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:


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

Echoes of Grace

I love to hike. And here in Arizona we have a lot of canyons where a person can travel up a stream. There’s just something about water and trees in a desert.

But the other thing I love about canyons is the way the sound moves through them — the sound of birds singing, the rush of the wind, the bubbling of the creek.

And the echo of my voice. I almost always give a couple shouts in the canyon, just to hear what it sounds like for the sound of my own voice to bounce back at me from the canyon walls.

(I know. One of you is surely going to say, “I always knew Jeff loved the sound of his own voice!”)

What got me to thinking about echoes today was this verse: Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28, NIV).

As Christians, our call to greatness is a call to serve and sacrifice self, Jesus tells us. And then he goes on to tell us something critically important. Our service is really nothing more than an echo of Jesus’ service toward us.

Jesus gave his life for me, so I will — as I’m energized by his grace and self-sacrifice — become the servant he calls me to be. It’s as if the voice of Jesus bounces of the walls of our hearts to resound into the hearts of others.

Love begets love. Service inspires service. Self-sacrifice arouses self-sacrifice.

Jesus first. Us second, as echoes of his grace.

Lord, may I always echo your gracious “first-love” for me. I desire to serve you and my neighbor. I cannot do this on my own. So, may your heart of love, service and sacrifice simply echo through me to others, and bring all the glory to you!

Our Bible reading for Friday, January 30, is Job 15:1 – 18:21, Matthew 20:20-34 and Psalm 17:13-15.

Header image based on "Verde Canyon Railroad" by sfbaywalk, 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.