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?

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.

Obedience – a natural response to sacrificial love

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is the one that talks about wives obeying their husbands in Ephesians 5. In my single days such an ordinance was offensive to my very independent ears. “Me, obey a man! Yeah, right!” It made me LOL before “LOL” was even a thing. However, in the beautiful context this passage is written, I understand the depth of meaning behind it. I am to submit to my husband the way the Church submits to Jesus. In the same breath, my husband is to sacrifice himself for me the way Jesus sacrificed himself for the Church. It’s a circle of loving submission:  Jesus for the Church, the Church to Jesus // Andrew for me, me to Andrew.

Obedience is quite simple when we are asked to obey someone who loves us beyond measure, and when that person has sacrificed everything for us. For example, submitting to Andrew is simple for me, because he almost always has my best life in mind when he makes decisions. His decisions are rarely selfish; they are intended to lift me up and keep me from harm. In turn, if he ever asks anything of me, his love for me assures me that obedience is safe and for my best life. Andrew’s love is great, but it’s not comparable to Christ’s love for me.

When Christ asks us for obedience, his expectation always comes from a depth of love that is incomprehensible. Sometimes it is hard to trust that obedience to God’s commands is the best choice, especially when our selfishness and brokenness want so desperately to make the decisions for us. But what we are quick to dismiss is how it is always disobedience to God that gets us into trouble, and that we cry to him when we suffer the natural consequences for the poor choices we made that were in clear defiance of his commands. When we disobey, we are effectively telling God, “I know what you say, but I don’t care, I know what is best for me.”

All of God’s commands are in place for our good, for our protection, for our ability to live our best lives—they are given out of sacrificial love. Maybe if remember that our obedience is to the One who loves us more than we love ourselves, it will help us keep obedience in perspective!

Love is Sacrifice

“If what we call love doesn’t take us beyond ourselves, it is not really love. If we have the idea that love is characterized as cautious, wise, sensible, shrewd, and never taken to extremes, we have missed the true meaning. This may describe affection, and it may bring us a warm feeling, but it is not a true and accurate description of love.”

                                                                                                     My Utmost for His Highest—Oswald Chambers

 There have been so many accounts of great, sacrificial love in mythology, timeless novels, poems, and songs. They depict the love of one person for another in such a way that our hearts are drawn to it, broken by it, inspired by it. Nothing compares, though, to the Love that hung the stars, and the Love that breathed life into each of us, the Love that hung on a tree to reconcile us to Righteousness. It is that Love that inspires us to sacrifice ourselves—our selfish desires, our faithless fears, our loveless hearts. It is that Love that draws us out of ourselves and makes us better than we can be on our own, it causes us to love dangerously, to love fully, to love sacrificially. To give ourselves away.

A few of my favorite song lyrics on love:

If it doesn’t break your heart it isn’t love, no if it doesn’t break your heart, it’s not enough. It’s when you’re breaking down with your insides coming out; that’s when you find out what your heart is made of.   Yet—Switchfoot

This foolishness can leave the heart black and blue. Only love, only love, can leave such a mark. But only love, only Love, can heal such a scar.  Magnificent—U2.

Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free to be more like the man you were made to be.  Sigh No More – Mumford & Sons.