Reverence Exemplified

Further reflection on reverence from Pastor Andrew:

If you were in church Sunday, or listened to the podcast on the church’s website, you heard me preach about reverence. There aren’t a lot of reverent things or places in our world today. Baseball fans may feel a sense of reverence if they visit the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, OH. A veteran may feel reverent standing before the Vietnam Memorial or while visiting Arlington National Cemetery. Reverence is a feeling or attitude of profound respect, and few things in life provoke that feeling.

In John 12:1-10, we see Mary—sister of the ever-busy Martha and recently-dead Lazarus—at Jesus’ feet, wiping his feet with her hair and anointing them with an extremely expensive perfume. The gesture is strange, to say the least, but Mary’s actions flow from a deep reverence for Jesus as her Lord and her Savior. Nothing was too costly, too precious, or too dear to sacrifice for Jesus.

The perfume, pure nard, was worth about a year’s wages. Can you imagine giving someone a gift of $50k or more that isn’t family? These are Jesus’ friends, to be certain, and Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Perhaps the family felt indebted. Wouldn’t you? Had it been a simple matter of paying Jesus back for the miracle He had performed, giving the perfume would seem wiser; instead it is poured out on His feet. Jesus is being honored in life as a precursor to His death. Even though Mary could not have known that in a short time Jesus would be nailed to a cross, she understood that Jesus was worthy of honor and praise.

The only person to object in Luke’s account is Judas Iscariot whom hoped to get his hands on whatever might end up in the disciples’ collective purse. Surely the perfume could have been sold to benefit the poor (or sticky-fingered ne’er-do-wells), but nothing is nobler than honoring Christ.. His incarnation was for a limited time, and Mary chose correctly to focus on Him while He was still present in the flesh.

Most people don’t get honored in life; they are honored after they have died. Epitaphs and eulogies tell the tale of a past life, but Jesus was being honored pre-mortem. Her actions are a foreshadow of the week to come where Jesus will go from King to criminal, hanging between two thieves. This He does willingly in order to carry our sins—the sins of the world—and free of us of them. Mary was willing to put all pride and convention aside to worship and bestow reverence on her King, even offering up what was likely their prized possession. What are you willing to give up? We often forget what Jesus has done for us, even though we celebrate Easter every year, beginning with Lent and through Holy Week. All our focus is on the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in whom we place our faith, hope, and love. Should we not revere Him?

Lenten Fasting: A Sacrifice of Love

The first time I experienced the Lenten season in church was my senior year in high school. I was attending an Episcopal church with a teacher who was also a friend and surrogate mother to me during a very difficult time at home. As I sat in my first “high church” service, I watched in wonder as the minister and various church officials and young people, all dressed in rather drab robes, carried in wooden crosses and candles while the entire congregation sang a solemn dirge in a minor key. Having no other reference point, I accepted this as normal.

For several weeks, I attended church with my mentor, enjoying the ritual and predictability of each service: at the beginning, we stood and sang melancholy hymns while the entourage carried in the decoration for the altar.  On Easter, however, everything I thought I knew to expect was turned upside down.

When the service was about to begin, there was a hushed excitement that I could almost feel. The room was brighter, and I realized for the first time that we had not had the fullness of the lights on in previous weeks. The real shock was when service began and the music started. The huge pipe organ in the loft which had emanated its sober notes in the previous weeks, now threatened to pierce my eardrums with its bright, glorious high notes and major key. The melody we sang was joyful and bouncey. The most dramatic change, however, was the visual feast of the minister and the procession of the crosses. They were beautifully robed in bright white and stunning purple. The wooden crosses were replaced with gleaming brass crosses. The candlesticks held high were also brass and glinted in the bright light of the sun through the stained glass windows. It was stunning. It was the most memorable church service because it was so markedly different from everything I had seen previously.

The splendor of the music and colors and light were magnified due to their absence during Lent. Looking back on that experience, I found a firm understanding of the reason we fast during Lent. When we give something up for the purpose of drawing attention to our Lord’s death and resurrection, it makes Easter an even more profound celebration. Of course, fasting meat, or one meal per day, or Facebook, the internet or TV, for that matter, do not make Jesus’ sacrifice any more or less significant. But what fasting does is provide us a way to put aside something that we consider important in our lives, for the glory of God. The purpose of fasting is to spend the time or money we would normally invest in that sacrificed thing (a meal, time on the internet, money spent on lattes at Starbucks) and invest it in God instead.

Andrew and I have fasted various things over the years. One year, we introduced a rolling fast to our youth group.  One week we all fasted sweets, the next week, we all fasted non-worship music, another week, we fasted TV, etc. That was fun for the teens, and it also made the fast something that we did together, with accountability and peer support, so it was good for that age group.

Last year, I fasted Facebook, which was a challenge since I use it multiple times each day.  This year, Andrew and I are fasting television.  Starting on Ash Wednesday (Feb 13), the TV in the Marshall house will be off until Easter. During that time, we will spend evenings together as we did the last time we fasted television, a number of years ago. It’s a major commitment for us, because we typically have the television on most of the evening.  The goal is not just to substitute other meaningless time-sucking activities for the TV; rather, the goal is to invest our time in things that bring glory to God. When we invest in our marriage, in family, in friends, in reading the Bible, theological books, listening to music, and in taking care of ourselves emotionally, we are bringing glory to God. It draws us nearer to him and allows us to hear his voice, recognize his leading, and be sensitive to his presence in a new way.

The sacrifice of fasting during Lent is meant to be done in love. It is designed to be a way to draw near to God – set apart for him in our otherwise busy lives in a new and fresh way for this season. Giving up something for Lent is like taking out all brass crosses and bright colors and replacing them with wood and drab clothes for 40 days. That way, when the Easter service comes, the joyful music, and the glorious, shining message of Christ’s resurrection, will be more vibrant and meaningful than otherwise possible.

For an interesting history on the practice of fasting during the 40 days leading up to Easter, visit this website.

 

Advent Week 1

It All Started with Adam and Eve

God is all knowing. That being the case, we must take into account the fact that he knew sin would enter the world through his most loved creature, the human being. How marvelous that before God made man, he was already setting into motion the plan of salvation for the world. But it might cause us to wonder, “If God knew that Adam and Eve would sin, why did he create them with that ability? Why didn’t he create them with a perfect, pure heart that only desired holiness and worship of God?”

Nature of Children

Let’s consider a child. I would guess that many a perplexed parent has wished that they had a toddler who would behave: not throw tantrums, not bite another child, not say, “no!”, and not run away laughing in a mall full of people. I know exasperated parents raising a teenager who at one time or another wished that their teen would just do what she is supposed to do, be where she says she is going to be, and that she would obediently submit to her parents’ expectations. But even the most taxed parents, would not trade the child with his or her own mind for one without the ability to disobey.

A child who is 100% obedient, who never questions your authority, who is endlessly loving and submissive sounds a lot like a programmed toy. If you ever saw the movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, where the little robot boy imprinted on the mother and was the perfect child, catering to her heart’s longing for a child, that’s what I imagine such a child would be like.  The important difference is that the robot child is not perfectly obedient because he loves the mother, he is perfectly obedient because he is programmed to be that way. It is not a choice, it is a preprogrammed response.

Love’s Nature

What, then, is the nature of love? Anyone who has been in love understands that love cannot be forced.  Love that is not given freely is not love. Generally, obedience that is not motivated from love is coerced by fear of consequences.

God created us with the ability to turn away from him because he created us to love him; to be in relationship with him. Love was at the core of our bond with the Father from Adam’s first breath. That love-motivated obedience and devotion is evidenced for us in the life of Jesus. It was not out of compulsion that he obediently came to this earth, nor was he compelled out of fear to submit to death on the cross – the actions Jesus took were entirely, purely, wholly done in love.

Our obedience to one whose love for us is so profound that he is willing to die in order to free us from ourselves, and draw us into this embrace and call us sons and daughters, is obedience that can easily be done in love. It is love that draws us to Christ, love that calls out to us while we were enemies of God, it is love that provided a means for reconciliation, and it is love that died so that we could live.

A Plan from the Start

God put the Advent in motion from creation – the plan was always to send the Son to be a reconciler of humanity to himself. Throughout history, as documented time after time in the Old Testament and affirmed by Jesus, God was laying out the framework of his plan so that when Messiah arrived, we would be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together and understand the beautiful picture it formed. From imagery of the temple, the priesthood, the sacrificial lamb, and the prophecies about the coming Savior, to God’s faithfulness to the unfaithful throughout the ages, we have been provided the evidence of God’s plan being set out from the beginning.

Read Isaiah 44-45. God is imploring his people to return to him. He is presenting arguments on his behalf about the love he has always intended for them to know if they will only follow him. They have been seeking after other nations and idols and worshiping false gods in hope of salvation. God is reminding them that their only hope is in him.

Read Isaiah 61 God goes on to proclaim to Israel how great their lives can be if they will only trust in the one true God.

Advent Meditation – Love is the Key

Despite his faithfulness and his unfailing love for them, the people would not remain faithful to God. The need for a Savior was only illustrated more clearly by fickle human affections, and recurring patterns of sin.

As we prepare for Advent, think of the picture of God that we have in these passages. He demonstrates that he is a God who desires our affection and wants to shower blessing on us. However, we often get in the way of the blessings by our disobedience. Consider the love given freely to us from the Creator of all things, and think of how you might increase your love for him this season.

  1. How has God demonstrated his faithfulness in your life? Can you think of times and places when he has provided for you in times of emotional, physical, or spiritual need?
  2. As you read the passages in Isaiah, do you see consistencies with the promises of Jesus in the Gospels?
  3. In what ways have you struggled (or do you struggle) with your obedience to God?
  4. Do you get stuck holding onto parts of your life that you either don’t trust him with or don’t want to let go of?
  5. What would it take for you to stop fighting God, or stop trying to rely on yourself, and instead simply love him fully?
  6. Take time and pray each day this week
    •  That God would help you to lay aside all that hinders you from loving him fully and giving yourself completely.
    • Acknowledge the sins, lack of trust, fear, anger, or anything else that you know gets in your way.
    • Ask God to show you other things that are barriers between you and him.

Finally, rest in God. Rest in his loving arms, and experience the peace that he offers in his perfect love.

Good Friday Observance

Good Friday is the Church’s observance of  the day Jesus was tried, tortured, convicted, crucified and buried. “Good” seems to be a misnomer when you know what the day represents in the physical life of our Savior. However, without his death, there would be no resurrection. Without his death and resurrection, we would not experience salvation. In that way, Good Friday is truly good—it is a day that profoundly humbles us, but it is a day that leaves us hanging on to the hope we hold for Sunday, when that dreaded stone is rolled away!

We take time out to observe the horrors Jesus experienced for us on Good Friday, maintaining a somber attitude of repentance. This service is most the similar to a funeral of any service in the Church year. We cover the symbols of our faith in black shrouds of mourning. The music is music of repentance and awareness of the levity of Christ’s sacrifice for us. The tone is mournful as we recount the humiliation, torture, mocking, scorn, and death of the Lamb of God. The One who was wholly without sin bore the weight of the sins of each sinner. The weight was excruciatingly painful, but it was borne willingly out of love.

Christ suffered and died for you. For you. He knows your name. He knows your heart. He knows your sins. He knows your failures. He knows every fear you have. He counts every tear. He hears you when you call out to him.  He loves you.  His suffering was because of his love for you. He suffered in your stead. He took the weight of your sins on himself, and paid the price you owed to God. In return, he only asks that you love him back, giving your life to him because of that love. Paul writes that we are all slaves to Christ because Christ bought us at a very high price. And so he did.  But your Savior leaves you free to choose to love him fully or to mock and spit on his love, much like the soldiers mocked and spit on him physically.  In  observance of Christ’s suffering for you, will you come before him fully  and humbly embracing his gift in a new, fresh way?