A number of years ago, Carolyn and I visited a small church where during the worship service a woman began to dance in the aisle. She was soon joined by others. Carolyn and I looked at each other and an unspoken agreement passed between us: “Not me!” We come from church traditions that favor a staid liturgy, and this other form of worship was well beyond our comfort zone.
But if Mark’s story of Mary’s “waste” means anything at all, it suggests that our love for Jesus may express itself in ways that others find uncomfortable (Mark 13:1–9). A year’s wages were involved in Mary’s anointing. It was an “unwise” act that invited the disciples’ scorn. The word Mark uses to describe their reaction means “to snort" and suggests disdain and mockery. Mary may have cringed, fearing Jesus’s response. But Jesus commended her for her act of devotion and defended her against His own disciples, for He saw the love that prompted her action despite what some would consider the impractical nature of it. He said, “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me” (v. 6).
Different forms of worship—informal, formal, quiet, exuberant—represent a sincere outpouring of love for Jesus. He is worthy of all worship that comes from a heart of love.
My father and I used to fell trees and cut them to size with a two-man crosscut saw. Being young and energetic, I tried to force the saw into the cut. “Easy does it,” my father would say. “Let the saw do the work.”
I think of Paul's words in Philippians: “It is God who works in you” (2:13). Easy does it. Let Him do the work of changing us.
C. S. Lewis said that growth is much more than reading what Christ said and carrying it out. He explained, “A real Person, Christ, . . . is doing things to you . . . gradually turning you permanently into . . . a new little Christ, a being which . . . shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity.”
God is at that process today. Sit at the feet of Jesus and take in what He has to say. Pray. "Keep yourselves in the love of God" (Jude 20–21), reminding yourself all day long that you are His. Rest in the assurance that He is gradually changing you.
“But shouldn’t we hunger and thirst for righteousness?” you ask. Picture a small child trying to get a gift high on a shelf, his eyes glittering with desire. His father, sensing that desire, brings the gift down to him.
The work is God’s; the joy is ours. Easy does it. We shall get there some day.
One year, when I was in college, I cut, stacked, sold, and delivered firewood. It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done. So I have a good deal of empathy for the hapless logger in the 2 Kings 6 story.
Elisha’s school for prophets had prospered, and their meeting place had become too small. Someone suggested they go into the woods, cut logs, and enlarge their facilities. Elisha agreed and accompanied the workers. Things were going remarkably well until someone’s axhead fell into the water.
Some have suggested that Elisha simply probed in the water with his stick until he located the axhead and dragged it into sight. That would hardly be worth mentioning, however. No, it was a miracle: It was set in motion by God’s hand and began to float so the man could retrieve it.
The simple miracle enshrines a profound truth: God cares about the small stuff of life—lost axheads, lost coins, lost keys, lost files, lost contact lenses, lost phones—the little things that cause us to fret. He doesn’t always restore what was lost, but He understands and comforts us in our distress.
Next to the assurance of our salvation, the assurance of God’s care is essential. Without it we would feel alone in the world, exposed to innumerable worries. It’s good to know He cares, that He is moved by our losses—small as they may be. Our concerns are His concerns.
Several years ago my sons and I spent a few days camping in the Selway–Bitterroot Wilderness in Northern Idaho. It’s grizzly bear habitat, but we carried bear spray, kept our campsites clean, and anticipated no major grizzly encounters.
One evening, in the middle of the night, I heard Randy scramble around trying to get out of his sleeping bag. I grabbed my flashlight and turned it on, expecting to see him in the clutches of an enraged grizzly.
There, sitting upright on its haunches and waving its paws in the air was a field mouse about 4” tall. It had Randy’s cap firmly clenched in its teeth. The little creature had tugged and tugged until he pulled Randy’s cap from his head. As I laughed in relief, the mouse dropped the cap and scampered away. We crawled back into our sleeping bags. I, however, fully adrenalized, couldn’t get back to sleep and began to think about another predator—the devil.
Consider Satan’s temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1–14). He countered his enticements with the Scriptures. With each answer, Jesus reminded Himself that God had spoken on this issue and therefore He would not disobey. This caused the devil to flee.
Although Satan wants to devour us, it’s good to remember that he’s a created being like the little rodent. Jesus, “the one who is in [us,] is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
I’ve acquired a number of old clay pots over the years. My favorite was excavated from a site dated during Abraham’s time (circa fifteenth century BC). It’s at least one item in our home that is older than I! It’s not much to look at: stained, cracked, chipped, and in need of a good scrubbing. It’s very fragile. I keep it to remind me that I’m just a man made out of mud. Though fragile and weak, I carry an immeasurably precious treasure—Jesus. “We have this treasure [Jesus] in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Paul continues: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (vv. 8–9). Hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. These are the pressures the pot must bear. Not crushed. Not in despair. Not abandoned. Not destroyed. These are the effects of the counteracting strength of Jesus in us.
“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus” (v. 10). This is the attitude that characterized Jesus who died to Himself every day. And this is the attitude that can characterize us—a willingness to die to self-effort, trusting solely in the sufficiency of the One who lives in us.
“So that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our mortal body” (v. 10). This is the outcome: the beauty of Jesus made visible in an old clay pot.
There’s a natural spring that rises on the east side of the city of Jerusalem. In ancient times it was the city’s only water supply and was located outside the walls. Thus it was the point of Jerusalem’s greatest vulnerability. The exposed spring meant that the city, otherwise impenetrable, could be forced to surrender if an attacker were to divert or dam the spring.
King Hezekiah addressed this weakness by driving a tunnel through 1,750 feet of solid rock from the spring into the city where it flowed into the “Lower Pool" (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:2–4). But in all of this, Hezekiah "did not look to him who did it, or see him who planned it long ago” (Isaiah 22:11). Planned what?
God Himself "planned" the city of Jerusalem in such a way that its water supply was unprotected. The spring outside the wall was a constant reminder that the inhabitants of the city must depend solely on Him for their salvation.
Can it be that our deficiencies exist for our good? Indeed, the apostle Paul said that he “gloried” in his limitations, because it was through weakness that the beauty and power of Jesus was seen in him (2 Corinthians 12:9–10). Can we then regard each limitation as a gift that reveals God as our strength?
Folks ask me if I have a five-year plan. How can I plan five years “down the road” on a road I’ve never traveled?
I think back to the 1960s when I was a minister to students at Stanford University. I had been a physical education major in college and had a lot of fun, but I left no record of being a scholar. I felt wholly inadequate in my new position. What was I to do? Most days I wandered around the campus, a blind man groping in the darkness, asking God to show me what to do. One day a student "out of the blue" asked me to lead a Bible study in his fraternity. It was a beginning.
God doesn’t stand at a juncture and point the way: He’s a guide, not a signpost. He walks with us, leading us down paths we never envisioned. All we have to do is walk alongside Him.
The path won’t be easy; there’ll be “rough places" along the way. But God has promised that He will “turn the darkness into light” and “will not forsake” us (Isaiah 42:16). He’ll be with us all the way.
Paul said that God is "able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). We can scheme and envision, but our Lord’s imagination far transcends our plans. We must then hold them loosely and see what God has in mind.
Years ago, when I was learning to ski, I followed my son Josh down what appeared to be a gentle slope. With my eyes on him I failed to notice he turned down the steepest hill on the mountain, and I found myself careening down the slope, completely out of control. I cratered, of course.
Psalm 141 addresses a similar deceit by which we find ourselves slipping down sin’s slope. Prayer is one of the ways we stay alert to those slopes: “Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil” (141:4) is a plea that echoes the Lord’s prayer almost exactly: “Lead [me] not into temptation, but deliver [me] from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). In His goodness, God hears and answers this prayer.
And then I find in this psalm another agent of grace: a faithful friend. “Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it” (Psalm 141:5). Temptations are subtle. We’re not always aware that we’re going wrong. A true friend can be objective. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6). It's hard to accept reproof, but if we see the wounding as a “kindness” it can become an anointing that puts us back on the path of obedience.
May we be open to rebuke from a trusted friend and rely on God through prayer.
A young boy came home from church and announced with great delight that the lesson had been about a boy who “loafed and fished all day.” He, of course, was thinking of the little boy who offered his loaves and fish to Jesus.
Jesus had been teaching the crowds all day, and the disciples suggested He send them into the village to buy bread. Jesus replied, “You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16). The disciples were flummoxed for there were more than 5,000 to be fed!
You may know the rest of the story: a boy gave his lunch—five small loaves of bread and two fish—and with it Jesus fed the crowd (vv. 13-21). One school of thought contends that the boy’s generosity simply moved others in the crowd to share their lunches, but Matthew clearly intends us to understand that this was a miracle, and the story appears in all four Gospels.
What can we learn? Family, neighbors, friends, colleagues, and others stand around us in various degrees of need. Should we send them away to those who are more capable than we are? Certainly some people’s needs exceed our ability to help them, but not always. Whatever you have—a hug, a kind word, a listening ear, a brief prayer, some wisdom you’ve gathered. Give it to Jesus and see what He can do.