He Allows Nothing to Get in the Way

Have you heard of the 1973 “Good Samaritan Study” done by Darley and Batson? Seminary students were asked to participate in an experiment. The purpose was to test the effect of being in a hurry on a person’s willingness to help someone in obvious need.

What they found was that even young men preparing to be pastors were likely to bypass someone in need if they were in a rush. Some of the hurried students literally stepped over a man who had been positioned slumped in a doorway, moaning and coughing.

There are many beliefs that contribute to our failure to reflect the love of Christ in our lives. The belief that we’re in a hurry is only one of those.

For the Pharisees, it had to do with obeying rules. They believed it was unlawful to heal on the Sabbath.

But for Jesus? No such beliefs deter him from his love. He will never be in too much of a hurry to help us, or heal us. He will never allow man-made rules and laws to get in the way of his love.

That’s because going to work to serve and save you is true rest for Jesus. It’s the best worship there is. That’s what he believes.

That’s what he knows.

“On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, ‘Get up and stand in front of everyone.’ So he got up and stood there.

Then Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?’

He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was completely restored.” (Luke 6:6-10, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, March 25, is Number 19:1 – 21:3, Luke 5:33 – 6:11 and Proverbs 8:1-11.

Jesus, thank you for not allowing anything to get in the way of you showing us your love. As we approach the celebration of Good Friday, there is no greater evidence of your love than what you suffered for us at the cross. Help me to know just how good your love is. Help me to believe that it is equally good to show your love to others, without any false beliefs getting in my way.

Header image based on "Hand" by Peter Zuco, CC By-SA 2.0

What a jar of perfume taught me.

At our church we have quite a few people who regularly come late and miss the music and prayers at the beginning of our service. I get it. Sometimes worship can seem like an extravagance. Why spend time and money on something that seems so, well, unproductive?

After all, didn’t Jesus spend much, if not most, of his time healing, feeding, lifting people up out of their demons — literally and figuratively?

And yet, serving others seems so rawly utilitarian. Or like we’re missing the gospel-mark. Who’s going to tell them about Jesus? Are we really only about making sure that needs are filled and people’s physical cares are taken care of?

“Think about it,” this other view encourages. “Why did Jesus at times leave the people behind (along with all their needs!) and just reconnect with our Heavenly Father? If it’s all about serving, why leave all that human need and just go somewhere to pray and worship?”

Only three days away from being crucified, Jesus was still encountering the passionate feelings this debate can arouse. Apparently unbeknownst to many, the religious leaders were already developing a plot to have him arrested and executed.

Despite (or maybe because of) his time being short, Jesus was doing what he regularly did. He was hanging out with outcast people that few others wanted to be around. On this occasion, he was eating with a leper named Simon. This is what happened next…

“While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.’ And they rebuked her harshly.

‘Leave her alone,’ said Jesus. ‘Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her'” (Mark 14:3-9, NIV).

Jesus’ answer to the “worship or serve conundrum”? Yep, you heard him right.

Sometimes you worship. And sometimes you serve. Both are pleasing to God (“She has done a beautiful thing to me.”). Both accomplish great things (“Wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told…”). Both are perfectly valid expressions of our relationship to Jesus. (Remember these words? They were spoken in Jesus’ final days too: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me'” (Matthew 25:40, NIV).

Hmm. Reminds me of one of my favorite words. Some who were following Jesus didn’t realize that it was one of his favorite words too:

And.

So that’s what I’m reminded of every time I see a bottle of perfume. Worship and serve. Serve and worship.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, March 7, is Leviticus 15:1 – 16:34, Mark 13:32 – 14:16 and Psalm 31:1-8.

Jesus, thank you for worshipping and serving perfectly in my place. Way too often I want to make an “or” out of these two. As you have loved me by worshipping your Heavenly Father, and serving him and me always from your throne of grace, may I respond by moving seamlessly between these two ways of saying “thank you” for all you’ve first done for me!

Header image based on "Alabaster Perfume Jar" by Rytell, CC By 2.0

The One to Focus On

Have you ever suddenly gotten a compulsion to worship someone or something? Maybe you didn’t think of it as worship. But you knew you were drawn to them and admired them–whatever (or whoever) it might be.

Whenever this occurs, we tend to sink ourselves into seeking. Or we invest major time and energy into pursuing. In John’s vision in Revelation, John himself gets a sudden compulsion to fall down at the feet of an angel. Maybe you’ve at some point, literally or figuratively, fallen down at the feet of someone or something.

The angel’s response is instructive. “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you.” To paraphrase, “As amazing as I may seem to you,” the angel tells John, “Jesus is the one to focus on. I’m nothing more than his servant.”

That’s why Jesus is the one we talk about. He is the one we glorify. He is the one we praise and worship. He is the one we testify about and he is the one for whom we bear witness. Everyone and everything else is designed to serve him: “Then I (John) fell down at his feet to worship him (the angel), but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.’ For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10, ESV).

Lord, as the angel reminded John of who is at the center of our worship and our proclamation, please send your Spirit through your word to remind me of the same!

Our reading for Monday, December 29, is Zechariah 10:1 – 12:9, Psalm 149:1-5, Proverbs 30:32-33 and Revelation 19:1-21.

He Alone Is Great

When someone makes a claim that’s going to affect me, I want to know what I’m going to do about that claim. The claims of the Bible are sometimes counterintuitive. But they are the claims of the Bible. It’s important we understand them clearly.

The Bible, for instance, makes some exclusive claims for God, such as in Psalm 148, where we hear the Psalmist say, “For his name alone is exalted.” Some may find a claim like this hard to swallow. But when you think about it, claims like these go along perfectly with other ideas presented in the Bible.

Just one example. One of the most well known words in the Bible are the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2, NIV). If God truly is one-of-a-kind, unique and stand-alone in our universe, isn’t he someone with whom you would want to be acquainted? Isn’t he someone whose friendship you would want to enjoy? And ultimately, if this claim is true, isn’t God someone we would want to worship and praise?

“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens” (Psalm 148:13, NIV).

Lord, send me your Spirit, so that I can understand your claims in the Bible, and know what to do about them.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 28, is Zechariah 7:1 – 9:17, Psalm 148:7-14, Proverbs 30:29-31 and Revelation 18:1-24.