Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Jesus, Mary and Judas...and the disciples

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 money bag, 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

Note three responses to Jesus in this passage. Mary shows Jesus extravagant, sacrificial love. Judas responds to Him only with deceit and greed for personal gain. The rest of the disciples recline at the table and maintain "business as usual" little knowing that the time they have left to honor Jesus before His death is slipping away. 

Mary's act of love is extravagant, almost gratuitous. The perfume was worth a year's wages. It was doubtless the most precious thing she owned. In all likelihood it was her life's savings. What's more she used her hair to wipe Jesus' feet! To grasp the power of that act you must understand two things. First, in that culture a woman's glory was her hair. Second, many of their roads were dirt roads and animals were used for transportation that would often leave droppings behind. This meant that people's feet were especially dirty at this time in history. Mary could have chosen to wipe Jesus' feet with a towel. Even this would have been lowering herself to the place of a servant to tend to His needs. But Mary takes her glory, the most treasured and clean part of her body and uses it as a rag to cleanse his feet. It's hard to imagine how shocking this was to those present. It was truly an act of deep commitment and astounding love for her Savior.

Compare that to Judas. He offers up no worship for Christ. Instead he attempts to deceive Him. His aim is not to exalt Jesus but to profit off Him, to steal from Him. Judas hides his greed behind fake piety. He claims to care for the poor, but his true care is lining his pockets. We see in this story the seed that gives sprout to Judas' later betrayal of Jesus. Judas' god is money. Already he was willing to lie to Jesus and steal from Him in order to get more money. Soon enough he will find himself selling Jesus' life for 30 pieces of silver, an amount that was only worth about four months wages. Even in his betrayal Judas sells Jesus short. 

Lastly, consider the rest of the disciples. In John's gospel they are silent. Other gospel records (Matt. 26:6-13 & Mark 14:3-9) indicate that they agreed with Judas (although apparently from pure motives) that this was a wasteful use of resources. They thought more good could have been done by giving this money to the poor. These men are faithful to Jesus. They serve Him every day. They love Him. Indeed, they have left everything for Him. But today is merely "business as usual" for them. Little do they know that Jesus will soon be taken from them. Before long they will wish to be back in Jesus' presence again but be unable to be with Him. There is no sin in their lack of action, just missed opportunity. 

Don't miss your opportunity today. Sure, today is just a normal Wednesday. But Jesus is still our Savior. He is still risen from the dead. He is still worthy of all praise and every honor we can bestow on Him. So let's pull out all of the stops and bless Jesus in a special way today. Who knows? It could be your last opportunity. So take the step of faith to share the gospel with that coworker. Make a big gift to your church or to a missions organization. Dedicate a large chunk of your precious time today to getting alone with God and worshiping Him. Do whatever God leads you to do, whatever is the natural overflow of your heart; but do it extravagantly and do it from love.    

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
Acts 2:24

I go to quite a few funerals. As a minster it's something I've grown used to. But recently, as I sat at the funeral of a dear church member, I realized that I couldn't quite make sense of what I was feeling. I knew it was something that I feel at all funerals, but what was it?

I knew it wasn't hopelessness, because I am convinced that the dead in Christ shall rise (I Thess. 4:16). I know that the Christian hope is to receive a resurrection body like Christ's and to live eternally with Him. So I knew it wasn't hopelessness. Slowly, I realized that what I was feeling was helplessness. I felt powerless in the face of death. 

To me this feeling of powerlessness hangs heavy over funerals. I see it in the eyes of the family members. They would give anything to have their loved one back healthy and happy; but they are powerless before the irrevocable certainty of the death. I feel their pain and want dearly to offer comfort, but I feel helpless to give them what they really want. I can't take the pain away. I can't bring their loved one back. So I mourn with them. I pray for them. And I celebrate the contributions their loved one made to the life of our church. 

I can only imagine that this captures something of what the disciples of Jesus must have felt during the time Jesus was in the tomb. Helpless, powerless, and at that time they probably even felt hopeless. And just as the events of Easter met those disciples right at their place of need; it meets us at ours as well. Easter reminds the believer that death is not the ultimate reality for those who are in Christ Jesus: life is! Though we stand helpless before death, God does not. He has conquered death in Christ, and one day very soon death will be no more. God is not powerless before death. Death has been conquered. It has been swallowed up in victory. 
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"  (1 Corinthians 15:54-55) 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

God wins!

But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women & put them in prison.
Acts 8:3

This sounds terrible right? Previously the book of Acts has told us that the gospel advanced from house to house (Acts 5:42), now persecution does. What’s going on? Is Satan winning? 

We get our answer in the very next verse. "Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went" (Acts 8:4). Satan continues his work, but God has a master plan! We get more details in chapter eleven. "Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus & Antioch, spreading the word... The Lord’s hand was with them, & a great number of people believed & turned to the Lord" (Acts 11:19-21). That’s 300 miles away! God will not be stopped. Whatever He purposes to do, He will do. Even when it looks like the Devil is winning, He isn’t. God is still in control, and God can make the worst things turnaround for His glory and for our good. He even uses the attacks of the enemy to help advance His gospel for His glory! 

The perfect example of this is coming up in just a few weeks: EASTER! When Jesus died on that cross the Devil must have thought for sure he had delivered the decisive blow. Can you imagine how he celebrated? But we know that God had a plan. Jesus was raised from the dead! He conquered the power of sin and Satan. And by His death and resurrection He made it possible for us to join in that victory.

So whatever struggle you are facing, even if it seems like God has forgotten you and the Devil is winning, remember that God wins. Your suffering is not in vain. It serves a purpose, even if you can't see it right now. So continue to trust God, continue to seek Him and know that it will work out in the end; because God wins.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Greatest

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 
Matthew 18:1-4

What makes a person great? How do you measure greatness? Do you need fame? Fortune? Status? Some would say that the key is arrogance. In sports and business people tend to think that self-confidence isn’t enough to be truly great. You need to be a little cocky. You need to have some swagger. You need to believe you are the greatest before you can become the greatest. 

Muhammad Ali certainly believed that. Consider this quote from the man many consider to be the greatest boxer of all time. "I'm not the greatest, I'm the double greatest. Not only do I knock 'em out, I pick the round."

Thankfully God measures greatness differently than our world does. In fact, He turns our concept of greatness on its ear. Jesus says that if you want to be considered truly great by God, then you must humble yourself. In other words, the way up is down. Humble yourself before God and He will make you great.

Jesus gives us a picture of what this looks like, a little child. Specifically, Jesus draws attention to the child’s humble standing. In first century Jewish culture children were the most powerless members of society. They had no status and no power or privileges. They were completely dependent on their parents' love for provision. (Keener, Craig S., The Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament, p.93.) Yet, Jesus says we must become like this if we hope to be saved and if we want to be great by God's measure.

So how do you approach God? Do the words "humble," "dependent" and "powerless" accurately describe your demeanor before the Lord? If not, then you have a pride problem. The Christian philosopher Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “Pride grows in the human heart like lard on a pig.” Pride is a sneaky sin. In my experience the more you think you aren’t proud the more likely it is that you are!

God hates pride! Scripture tells us that He opposes the proud (James 4:6). It says that He pays them back in full (Psalm 31:23). It even says that God detests the proud and ensures they are punished (Proverbs 16:5). So what must we do?

Humble yourself before God. Come to Him seeking forgiveness of your sin. Serve others, especially His church! Jesus said “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Begin obeying His commands. When you read His Word allow it to correct you instead trying to find some error in it. When you pray, seek God's help like a small child would. You should even fast from time-to-time to remind yourself how great your need for God is.

Isaiah 66:2 says, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word." Is this verse doesn't describe your heart today, then humble yourself before the Lord and ask for forgiveness.

For further consideration...

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Prayer Dare

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

The believer being persecuted for her faith stands before her captors with a quiet resolve not to deny her Savior. 

The Christian who just learned his wife wants a divorce finds the strength to look for reconciliation instead of exploding in anger. 

The believing parents who sit by their child's hospital bed are able to bear up under the strain in a way that gives their child hope and strength. 

What single source could make all of this possible? God's peace! His peace is stronger than your worry and it makes no sense from a worldly perspective. It is beyond our comprehension because it is spiritual. This peace is powerful, but you only receive it when you lift your worries up to Him in prayer. 

This is where many of us fail. We lack peace in our hearts because we lack prayer. But why do we lack prayer? Is it because we think prayer is boring? Or because we don't know what to say? Maybe we think prayer just doesn't "work for me."

If you are like me, then you need more peace. That means we desperately need to learn how to lift our requests up to God. So let me introduce you to two approaches that have helped me find joy in prayer.

The first is praying Scripture. If you ever find yourself praying the same things over and over again, or if you just don't know what to say at all, then this method is for you. It's very simple. God's Word is chocked full of prayers and songs designed to help believers pour their heart out to Him. Pick a psalm or some other passage of Scripture and begin reading. As you read, simply let Scripture give you prompts for things to pray about. You will often find that the Bible leads you to pray for things you would have never thought to pray about yourself.

Let me illustrate. I am choosing Psalm 149 at random. As I write this I don't know what that psalm says. Turning to it I read the first verse. "Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people." So I stop to pray the following.
Lord I do praise you. You are good beyond my ability to understand.  I praise You for Your goodness, wisdom, love, power and grace. There is no god like You. You alone are worthy of praise.
All you do is read Scripture and pray about what it brings to mind. When you come to a verse that makes you think of something to pray, then stop and pray about it. When you are done praying for that, simply continue reading until something else jumps out at you. My experiment led me to praise God. That's something I probably wouldn't have prayed on my own. I normally don't get around to praise when I pray, but the Scripture commanded me to praise so I did.

The second approach can help here too. I have been aware of the ACTS prayer method for a long time but have only recently started using it regularly. It has really been a blessing to me. ACTS is an acrostic that stands for Adoration (praise), Confession (repenting of sin), Thanksgiving, and Supplication (making requests). When you pray, simply take a few minutes to focus on each of these four different areas of prayer. Spend several minutes in prayer telling God how great He is and how much you love Him. Then take a few minutes to examine your heart and life. Repent of the sin you find and ask for forgiveness. Thank God for His forgiveness in Christ and then continue on for several minutes thanking Him for any of the other gifts He has poured out on your life. Then take time at the end of your prayer to lift up each of your needs to God and ask for help. Pray over everything that concerns you, all the things that make you worry. Don't be afraid to ask God to meet your needs. He is a God who hears and answers prayer!

Test God in this and see if you are not met by His peace. If you need to, pick one of these methods and set a timer. Commit to spending five or ten minutes in prayer. All of us can spare five or ten minutes. I bet you will find that what you thought would feel like an eternity is not nearly enough time to cover all you want to pray about. And once you have tasted the goodness of God's presence again, you will want to make this a regular part of your daily routine. Try it. I dare you!

*Donald S. Whitney has written a helpful little book called Praying the Bible that is worth the read. You should consider checking it out.