Sunday, January 28, 2018

Extravagant Worship

What does extravagant worship look like? What motivates a person to sacrificial, extravagant worship? The apostle John records a beautifully extravagant gift of worship that Mary offered Jesus before He was crucified. The following narrative is recorded immediately following Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and just prior to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the moneybag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:1-8)[1]
Imagine that you are hosting a dinner in your home, and your guest of honor is none other than Jesus –the King and Creator of the universe, the Son of God, in the flesh. If that weren’t enough, also present at this dinner party is your dearly loved brother who recently died, but who was subsequently brought back to life by Jesus. This brother of yours was not mostly dead; his brain activity didn’t cease for a few minutes before he was resuscitated. No, he was all dead…really dead…dead for four days and beginning to decompose and stink. Dead. Gone. That is … until Jesus arrived.

If you were Mary, how incredibly grateful would you be to Jesus for raising your brother from the dead? How would you even begin to express your thanks to Him for this extraordinary gift? How amazed are you at the power Jesus has over life and death? How do you even begin to honor Him for how great He is? How do you show Him how important He is to you and how worthy He is of all your thanks, honor, and praise? What an overwhelming evening!

In an effort to show Jesus how much He was worth to her, Mary spent what was quite possibly her entire life’s savings on Jesus. She took a pint of expensive nard, her most valuable possession, a treasure that had likely been in her family for years, and she broke it open. She sacrificed its worth in order to anoint Jesus’ feet. John tells us that Judas Iscariot pointed out that this gift was worth a year’s wages. 

I don’t know how much money you make in a year, but this seems like an incredibly large, sacrificial gift. Have you ever considered giving a gift to Jesus that was worth $30,000? $50,000? What about $100,000? Mary poured out her heart and her treasure on Jesus in an act of extravagant, sacrificial worship. One commentator says that “Mary’s lavish gift…expressed her love and thanks to Jesus for Himself and for His restoring Lazarus to life.”[2]

If you want another little glimpse into Mary’s emotional state during this dinner party, look back at John chapter 11. Once Jesus arrived in town, He went to speak with Martha, Mary’s sister. When Mary came out to meet Jesus, she was so distraught that when she saw him, “she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’” (John 11:32). She blatantly blamed Jesus for the grief in her life, and then a few minutes later, he gave her an unexpected, overwhelming, and rare gift.

I wonder if she experienced shame over blaming Jesus for her loss. I believe she was extremely humbled in His presence. Prior to the dinner party, she probably thought long and hard on how she could best demonstrate her gratitude to Jesus and show Him her estimation of His worth to her.

It may seem to us like Mary didn’t count the cost of her gift. What was she going to live on without that treasure? It was an extremely costly gift, but I believe she did count the cost. I believe she saw so much worth in Jesus, and her heart was so full of gratitude for what He had done for her that the sacrifice she made in anointing Jesus was worth every penny to her. She was so overwhelmed by Jesus that she poured out all that she had on Him in a beautifully extravagant offering of worship.

Have you ever been this overwhelmed by who Jesus is and by all that He has done for you? Is your heart filled with gratitude for how good He is to you, how much He has forgiven you? Are you truly amazed by the fact that He made a way for you to be adopted into God’s family, and that He has called you to follow Him? Can you relate to Mary’s sacrifice or to the words of the following song? 

When all around the storms of life are raging
I need to find a place that’s safe and warm
When the wind and waves come crashing down on me
Oh Lord, You’re my refuge from the storm

I am overwhelmed by Your goodness
I am overwhelmed by Your love for me
As Your grace and mercy wash over my heart
Lord, I am overwhelmed by You

And when my past tries once again to haunt me
And I’m reminded how many times I fall
Though the guilt and shame start weighing down on me
I know You have redeemed me from it all
(Repeat Chorus)

No, I cannot understand why You chose me
And I cannot comprehend the depth of Your love for me
Oh, I live to give You praise
I’m so humbled and amazed
By just how good You are to me
(Repeat Chorus)

© 2013 Sheri Tesar

[1] A similar narrative is recorded in each of the gospels, but each of them differs just a bit. It is unclear whether they are similar events or the same event recorded in slightly different manners. In Matthew 26 and Mark 14, an unnamed woman anoints Jesus’ head at the home of Simon the Leper. In Luke 7, a “sinful woman” anoints His feet at the home of one of the Pharisees.

[2] Walvoord. Bible Knowledge Commentary. “Notes on John 12:3.”

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Gift of Grace

I have read Max Lucado's books for decades, so I was very excited about reading The Gift for All People: Thoughts on God's Great Grace. When I began reading the first chapter, I thought the words sounded familiar --like I had read it before. Upon further inspection, I had read it before. Nearly thirty years ago. At least parts of it, anyway. The Gift for All People is not a completely new book, but rather a collection of snippets pulled from a number of other books Lucado wrote during the 1980s and 1990s, repackaged for a new audience. 

The snippets are classic Max Lucado pieces arranged beautifully into four major sections: The Gift of a Savior, Ransom for Sinners, Bounteous Grace, and The Choice. Each little snippet is only two to three short pages long, so each one is a very easy read. The problem for me was that it left me wanting more. It was a bit like being presented with a platter of tiny, but delicious hors d'oeuvres when you were anticipating a full entree. However, many people enjoy hors d'oeuvres. They enjoy reading just a brief devotional thought because that's all they have time for in their busy day. 

This little book might make an excellent gift for a believer who wants a collection of beautifully written devotional thoughts about grace. If you've read any of Max Lucado's books, then you are well aware that although the snippets pulled from his other books may be short, all of them are very full of imagery, powerful, and inspiring. 

However, judging from the final chapter of this book as well as the title, I believe this collection was designed to be a gift for someone who is seeking to learn more about Jesus, who He is, and what is this thing called grace. The final piece in the book is called "God's Destiny for Your Life," and it includes an open invitation for readers to begin to follow Jesus and to accept His gift of grace.

Lucado writes, "With all of my heart, I urge you to accept God's destiny for your life. I urge you to get on board with Christ. ... Would you let him save you? This is the most important decision you will ever make. Why don't you give your heart to him right now. Admit your need. Agree with his work. Accept his gift" (126). But he doesn't stop with just issuing an invitation. Lucado goes on to help a new believer know what his/her next steps are. "These three steps --baptism, Bible reading, and belonging to a church --are essential steps in your faith" (127). 

If you know someone who has not yet experienced the grace of Jesus, consider gifting them with this little book. Consider who in your life might benefit from a gift of a little grace. It is the gift for all people. Max Lucado's The Gift for All People is available here. 

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Parable of the Crayon Box

One day, in an elementary school art classroom, the art teacher seated her students around large tables. She provided them with stacks of thick, white paper and boxes of brand new, sharpened, unpeeled crayons (isn’t that really the best kind?). The assignment was for the students to work together, to share the crayons, and use their best effort to create colorful drawings that would be hung in the hallway outside the classroom for the other students and teachers to admire. She thought that other students might be inspired to join the art class if they saw demonstrations of her class' work.

Her students generally enjoyed art class, so they eagerly opened up all the new boxes of crayons and began working on their projects. One child grabbed the red crayon, held it up, and announced, “This is the best color in the entire crayon box. If you don’t like red, then you don’t know anything about colors or about art.” Some of the students ignored him, but others began fighting for their own favorite color. Another child grabbed the yellow crayon and announced, "Yellow is the best color. It’s the color of the sun, which gives us light. If we don’t have light, then we can’t see anything, so yellow is the best. We don't need any of these other dumb colors." 

Several students tried to ignore the fighting and keep working together, but it was difficult in the midst of all the chaos. It didn't take long before the class was divided and the kids who only liked red were in one corner of the room, and all the kids who agreed that yellow should be the only color had sequestered themselves in another corner. The yellow group surrounded themselves with chairs so other students couldn't reach them or take their yellow crayons. A few students collected all the blue crayons, told the other students the teacher hated those who didn't use blue and then tried to break the other colors so that everyone would have to color with just blue crayons. Their final act was to turn their backs on the other groups of students and pretend they didn't exist. 

The situation quickly devolved into a session of name-calling, tears, and a few pushes and shoves. The teacher desperately tried to regain control of her classroom. She ended up calling the principal and was contemplating calling the police if the situation didn't diffuse soon.

We can look at this art classroom and acknowledge the obvious immaturity and ignorance of children who think that everyone should have the same favorite color and who are willing to fight those who have a different favorite color. We might be saddened that the vision of these art students is so narrow that they can’t see the need for any other color apart from their personal favorite. We might sympathize with the frustrated teacher who tried unsuccessfully to teach her class about the beauty of working together. 

While this exact scenario may not have really happened, similar situations happen all the time. In so many social media “discussions,” I read comments from “children” screaming that they, and all those in their particular camp, are the only ones who truly know what the best color is. They spew hatred for those who like and use different colors. They repeatedly argue all of their tired reasons why their color should be the only crayon in the box. And I think they truly believe their viscious arguments will bring someone over to their side. 

Why is the body of Christ so divided? Why do some camps still like to sit in their little fenced-off corner of the art room, rolling their eyes and spewing hatred at the “ignorance” of those who are not like them? Why can’t we acknowledge each other’s differences and celebrate the beauty of the unified body of Christ together? “Unity” does not equal “uniformity.” A crayon box filled with red crayons is not more beautiful, more useful, or more unified than a box filled with a variety of colors. It's actually more boring.

Yes, there are certain non-negotiables in the Christian faith. Jesus is God in the flesh. He lived a perfect life as a man, died a sacrificial death for our sins, rose victorious over death, and is coming back for His church, His bride. He is worthy of all our praise, our worship, our very lives. We are saved by grace. We cannot work our way into a relationship with God. Aside from this, pretty much everything else is just a slightly different shade or color in the crayon box.

We do not all have the same learning styles or personalities; the same favorite Bible verse, song, or method of praying; the same experiences, bents, or preferences; or the same way to interpret certain passages of Scripture. And yet, we tend to want everyone else to look like us, learn like us, think like us, sing like us, and experience like us. Why should every church body look exactly the same when all the individual members do not look the same? Look at the great variety in God's creation. Why do we insist that all our crayon boxes contain the same color? He has created us differently, but we are all beautiful crayons, lovingly made by the Creator, all gifted and tasked with blending our colors with others to create a wonderful picture of praise to the Creator.

In this art room scenario, I imagine the apostle Paul saying, 'If the whole crayon box were a red crayon, where would the blue crayon to color the sky be? If the whole crayon box were a blue crayon, where would the yellow crayon to color the sun be? But in fact, the Creator has placed the colors in the crayon box, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.' (1 Cor 12:17-18, Art Class Version).

I like red. It’s my favorite color. I have a red Keurig, a red toaster, red dishes, a red sweater, red shoes, and a couple of red purses. You might think that is too much red, but I like it. However, it would get extremely tiring and boring if everything around me was red and I refused to use or look at things that were not red. I wouldn’t have many friends if I refused to associate with people whose favorite color was not red, or with those who didn’t even like red. I'm grateful to have friends and loved ones whose favorite color is brown, purple, maroon, burnt orange, or even 'Kentucky Blue.' 

When social media “discussion” posts are filled with hatred and accusations like the art classroom described above, it causes me great sadness and a few of them have brought me to tears. Not because I’m offended that they don’t share my particular point of view, but because these spiteful discussions and hateful comments continue to reinforce the fences that have been erected in the classroom.  

Of course, the saddest and most upsetting aspect of these "discussions" is the loss experienced by the other students in the school who may not have another opportunity to see beautiful expressions of art hung in their hallway. What they have witnessed is ugly, monochromatic scrawlings and the sound of hatred and fighting coming from inside the art room. They miss out on the opportunity to see works of art and on being invited to join the art class. Or sadder still ----maybe they were invited to be a part of the art class but declined the invitation because they didn't want to join all the fighting coming from the art students who professed to love art and to love the Creator. 

In the words of another great artist, "How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!" (Ps 133:1 NIV).