Isolation

Although there are many other examples in Scripture of those who knew social distancing and isolation, the final individual to merit our attention is the Apostle John. Like some who are reading this (not all, of course), he was an aged person. He was on Patmos, a rock strew island off the coast of modern-day Turkey. It is only about 7 miles by 4 miles, so not a lot of hiking to do, and at age 90, not a lot of stamina to do it.

He was there because of being a Christian. No other accusation was leveled against him, but being a Christian was enough to get you banished and to experience some significant social distancing.

John, however, was “in the Spirit” on the Lord’s day. I do not think that initially, this meant any ecstatic experience or some special level of spiritual attainment. Likely, it simply means that instead of engaging in a day of self-pity and despondency, he was determined to enjoy his spiritual blessings.

We are not told how long John was on Patmos before we are brought to the events of Revelation 1. He may well have spent many lonely and monotonous days on the island, watching the sunrise from one side of the island and then the setting sun on the western side. Days came and went with little to distinguish them apart from changes in the weather. His real interest, however, was not in the weather or the scenery (or lack of it). He was “in the Spirit,” communing with His Savior, even on Patmos.

And then, a day like no other occurred as suddenly he heard a voice behind him, and, as has been said, you know the rest of the story. The man who had known the closest physical and perhaps emotional relationship with the Lord, resting on His breast at the supper (John 13), now falls at His feet. To the exiled apostle is now granted a “revelation” of Christ which overwhelmed his soul, thrilled his heart, and filled his mind.

Exegetes may draw many wondrous truths from Revelation, theologians may argue over many points, prophetic teachers (and modern-day prophets) may opine on future events and the calendar of God, but the lessons we can draw are quite simple and on the surface.

Circumstances cannot hinder our enjoyment of Christ:

A barren island, harsh conditions, lack of social contact, and fellowship with other believers, even the advancing of age cannot hinder “being in the Spirit.” It is a choice I make. Do I want to bemoan my circumstances, wallow in my perceived deserved self-pity, rail against the events that have transpired? Or would I rather find enjoyment in fellowship with the Savior? You and I have a whole Savior to ourselves to enjoy.

Circumstances may afford a fresh revelation of Christ:

None of us will get the magnitude nor the majesty of the revelation which John received. God is not asking any of us to write a Revelation of future events. The circumstances in which John found himself, did lead to a knowledge of Christ he did not have prior to this. If you had asked any of the disciples which of them knew Christ the best, they might, in a moment of rare humility, have motioned to John. Yet, John had so much more to learn. Had we been able to interview John, it is likely would have said something to the effect of, “I never knew He was so majestic,” or, “I can’t believe that the One Who is so great allowed me so near.” Glory and grace would have cowed him in wonder and worship.

To my shame, I have to confess I have not had a fresh revelation of Christ through the pandemic. We might enjoy Christ, but have I learned anything new of His infinite person?

Circumstances cannot hinder usefulness for Christ:

When the Roman emperor banished John to Patmos, he did so with the certainty that he was limiting the influence of this aged patriarch on the upstart movement of Christianity which was seen as disloyal to the Caesar-cult. The island would serve as an effective end to John’s service.

God had other plans. Nothing and no one, including the Caesars of that day and of any day, can hinder God’s purposes and work. No one can limit the usefulness of a vessel for which God has purposes and plans. The form of John’s service may change, but his usefulness will only increase. He had written three epistles for believers; he had already penned a Gospel account for his generation of both unbelieving Jews and believers (still enjoyed by us today). Now God would entrust him with penning a volume, not only for seven assemblies in Asia, but for all believers down through the centuries. His usefulness was not only intact but expanded.

May we learn to be “in the Spirit,” look for fresh unfolding of His person, and seek for avenues of usefulness whatever circumstances the Lord may allow in our lives.

Quarantine (Part 2)

She might well have been the originator of “social distancing.” She did not call it that; but when she plotted against Joseph and he was consigned to the prison house, it was intended to be the end of him. This was no cushy federal prison. There were no jailhouse lawyers to work on appeals or the overthrow of sentences on technicalities. There was no prison yard for camaraderie and small talk. Joseph was as good as forgotten when he entered the prison. In normal circumstances, he would have been thrown into something which served as a cell and lived out his days in true distance from society of any kind. We know that God overruled, even in the prison. In God’s providence, he was elevated to responsibility and oversight even within the prison, and ultimately to the house of the Pharaoh. But there were long days before that occurred.

The story of the dreams of the butler and baker are well known. The butler left the prison house with the request of Joseph fresh in his mind: “Think on me when it shall be well with thee” (Gen 40:14). The sad commentary of the inspired writer, however, jolts us back to reality. “Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him” (v 22).

Two full years of days passed with only silence, fading hopes, and “social distancing.” We are not given any insight into Joseph’s reaction during those years. It is only normal that he would have expected to hear footsteps running down the corridor, a key turning the door, and a welcoming smile to greet him with the prospect of liberty. But each day passed as the one before. Monotony ensued; hopes faded; the reality of his isolation enveloped him as a heavy fog descends on the city. Did he forget the day of the week? The month? If there was no sunlight into the prison house, he may not have even known day from night. We are told in the Psalms that, they hurt his feet “with fetters: he was laid in iron” or, more literally, “the iron entered into his soul” (Ps 105:18) He knew suffering and sorrow. 

Yet, we never read of

Frustration

As day after day lengthened and morphed into weeks and months, we could well expect groans of frustration and impatience to have filled the prison cell housing Joseph. We hear nothing of that. They were days of formation and not of frustration. In isolation, God was forming the vessel which was to be a blessing, not only to his family, not even just to Egypt, but to the entire region. Genesis began with a man, Adam, who was to be a blessing to the world; he failed. Genesis will conclude with a man who is a blessing to “all the countries (that) came into Egypt to Joseph to buy corn” (Gen 41:57). God was using the isolation to form the man who would fulfill His purpose and be a small glimpse of a Greater One to come.

Fuming

Even though the psalm refers to the iron entering into his soul, it had a remarkable effect. Rather than hardening, it softened. Here was a man, who would display nothing of vengeance or spite when the opportunity came. He was marked by a gentleness and grace, a majesty blended and balanced by mercy. His time of isolation produced a man who valued time and the opportunity to do good and to be a blessing to others. Will our period of isolation have a similar influence upon us?

Fretting

There is nothing in Joseph’s composure or behavior when he stood before Pharaoh to suggest that he was a man desperate to enjoy freedom, to burst loose from the chains which he had worn. There is a holy calm and peace which seems to emanate from him as he stands before the mighty monarch. He is the man in control of the moment, in touch with the God of heaven. He has been kept in “perfect peace,” dependent on his God for the fulfillment of His promise.

If I am fretting under the imposed restrictions, the social distance demanded, the limitations imposed, I am falling short of confidence in God and contentment with God amidst my circumstances.

Failure

There is no stain attached to Joseph in any of the houses which he inhabited: his father’s house, Potiphar’s, the prison, or Pharaoh’s. It appears that there were two things which sustained and preserved him: the remembrance of God’s promise in his dreams, and the reframing of all his circumstances. God had promised eventual blessing and honor. In the dignity of that promise, Joseph endured his isolation. But he, in turn, as a result of that Word from God, was able to reframe his circumstances and to refocus on his God: “Ye thought evil, against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 50:20.

We have the assurance from God’s Word that all will be well. Can we, in turn, use it to reframe our isolation, social distancing, and inconveniences, and to refocus on how we can be a blessing to others both now, and in the future?

Quarantine

With the aid of only a little imagination, you can quickly think of a number of Bible characters who knew something of isolation, real “social distancing,” in their experiences. Isolation, loneliness, monotony, and boredom likely crept into all their hearts. And they had no internet, twitter, Instagram, or face time. The only thing they knew about Zoom is that it was the opposite of the way time was moving.

Noah knew isolation. He was, of course, with his family. I think I hear someone say, “So what!” Being together with wife, three sons, and their wives may have its own inherent trial, but we will not go there. Like many of us, he was quarantined with his family. How long did his enforced “social distancing” last? He was in the ark for a full year (Solar year, not lunar). You may not have thought about it, but while in the ark, he faced:

An Undisclosed Time Frame

When Noah entered the ark, he was obeying God. But he entered with no promise as to when he would exit. He labored for perhaps 100 years to build the ark according to the pattern. When it was finished, God instructed him and his family to enter. He walked into the ark not having any idea when he was going to exit.

In a similar manner, we are going through a time of social distancing, isolation, and sheltering in place; we are going through this time with no precise date on the calendar to circle, no firm prospect as to when it will end. Like those described in Zechariah 9:12, we are “prisoners of hope.” We listen eagerly to any hint of restrictions being lifted, of liberties being restored. We wait (impatiently) for news of stores reopening, barber shops (a real emergency here) cutting hair once again. All of this is without a firm date.

An Uncertain Future

Have you ever thought that Noah had no idea what to expect when he finally would exit from the ark? He knew that God was going to destroy everything that had breath. But what of the earth itself? Would he recognize anything? Would everything be changed and foreign to him?

If you listen to the “experts,” they are telling us that every-day life will never be the same. The work office will change, social life will be different, even sport’s venues will have to alter in many ways. I suspect that the experts do not know how quickly we fall back into patterns of behavior developed over decades. But that is not the point. Noah did not know what to expect; we do not know totally what to expect. We do expect masks and six-feet rules to be in effect for a period of time. But what about school, meeting together as believers (can we sing with face masks on?), shopping, and the myriad of other things which constitute normal life?

An Unfailing Faithfulness

While there were many things that Noah did not know, what he did know was enough to carry him through the flood. He knew he had a faithful God. The God Who had instructed him to build an ark could be depended upon to see to his welfare. God had promised to confirm a covenant with Noah before he went into the ark (Gen 6:18). Noah had God’s word for an eventual safe exit and future covenant. He may not have known all the details ahead of time, but he knew His God, and he knew He was faithful to His word. If He acted in keeping with his promise to send the flood, He could be depended upon for the future.

We have a God upon Whom we can depend. He does not tell us all the details. He has not told any of us when all this pandemic will end. He has not told us how different the future will be. But He has told us that He will never leave us nor forsake us. As a result, we may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper” (Heb 13:6).

As we face an unprecedented challenge to our mental sanity and spiritual balance, may we rest in the absolute confidence of the faithfulness of God. Eventually, we will be able to meet together and remember the Lord. We will meet to offer worship, pray, and enjoy the Word of God. The one negative feature is you will no longer be able to wear your pajamas to meeting.

Deliverer, Delivered, to Deliver

Jesus the Deliverer – In type and prophecy 

I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey – Exodus 3.8

Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. – Exodus 6.6

And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from

Jacob” – Romans 11.26  

Jesus Delivered

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men – Matthew 17.22 

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” – Matthew 20.18 

“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” – Matthew 26.2

“What will you give me [Judas] if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. – Matthew 26.15

And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor. – Matthew 27.2

They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” – John 18.30

For he [Pilate] knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. –Matthew 27.18 

He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will. – Luke 23.25

Then he [Pilate] released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. – Matthew 27.26

The Anointed to His God 

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of mysalvation, my stronghold. – Psalms 18.2

In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.  But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”  Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. – Psalms 22.4-10

Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! – Psalms 22.20

Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. – Psalms 69.14

The Plan and the Purpose 

This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.– Acts 2.23

That is why his faith [Abraham’s] was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. – Romans 4.22-25

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.  – Galatians 1.3-5 

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.– Hebrews 2.14-17

Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  – Colossians 1.12-14 

How you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. – 1 Thessalonians 1.9-10

For His Disciples 

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.  When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.  For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. – Matthew 10.16-22 

And [Agabus] coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” –Acts 21.11 

After three days he [Paul] called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. – Acts 28.17 

He [God] delivered us [Paul] from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. – 2 Corinthians 1.10

The God of All Comfort

God and His Monopoly

The God of ALL Comfort (2 Cor 1:3)

God not only has a monopoly on all grace and all flesh, but He monopolized the market as well on comfort. The only place to find real comfort is in Him. It is not in your bank statement or retirement account; it cannot be found in listening to the news or in checking the latest predictions of re-openings. Comfort may be received from a spouse or from the fellowship, however limited, or other believers via Zoom or similar platforms. They are the penultimate sources. But genuine comfort is ultimately from the Lord. Paul explained in this passage that God comforts us so that we can comfort others.

Someone, however, is probably thinking, “This God of all comfort is making us very uncomfortable for the last 7 weeks or more.” It may seem like a paradox, but the God of all comfort does, at times, disturb our comfort levels. We have not only been made uncomfortable, but the inconvenience and change to our lives have also been egregious to us all.

If you are on your own, without the God of ALL comfort, your reaction might be similar to this author: “We find ourselves condemned to the frightening task of merely existing. We live with the vertiginous proximity of a sterile reclusion and a voracious death that every day devours more victims. We oscillate between being carefree and panicking, feeling guilty for being healthy, and at home while around us the sick are succumbing as the reaper does his grim work. Each of our days is a colossal encyclopedia of nothingness, with the certainty that taking a shower, making a meal, getting some exercise, moving our armchair, or calling some friends to reassure them will constitute the only significant events.” Quite a mouthful!

There is a picture in the Old Testament which might help us in this regard. “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings …” (Deut 32:11). The picture is an eagle who is forcing the young eaglets from the nest to spread their wings and learn to fly. But the wonderful assurance is that she will bear them or catch them on her wings when they need the support.

Most of us have been forced from our normal routine of life. From unemployment and a recognition of how quickly material prosperity can evaporate, to a recognition of the frailty of life, to the absence of in- person Christian fellowship, our little worlds have been rocked. We feel as though we have been forcibly ejected from the nest and keep waiting for the wings to catch us and bear us back to the nest.

We look for comforts; we have tried “on-line church,” and although helpful, most of us would rank it as a poor second choice. Something tells us that perhaps this is a way in which God can speak to souls about eternal issues, yet we find ourselves having to keep six feet away and not have personal close interaction with others and, of course, no gospel meetings. We wonder what “wings” we are supposed to grow and where we are “to fly.” We are looking for the comforts we are supposed to find. The Psalmist could say, “In the multitude of my thoughts within me Thy comforts delight my soul” (Ps 94:19).

It may be that we are looking in the wrong place for comfort from God. Most of us are looking for circumstances to change. We are each waiting for the governor of our state or the premier of our province to issue a “re-opening” plan. We are watching for the economy to rebound and for jobs to reopen. As helpful as all this might be, our comfort does not lie in circumstances, masks, gloves, PPE, social distancing, or even in the future vaccine. All those are wonderful and looked-for in time, but it is, like the Psalmist said, our thoughts of God which will comfort. He is still in control. He is the same from eternity past: full of compassion, merciful, gracious, good (Ex 34:6, 7). We have the assurance that “He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: He that keepeth thee will not slumber” (Ps 121:3). He knows how frail we are and will test us to our limits, but never beyond.

So, keep listening for the re-opening announcements, keep waiting for your relief check to arrive (don’t spend it all at once), but allow the thoughts of Who God is to be your great and ultimate comfort.

God and His Monopoly

Talk about a strange set of circumstances! Jeremiah is in prison. The enemy, the Chaldeans, are invading the land and have already captured Jeremiah’s hometown. Then God tells him that his cousin is going to come and ask him to redeem, buy, his field in Jeremiah’s hometown. The land had already been lost to the invading army and Hanameel, his cousin, is trying to get Jeremiah to redeem it from him. And to add to that, the Lord tells him to purchase it! You would think that if you could get a man to do that, you could sell him a nice little farm in Antarctica!

But God had said, “Buy it,” and Jeremiah obeys as he always did, purchases the field, gives the deed to his servant Baruch, and charges him to put it in a safe place. He does so, with the promise that day is coming when “fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land” (Jer 32:15).

Having dutifully complied with the instructions of God, Jeremiah now becomes a man with whom we can identify more readily as he struggles with why God asked him to purchase a field that was in the hands of the enemy. Jeremiah 32:17-25 is his plaintive prayer to God which can be summarized with one word: “Why?”

In typical grace, God answered His confused prophet. In His response, God describes Himself as the “God of ALL flesh” (v 27). Immediately upon revealing Himself in that manner, God added, “Is there anything too hard for Me?” God has a monopoly on humanity in the sense that He has not abdicated control of the universe. As the Coronavirus pandemic spreads throughout the world, He is sitting on the same throne on which He sat when men took His Son and placed Him on a cross. God is the God of all flesh. Satan may incite men to evil. There are powers of darkness working their carefully devised strategies as Paul tells us (Eph 6:11, 12), but God is still over all. “Satan may fuel the ship of evil, but God is able to steer it where He desires it to go.”

God may have many different reasons for allowing the current pandemic. Human philosophy may respond as did Blaise Pascal, centuries ago, by writing, “All human misfortune comes from one thing alone, that is, not knowing how to be at rest in one’s own room.” He continues: “From this it follows that human beings so love noise and commotion, as well as the fact that prison is such horrible agony. And from this it follows that the pleasure of solitude is so incomprehensible.” We are not accustomed to being alone.

What would our forefathers who endured privation for fifteen years, 1930-1945, with food stamps, depression, shortages, and war, think of our complaining about a few months of difficulty. We are all very accustomed to plenty. Did we need a lesson in want?

God takes no pleasure in human suffering; but there are times when after whispering to us and our failure to listen, the only way to get our attention is to shout at us through some major tragedy. We may not ever totally know all that God is doing through the current pandemic, but we have to remember that He is still the God of ALL flesh and is in total control of nations, presidents, premiers, and medical researchers. He is also the God Who is our God and in control of our lives. 

God is not asking you to buy a field that has already been lost to the enemy (nor a farm in Antarctica), He is asking us to trust Him and His wisdom as we navigate our way through the days of lockdown. God is in control. He is the God of ALL flesh. But it is up to you to wash your hands for 20 seconds and to have your tape measure handy to keep your social distance of six feet from anyone else.

God and Monopoly

Refocusing and Reframing – Part 4

When you hear “monopoly” you probably think of a board game (people actually played these before video games were invented). If you have taken business courses in University, you think about large businesses, those big bad companies who tried to lower quality and raise prices out of greed. In 1890, the United States Congress passed the famous Sherman Antitrust Act designed to prevent monopolies and cartels from controlling the market and the price of commodities. The Act was strengthened by two additional pieces of legislation in 1914. Monopolies, except under very rare circumstances, are illegal.

But there is another area where a monopoly is wonderful to consider. God is called “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10); He has a monopoly on grace! You will not find it anywhere else. He owns it, controls it, and dispenses it. He has set the price. His grace is free!

It would be profitable to consider the context of 1 Peter where this unique title occurs: a persecuted and suffering people. And though we would not, without blushing, think of our current circumstances as comparable to theirs, we still need grace. You need grace just to wear those horrible face masks!

There are some links with the grace needed in Peter’s day and the grace we need today. One area is that of submitting to government (1 Pet 2:13). We all are getting confused as we hear conflicting information about the current state of affairs. One news feed will tell us that we are overdoing it with “our shelter in place” orders. Then we hear from other “experts” who tell us that there is a second wave coming which will outdo the first and that we can expect a resurgence this winter. So, are we in lockdown until 2021? We are told one month that masks are useless and then we are told that we must wear one if we go into a store. That sound you hear is not a malfunctioning home appliance. It is a government drone spying on whether you are staying in or, perish the thought, looking out of your door. Yes, we need grace to submit and to do so quietly.

Wives need grace for patience with husbands who are home and climbing the walls (1 Pet 3:1-5). There is no creature known to man so restless as a caged husband! Mothers need grace for children who are home from school and “homeschooling” via computer. Any suggestions on how to keep a hyperactive child in front of the computer screen would be welcomed by a number of mothers.

We all need grace for day to day stability. We need grace for mental calm amidst so much calculated to create anxiety (turn off the news feeds) as Peter tells us (1 Pet 5:7). Is there a conspiracy to keep us all in a state of perpetual frustrated expectations?Grace is available but there is only one place to get it. He is the God of ALL grace. You can come and receive the grace you need by abiding under the shadow of His wing … but do not forget the mask and do not open the door if you hear the drone overhead.

Costly Worship

John 12:1-8

How much does it cost to worship the Savior? I am not talking about a monetary cost, but a cost in time or energy. Worship, true worship, is the desire of every believer. To lift up the Savior in word and deed – to speak well of Him in our daily conversation – is our ultimate goal. So how much will it cost?

Mary shows us an example of the true cost of worship.  Notice:

  • The Cost of the Ointment
  • The Choice Mary Made
  • The Center of Her Worship

The Cost of the Ointment

The Scriptures remind us: “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus …” (John 12:3). Much has been written and can be said about the monetary cost of the ointment – three hundred pence, close to one year’s worth of wages. Something of so much value was poured out upon the Lord Jesus Christ. It speaks to me of giving Christ our all, no matter the cost. Worship should not be a mindless, effortless operation we perform. It should be an outpouring of a prepared heart, given to honor the One who is worthy. Notice also that “the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.” True worship has a sweet fragrance to God and to others.

The Choice Mary Made

Taking a look at the characters mentioned here, we can glean something of the bold choice that Mary made to worship. “Martha served,” as we often read of her doing (see Luke 10). “Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at the table” in fellowship with Christ. These are two important roles that every believer can have. We must serve Christ in our everyday lives and fellowship with Christ is vital in our Christian walk. Mary had a choice to make. What role would she play? “Mary…anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair.” She chose to worship Him in her service (anointing His feet) and in her fellowship (a connection with the Savior).

The Center of Her Worship

There was something about the Lord Jesus Christ that caused a desire within her to lavish her love upon Him. Christ reminds us in Luke 7 of the one who “loved much” because of the many sins that have been forgiven. How could she not worship the One who brings forgiveness? Worship, therefore, brings an intimacy with the Savior. We realize and honor His position in our lives and serve him with our words and deeds. Mary anointed the feet of the Savior. We are reminded of Paul, quoting Isaiah, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom 10:15). Mary appreciated the Savior and wanted to do something that would honor Him!
Worship includes reverence, love, and devotion – all witnessed in Mary’s act. It was a service that did not go unnoticed, as Christ himself could say, “Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.” It was costly worship. It was an example to every one of us, dear believer, to evaluate our own worship. How much does it cost you to worship the Savior?

Refocusing and Reframing – Part 3

Bible Angle

Paul’s love for the believers in Thessalonica was such that he viewed them as his hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing (1 Thess 2:19). These three expressions reveal not only what the believers meant to Paul, but also his entire mindset about his service for the Lord. We think of serving the Lord and receiving a reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ; that He will give us “so much reward for so much service.” There is truth to the fact that we will all receive something from His hand in a coming day, but is that all that it will involve?

Paul went even beyond that. The great hope or prospect Paul had was to be able to present these converts to the Lord Jesus Christ as the fruit of his service. He would find his joy in seeing them before the throne of God, worshipers of God, lovers of Christ.

The best analogy I can offer is that of parents who raise their children and find their entire reward in seeing their children making the right choices and living their lives to please God (if you are looking for some other reward, I need to burst your bubble). You do not get a big prize from your family for being a good mother. You have the satisfaction that what you have invested in them has really worked.

In a similar manner, when Paul thought of his crown or reward, the believers themselves were his “reward.” To see believers in the presence of God, able to eternally bring glory to God, was all Paul desired. It was that for which he lived and served His Lord.

Have you ever considered that what you invest in a believer’s life is really “laying up treasure in heaven?” (Matt 19:21). It is not just the money you send out to missionaries and preachers or the meals you provide when a believer is sick. Anything you do to help another Christian is “laying up treasure in heaven.” The believer you helped, the person you brought to meetings and saw saved, the assembly you encouraged – these and all similar acts are the treasures you will find in heaven. That saved soul, that downcast Christian you helped lift, that cold heart you warmed, that is the treasure which is awaiting you in heaven. It is the person and not a trophy which is the treasure.

You may think this is a real discouraging meditation as you were perhaps hoping for a 5,000 sq. ft. home with a pool and a live-in maid. But thankfully (very, very thankfully), when we reach heaven’s shore, our thinking will be radically different from the present time. We will value what God has valued. We will be able to see what really mattered in our service.

That brings some important issues to light. You can invest, send treasures on ahead, even now while we are all so limited in lockdown. A phone call to a lonely believer, an email to a mother struggling with 3-4 children at home, 24/7 from school, an act of kindness to someone who cannot get out due to age or illness. Nothing, absolutely nothing, which God allows into our lives can intentionally stem the accumulation and stockpiling of treasures above. View other believers as potential treasure and invest in their lives but be sure to stay 6 feet away!!!!

Refocusing and Reframing – Part 2

“Be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding”

1 Cor 15:58

If you just change “abounding” to “stay positive,” it would almost sound as though Paul is very up to date: he tells us to stay home, stay inside, and yet remain positive. We have all become good “soldiers” obeying orders and doing it as those who are “subject to principalities and powers … magistrates … ready to every good work” (Titus 3:1). As Christians, it is our responsibility to comply with governments when we are not compromising our consciences. So, we stay home, stay in, and do our very best to remain positive.

But Paul has something greater in view. He gives us a basis not only for being steadfast and unmovable, but for being both positive and abounding. He tells us of the great prospect of resurrection and coming glory. It is thrilling to think of the great contrast between “now” and “then” when it comes to our bodies. We are currently living in bodies marked by corruption, weakness, dishonor, and “soul” domination. We are going to one day have bodies not subject to age and disease; they will be bodies of glory and of power; they will be bodies dominated by a God-consciousness. All that is assured by the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Imagine a body that can move from place to place without needing a vehicle or even time! Imagine bodies that will pulsate with life as never before. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul tell us that Christ died for us “that we should live together with Him” (1 Thess 5:10). It may be that we have no idea of what “real life” is like until we arrive there.

In the meantime, we are to be steadfast in our faith, unmovable in our confidence in God, and abounding in the work of the Lord.

I hear someone say, “How can I abound in the work of the Lord when I can’t even leave my house?” A good question. Paul was chained to soldiers for possibly up to eight years near the end of his life. Yet he seemed to abound. He wrote letters, he prayed, he witnessed when he was able. There have likely been few lives and periods of times which have had the eternal weight that the years of confinement that the years Paul spent as a prisoner have had. He “abounded” in every circumstance. He was the man who wrote, “I know both how to be abased and how to abound. Everywhere and in all things, I have been instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Phil 4:12). Paul “abounded” in every circumstance. And so should we! 

It is really only a little while until we arrive at our real home where we will be happy to “shelter in place.” The resurrection of Christ has helped us to know how the story is going to end. We have read the last page and now how it all works out.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13. It has been called the most successful failure in NASA’s history. Everyone knows the famous quote, “Houston, we have a problem,” as the lunar module suddenly experienced the explosion. As the awareness of their danger rose, there was, however, another quote. As the spacecraft orbited around the moon, the goal shifted from landing on the moon to the question that Jim Lowell, one of the astronauts asked, “How do we get home?”

We know we are going home, and we know how we are going to get home. But in the short interim, “be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding (be positive) in the work of the Lord.”