over-the-top, yet we had to admire his desire to share what he loved and to open our eyes to what we had been missing. Sure, I drove away shaking my head and calling him crazy, but now I’m picking up stones from the side of the road and figuring out how to build a rock wall and archway in our backyard.

So, what if more Christians were as excited about Jesus
as my landscaping friend is about rocks?

Would our warm passion for Jesus
and our sincere excitement about our faith
naturally bubble over in our conversations?

Would our desire to share what we love
cause some people to see what they’re missing?

Would Jesus start showing up everywhere they look
simply because we drew their attention to something
they hadn’t really paid much attention to before?

Would people begin to become interested
just because we were brave and bold enough
to be a little over-the-top?

They may shake their heads and call us crazy.
But a few may start building their lives on the true Cornerstone.

“Welcome to the Living Stone, the source of life!” 1 Peter 2:4 (Message)

A Historic Pardon

Today I have a little history lesson for you.

In 1829, George Wilson robbed a United States mail carrier. He was captured and tried in a court of law where he was found guilty of six charges. Wilson’s sentence was execution by hanging.

Influential friends pleaded for mercy to the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, on his behalf. President Jackson issued a formal pardon, dropping all charges.

George Wilson refused the pardon.

An official report stated Wilson chose to “waive and decline any advantage or protection which might be supposed to arise from the pardon….”

Nobody knew what to do about this strange turn of events.

President Jackson felt that George Wilson had no choice but to take the pardon. Wilson argued that the pardon had no value if he did not accept it.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Justices ruled that Wilson could not be forced to take the pardon and if Wilson did not accept the pardon then it did not have any value.

Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, “A pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the law. But delivery is not completed without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered, and we have no power in a court to force it on him.”

George Wilson went to the gallows,
even though he had been pardoned.

Did you get that?
A pardon is an act of grace.
It is not complete without acceptance.
This act of grace cannot be forced on a person.
It is a free gift, but it can be rejected.

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord,
that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God,
for he will abundantly pardon.

Isaiah 55:6-7

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 1

Happy Ascension Day!
The 40 days of Eastertide come to an end today.
It’s time for liftoff!

I’ve never paid much attention to Ascension Day, and for many believers, this day will go by unnoticed. In some countries, it’s a public holiday with government offices, schools and businesses shut down. In their experience, when a king or queen ascends to the throne, it is cause for great celebration.

“After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.'” Acts 1:9-11

This was quite the dramatic exit. Jesus was going away for good this time. He had been coming and going for 40 days, but this was it. His feet left the ground and He levitated higher and higher. The disciples saw the whole thing, until a cloud got in their line of sight.

They stood there, staring into the empty sky. Whoever saw anything like it? A man floating up into the clouds! Who could have looked away at such a sight? Eleven men strained to see, with necks stretched back, heads cocked to the side. Oh, surely Jesus was smiling. Just think of His own excitement in returning to heaven, to His Father, to a victory party and coronation. Perhaps He had a tinge of sadness leaving His Men of Galilee, but He had confidence in the Holy Spirit to carry on the mission in them.

Then a voice: “Why are you standing here looking skyward?” Surely more smiles, right? The angelic messengers had bombshell information. “The very same Jesus will return in the same way He left. Just in reverse.”

He left physically.
He will come back in the same way.
He left visibly.
He will come back in the same way.
He left from the Mount of Olives.
He will come back in the same way.
He left in the presence of the disciples.
He will come back in the same way.
He left blessing His church.
He will come back in the same way.*

What will you do today to celebrate your crowned King
who sits on His throne with authority and power?
Look intently up into the sky for a few minutes?
Kneel before the glorious and majestic King Jesus?
Or, like the disciples, go from here worshiping Him with great joy?

“God exalted Jesus to the highest place
and gave Him the name that is above every name.”
Phil. 2:9

*David Guzik commentary

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 2

“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.” Luke 24:50

I hope my last words spoken on this earth are poignant and heart-warming, perhaps even quotable. I don’t want my last utterance to be something like, “Don’t forget — the garbage goes out on Wednesdays” or “Did we get pre-authorization from the insurance company for this?”

You can tell a lot about a person by their parting remarks.

When Lady Nancy Astor saw all her children standing by her bedside, she said, “Is it my birthday or am I dying?” I wonder how they answered that question.

Groucho Marx quipped to his tearful wife, “Die, my dear? Why, that’s the last thing I’ll do.” Are you kidding?

Trailblazer Kit Carson was quoted as saying, “I just wish I had time for one more bowl of chili.” That must have been some crazy good chili.

Conrad Hilton left a bit of advice with his last words: “Leave the shower curtain on the inside of the tub.” No comment.

Mother Theresa spoke from her heart, “Jesus, I love you.  Jesus, I love you.” Just what I’d expect.

And then there was Steve Jobs — “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” Indeed.

With His last words spoken on earth,
Jesus pronounced a blessing on the disciples.

Was it the Old Testament blessing, “The Lord bless you and keep you…”? Or like Moses, who had a blessing for each of the twelve tribes of Israel just before he died, did Jesus give each of the disciples a special word? What He said was not recorded in Luke’s gospel, but the sight of Jesus lifting His hands in blessing caused great joy among the disciples. It doesn’t indicate that Jesus put His hands down as He ascended.

Even now,
Our Savior’s hands of blessing are raised over His Bride,
the Church.

I don’t know when my last day on earth will be.
I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to offer any parting words.
So today, I’ll speak words of blessing on those around me.
Just in case.

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 3

“So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'” Acts 1:6-8

The Message version says it like this:
“You don’t get to know the time.
Timing is the Father’s business.
What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit.”

I love that. The timing of things isn’t any of our business. We don’t get to know everything and we have to be okay with that. BUT (my favorite word in the Bible) we get something amazing to help us carry out the work until His kingdom is restored on earth. The word “power” in the Greek is “dynamis”. As in dynamite.

There is dynamic Holy Spirit power in believers,
to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.
It’s time for a little combustion.

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 4

“On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” Acts 1:4-5

Here they are again, eating. Even in His resurrected, glorified state, Jesus enjoyed a good meal with friends. That’s good news! We can look forward to wonderful times around the table in New Jerusalem.

Jesus had one command for His beloved disciples:
wait.

Although He did give them a time frame of “a few days”, the disciples weren’t exactly sure how long to wait or what they were waiting for. They didn’t want to miss out on this “gift”, so they obediently waited.

God’s timing is always perfect, even down to the minute.

Jesus’ death coincided with the Feast of Passover.
Christ died at 3:00 p.m. —
the exact time that the lambs
were sacrificed on the altar in the Temple.

His resurrection occurred on the Feast of First Fruits.

And the Holy Spirit was scheduled for the Feast of Pentecost.

All those Old Testament high and holy days
that had been celebrated for hundreds of years —
they all were fulfilled in Christ.

So the disciples waited until the appointed time for a new kind of baptism.

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 5

“Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” 1 Corinthians 15:7

Five little words, but, oh my goodness, are they loaded.

Then
he
appeared
to
James.

James was Jesus’ half brother. The one who was conceived the usual way. There was no special star announcing his birth. No wise men came bearing gifts for James.

James had the perfect older brother in Jesus. I mean, perfect. How does a sibling follow perfection? What was it like growing up in a home with five boys and at least two girls? (“Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” Mark 6:3)

James didn’t sign up to be a disciple of his big brother. He and the other three brothers did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. (“For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” John 7:5) At one point, the family attempted an intervention because they thought Jesus was crazy. (“When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” Mark 3:21)

Yet, James was the only person other than Peter who had a one-on-one meeting with Jesus after the resurrection. How kind of Jesus to seek out his closest sibling. What was that conversation like? Did they reminisce? Were there some issues to resolve? Was there reconciliation and rejoicing?

Jesus didn’t write off his younger brother. Jesus went after him. James may have wandered from God’s truth for awhile, but Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, including his brother’s. The rescue was for him, too.

Later, James went on to become a leader in the early church. He wrote a letter full of practical advise about living the Christian life. Just before signing off at the end, James may have reflected back to that private meeting:

“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20

The resurrection changed everything,
even Jesus’ little brother.

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 6

“After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” 1 Cor. 15:6

I carry an old newspaper clipping in my Bible that has this title:
Seminar Scholars’ Lastest Conclusion:
Jesus Didn’t Really Rise From the Dead

Here’s how the article starts out:
“The Jesus Seminar, a controversial group of scholars who look at the New Testament in the harsh light of historical review, has concluded that there is no evidence that the Easter resurrection was a physical reality.” Evidently, it took 40 “scholars” only five days to come up with this major finding. They deduced that Jesus’ body actually decayed after being disposed of by His crucifiers and there was no tomb.

Trying to discount the resurrection of Jesus Christ is nothing new. If He didn’t really rise from the dead, then He’s not really God. And that gets 40 scholars off the hook from submitting to the Lordship of Jesus and bowing their knee to Him.

All kinds of theories have cropped up over the years.

There’s the “Swoon Theory,” a speculation that denies the resurrection, saying that Jesus never really died, but “swooned” on the cross, and then somehow wonderfully revived in the tomb.

A woman wrote to Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee, “Our preacher said that on Easter Jesus just swooned on the cross, and the disciples nursed him back to health. What do you think?”

McGee replied, “Dear Sister, beat your preacher with a leather whip for thirty-nine heavy strokes. Nail him to a cross. Hang him in the sun for six hours. Run a spear through his heart. Embalm him. Put him in an airless tomb for three days. Then see what happens.”

Then there’s the “Hallucination Theory”, which claims that the disciple’s report of seeing Jesus was simply wishful thinking. They so wanted Him back that they actually imagined they saw Him.

I’m so glad Paul included this verse in his letter to the Corinthians. Five hundred people, many of whom were still alive and well at the time of this writing, knew what they saw with their own eyes.

As Pastor Ray Stedman noted, “It is hard enough to get one person to hallucinate, but to get five hundred people from various backgrounds and attitudes, etc., to do so all at once is simply incredible.”

We believe it to be quite impossible that so many rogues should have agreed for ever. They were men who had nothing to gain by it; they subjected themselves to persecution by affirming the very fact; they were ready to die for it, and did die for it.

Spurgeon

Which goes to show,
you can’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.
But you can believe everything you read in God’s Word.

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 7

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

In his letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul put the gospel in a nutshell:

  • Christ died
  • Christ was buried
  • Christ was raised on the third day
  • Christ did these things in accordance with the Scriptures

Unfortunately, Paul wasn’t on the scene for any of those momentous events. If he did witness any of it, Paul watched from a distance, as a Pharisee who became an enemy of the new sect called The Way. Paul wouldn’t enter the story until 33-34 A.D. The gospel was passed on to him from those who had been eyewitnesses.

I hear a bit of wistfulness in Paul’s words. Although he had an undeniable encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul missed out on those 40 days after Jesus rose from the dead. The Twelve got to touch Him, talk to Him, eat with Him. Peter even got a one-on-one meeting with Christ.

We can only speculate what that personal, intimate conversation was like. If Peter was going to resume leadership in the group, he needed to be built back up after his dismal denial. How gracious of Jesus to seek Peter out first and restore him in private.

Quiet moments, just between Jesus and us, still bring restoration. Setting aside some time to spend with Jesus alone should be of first importance to us as well. Years ago, I wrote a little song called “Quiet Time”.

It’s early in the morning and the house is very still.
I rise and wrap up in a shawl to ward against the chill.
And I tiptoe past the bedroom doors and softly go downstairs.
I pick up my coffee cup and find my favorite chair.

This is my quiet time, my precious quiet time.
I open up my heart; today I want to start
With a quiet time, for it’s here where I can find,
A peacefulness inside if I remember to abide.
All I need You will provide in this quiet time.

Soon the quiet will be gone, children’s voices will replace
My peaceful meditation before Your throne of grace.
And the day will once again begin with breakfast, books and chores.
But before this day gets started, here’s some time that’s only Yours.

This is my quiet time; Oh, Lord, renew my mind.
Grant me eyes to see Your perfect will for me
In this quiet time — how I love this quiet time.
Help me to be true to the task You’ve called me to,
But the strength must come from You in this quiet time.

“You are my place of quiet retreat.
I wait for Your Word to renew me.”
Psalm 119:114 – The Message

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 8

“The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.'” John 21:17

Peter wasn’t enjoying this conversation. I get it. I don’t like it when someone asks me the same question three times in a row, either.

What did Peter expect Jesus to say?
“You really let Me down.”
“I told you this would happen.”
“I had high hopes for you, Simon son of John.”
“This colossal failure disqualifies you from future service.”

To which Peter was ready to reply:
“I’m sorry.”
“You were right.”
“I’m not your man.”
“Back to the boats for me.”

But nothing of the sort happened. There was no need to rehash the past. Peter had publicly denied Jesus three times, so Jesus gave Peter the chance to publicly declare his love three times. It was Peter’s path to healing from shame and bitter regret.

Jesus reinstated Peter’s position of leadership
in front of the other disciples.
Jesus restored Peter’s soul and then challenged him
to set his eyes on the work ahead.

Peter wasn’t being sent back to the boats to rebuild his fishing business.
He was being sent out into the world to build His Father’s Kingdom.