Break the Jar

Over the last handful of weeks I’ve been blogging on the topic of stewardship as seen through various chapters in the Book of Mark. I’ve hit on chapters 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and now…you guessed it…14.

Mark 14 has story about a woman that was at Simon the Leper’s house at the same time Jesus happened to be there. That would be a pretty serendipitous meeting! If I was her, I would have taken a photo for Instagram or posted it to Facebook“Look, it’s JESUS.”

But this wasn’t a photo-op moment. It was a time for worship and giving. And here’s how the Woman of Bethany did just that…

She broke the jar.

She poured the perfume.

Let me explain:

The Bible tells us that Jesus was reclining at the dinner table. This was a common posture for mealtime. Perhaps it was before the food was brought out or shortly after a lovely meal, but regardless, there was a moment of time in which the Woman of Bethany made her move. She grabbed a jar of her perfume and approached Jesus at the table. It wouldn’t have been proper to sneak up on him from behind, so most likely she drew close to his face in a posture of submission and reverence.

The woman then did something wonderfully scandalous. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head. I have two initial responses:

First, I wonder if she smashed the jar over Jesus’ head. The answer is: of course she didn’t! This isn’t the World Wrestling Federation (which is unfortunate, because I LOVE wrestling!). Perhaps a better way to think of the jar breaking is that the seal was broken allowing the woman to pour it out freely.

Secondly, the thought of perfume being poured over my head sounds kinda gross.

Am I right or am I right?

Maybe it wouldn’t seem so odd if I told you the perfume is called nard. Oh, that doesn’t help? OK…well…sorry. Nard is short for spikenard which is one of the most precious spices of the Bible. The Hebrew for it is actually nerd (now that I understand). The Greeks called it nardos. It grew extensively in northern India, and has been found high in the Himalayan Mountains. It grows with many spikes on one root, bearing pink blossoms, so it’s sometimes called the Indian Spike. Perfumed oil is extracted from these spikes. Mark says a Venti of it (Starbucks terminology) costed about 300 denari, or about one average worker’s salary for one year (rough estimate today would be roughly $10,000).

Bottom line:  this is really good and expensive perfume. It’s the kind that you would pour over people’s heads. Especially, those dying or being prepared for burial. Hmmm. It’s interesting to note that this all happened two days before The Passover, which began on the evening of Jesus’ crucification! Wow!

The woman broke the jar and poured the perfume. She gave her best and her best cost her something. Others (such as Judas) mocked and rebuked her, but Jesus declared that she had done “a beautiful thing.”

This cost her something. It was expensive. It was expressive. It was passionate. It was voluntary.

How is your giving? Don’t give because you GOTTA. Give because you WANNA.

100% Heart

Ah, April.

April gives us lots of rain showers (oh, wait…that’s pretty much the case every month in Oregon).

April gives us the season opener for baseball.

And April gives us Tax Day.

Taxes. Taxes. Taxes.

In Mark 12, some Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus a huge question: “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or shouldn’t we?”

Jesus’ response in verse 17 was masterful: “Give to Caesar what belongs to him and give to God what belongs to him.”

The next thing the Bible says is: “And they were amazed at him.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell us whether or not they were obedient to his words.

Perhaps it doesn’t explicitly say so because it leaves room to insert OURSELVES into the story. Are we giving what we should to the government (our taxes) AND giving to God what already belongs to him (our tithes)?

The coin that the Pharisees showed to Jesus had a picture of Caesar on it. His portrait and inscription denoted ownership – the money was his. Jesus said: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” He is the owner and we are the steward.

In a larger sense, God is the owner of ALL we have. He releases it ALL to us so that we can steward it properly, and he only asks that we return to him 10% of it. That’s a pretty good deal.

“Give to God what is God’s.”  (that’s 100% of it, in case you’ve forgotten). But all he wants is 10%. Again…that’s a pretty good deal.

You may ask: “Why does God want 10% of my money?”  

He doesn’t.  

He wants 100% of our heart.

Fully-Loaded Camel

In Mark 10 there is a character that we don’t have a name for…only three descriptions…

Rich.

Young.

Ruler. 

These descriptions are not all found in one place, however.  All the Gospels call him Rich, but only Matthew 19:20 denotes that he is Young. And, only in Luke 18:18 do we discover that he is a Ruler.

Rich. He had affluence.

Young. He had achievement.

Ruler. He had authority.

I want to make some comments about the first descriptor only: RICH.  To be an officer in the synagogue meant that this young man was required to have considerable wealth. He had affluence and position, but was wondering if it’s enough for eternal life.

Are riches the ultimate goal of happiness and spiritual contentment?

I remember a young guy named Nick saying, “When I got out of school I made a list of everything I thought I would need to be happy. Now it’s fifteen years later and I have everything on my list, but I’m still not happy. I just realized I made up the wrong list.”

When Jesus told the man to give everything he had to the poor, he knew it would be going right to the heart of the matter. That’s why Jesus said it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than a rich man to get into heaven.”

Jesus was using a well-known example. You see, at night, there was one gate open into the city of Jerusalem. The locals called it “the eye of the needle.” It was very small so that it could be easily guarded against attackers. A person simply couldn’t get through it with a fully-loaded camel, so he would have to leave the possessions outside the gate in order to get through.

Interesting, huh?

People of that day were taught that riches were the ultimate mark of blessing from God. Too many within the modern church still believe this. The “prosperity gospel” is alive and kicking.  Unfortunately, it’s not WHAT YOU HAVE that gets you into heaven or denotes God’s ultimate blessing.  I believe Jesus was expressing quite the contrary:  what are you willing to GIVE UP?  He pressed the young guy to sell it all, give the proceeds to the poor and follow him.

That’s tough stuff. Jesus knew how to get to the heart of the matter with our rich young ruler.

 

Will you allow Jesus to get to the heart of the matter with YOU?  What are you willing to give up?  Does your life feel like a “fully-loaded camel” that needs to be unpacked?  Have you made up the wrong list regarding happiness?

Power of Reflection & Anticipation

“Don’t you remember?”

Muse on this question.

“Don’t you remember?”

This is the question that Jesus asked his disciples in Mark 8. It came on the heels of two HUGE food distribution efforts. One was for a group of 5000 men (see Mark 6) and the next was for a smaller group of 4000 men.  By most estimations the groups were 2-3 times larger than reported due to the inclusion of women and children.

In both cases Jesus proved himself to be a miracle-worker. His batting average is perfect. Of course, isn’t that what you would expect from the Son of God?!?

After feeding thousands (and healing a possessed girl, a deaf/mute man, and oh yah…walking on WATER), Jesus and his disciples retreated to a boat ride on the lake. Shortly after disembarking, the disciples realized they had brought only one loaf of bread with them for the journey. This was clearly not enough for a day on the water.

What would they do? Where will they go? Who gets to eat? Who goes hungry?

Questions. Questions. Questions.

Then there was one from Jesus “Don’t you remember?”

He didn’t stop there:  Don’t you get it? Is your heart hardened? Can’t you see or hear? Don’t you remember when I feed five thousand and we had a bunch of left-overs? Don’t you recall when I fed four thousand and we had basketfuls of pieces to pick up?

“Don’t you remember?”

I need to confess that I have a short-term memory. Do you? Are you like me and so easily forget the past blessings of the Lord when current challenges present themselves?  It’s so common for us to watch the Lord move in powerful ways one moment then fail to trust him the next.

• 5000:  Fed and happy.

• 4000:  Full with left-overs.

• Boat full of disciples with one loaf of bread between them: Help! We’re gonna die!! All hope is lost!!!

Jesus must shake his head at the obvious display of unbelief and distrust…both then and now. Has God taken care of you in the past and yet you wonder if he will continue to moving forward? Have you given of your tithes and offerings watching how he “opens the floodgates of blessings” and yet fear grips you this month with your limited funds? Did you thank God for the food on your table last night but aren’t sure if he’ll sustain you tomorrow and the next?

“Don’t you remember?”

I believe that the power of anticipation is fueled by the practice of reflection. When you remember what God DID it builds a sense of excitement for he will DO!

You Give Them Something To Eat

Have you ever been WAY OVER YOUR HEAD?

Have you ever been challenged by the Lord to do something that you knew would stretch you? How about times when you really had to lean into Jesus for strength and wisdom because you were outside of your pay grade?

These kinds of situations happen to me often. Ever since I was young I have found myself way out of my depth. Youth pastoring at 18 years old. Married at 19. Baby at 20. Senior pastoring at 27. I’ve often joked with Denise that I’d probably end up having my mid-life crisis…early!

In Mark chapter 6 in the New Testament of the Bible, we discover the disciples of Jesus in over their heads. In the first half of this chapter Jesus sent 12 of them out to ministry in the villages. This was one of the first times they were without a leash. This is exciting and scary at the same time. Verse 12 tells us that they had pretty good success: they preached and people repented, demons were driven out and sick people were healed. Not a bad start.

Then Jesus kicked it up a notch (cause that’s what Jesus does).

In Mark 6:30-44 is the familiar story of the Feeding of the 5000. Most commentators agree that the crowd was actually more like 11,000-13,000 people due to the inclusion of women and children. Quite a crowd…and all hungry. The text tells us that they were in a remote area listening to Jesus’ teaching and it was getting late…too late to all go home. They were hungry and there was simply no place to grab a bite. It’s not like they could all hit a nearby Taco Bell for Fourth Meal!

The disciples encouraged Jesus to send the people away to nearby villages to get food.

His answer was no.

Then he dropped it like it was hot: “You give them something to eat.”

You do it. Go ahead. Make it happen.

Excuses and questions began to fly. How? Where? What? Hello? Excuse Me? Jesus, are you crazy?

The Messiah asked them to give of what they had. Together they only had five loaves of bread and two fish. Not a lot…and yet, interestingly, enough. Because when Jesus blesses what we give him, he makes it enough.

Throughout the Book of Mark I have been noticing passage after passage that deals with issues of stewardship, giving and generosity. This is yet another. Jesus wants us to give what we have, even though it is little, and then allow him to bless it, break it and disperse it for his Kingdom use. Perhaps you don’t have much in terms of finances. That’s fine, but be generous with what you do have and watch Jesus do what only he can do: bless and multiply it!

Like the disciples, it’s good when we get into situations where we are over our head and needing to trust the Lord rather than our own understanding. It’s in times like these when we are called upon by the Lord to “Give them something to eat.” What will you do? Will you make excuses about what you don’t have or will you be obedient to give what you do have?

Together, I believe, we will discover the miracle of multiplication!

The Small Seeds that Grew

Last week I began writing a series of blogs on the topics of giving, resources, generosity and our possessions.

I love these topics.

Most pastors, however, shy away from talking about these important aspects of following Jesus for fear of offending or being labeled as a money grabber. The majority of The Church has been painted with a wide brush because of the imbalanced and improper teaching of a minority. As a result, Christian leaders fail to consistently teach and preach on tithing, stewardship and generosity.

This hasn’t helped the American Church much. The Bible says TOO MUCH to be overlooked. Such is the case with the Book of Mark. I noticed a number of passages that directly or indirectly address our possessions. In my last blog I wrote about chapter 2. This week I want to hopscotch over to chapter 4. The focus of most of this chapter is about seeds and sowing. Jesus told three parables about seeds: one about the farmer sowing seed on various soil conditions, another about the Kingdom begin like a seed that sprouted and grew, and a final one about a mustard seed and became the largest of all plants. Each of these Jesus Stories were about seeds.

Seeds. So small…but oh so much potential.

In Mark 4:8 “the seed fell on good soil…came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” In Mark 4:27 “the seed sprouts and grows…first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.” In Mark 4:31 “the smallest seed you plant in the ground, when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants.”

So small…but oh so much potential.

The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 9, expounds upon the concepts of seeds and sowing and connects it to an encouragement for generosity.

Check this out: 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

I encourage you to muse on this passage of Scripture this week and ask the Lord this simple question: “Lord, how should I respond to your Word?”

Below the Waterline

I love the Word of God.

is so powerful.

It is so applicable to our lives.

It is so…well…alive.

Hebrews 4:12 instructs that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

It penetrates soul and spirit.

It judges thoughts and attitudes.

Of course, it can only do that which we allow it to. The Word of God is not gonna jump up off the coffee table and into our souls. It’s not gonna speak to our hearts if we are not willing to listen. We need to give it permission, preference and position in our lives. Never has this been more of an issue than with our material possessions. It seems as if we (myself included) let the Lord have access to many aspects of our lives, but not our money. I’m reminded of the cartoon in which a man was being baptized in water. Every part of his body was brought below the waterline…except his wallet!

As I’ve been reading the Book of Mark in my daily devotions, I have noticed a number of times the Gospel directly or indirectly deals with the topic of our resources. I first recognized it in chapter 12 regarding the story of the Widow’s Offering, but then I went back and saw that every other chapter in Mark tackled the topic of our possessions (chapters 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, and 16). Over the next few weeks I want to unpack these findings.

Let’s begin with chapter 2 with Levi the Tax Collector.

Jesus began teaching along the shore of the Sea of Galilee because it was a popular place for people to hang out. Therefore it made perfect sense that Jesus would utilize its backdrop as an outdoor pulpit. It also made sense that Levi would set up a tax collecting booth. Whether you’re a preacher or a tax collector, you want to be where the crowds are!

It was here that Jesus the Messiah connected with Levi the Money Man. Mark 2:14 records that Jesus said, “Follow Me.” In response, Levi got up and simply followed him. He left his booth, perhaps his revenue as well. This was more than a passing decision, it was a new way of living. The Money Man became the Messiah Follower. Wow. What obedience and surrender!

I contend that it’s easy to follow Jesus when little is demanded of us. It means next to nothing for us to “get up and follow him” when we are leaving next to nothing. But what about when it involves the possessions that we have worked so hard for?

I believe that when Jesus says “follow me” he is referring to the entirety of our lives, including our money. He wants us to loosen the grip that our hands have upon our money so that our hearts may do the same. The Bible says, “where your heart is there your treasure will be also.” In other words, what our HANDS hold tightly to so will our HEARTS.

In the Old Testament, the Tribe of Levites (named after Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob), were the main caretakers of the temple. They were the lead worshippers. Fast forward to Levi the Tax Collector in Mark 2 and ask yourself these questions:

Are you worshipping God with your money?

Are you taking care of the temple of the Lord?

Are you following Jesus in every areas of your life, including that of your possessions?

If not, then allow the Word of God to penetrate your soul and spirit and judge your thoughts and attitudes.

Moses, Widows and Disciple-Making

For my daily devotions I follow the Life Journal Bible Reading plan. If I am consistent (which isn’t always the case) than I will read the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice a year. I’ve been doing this for a number of years, which means I get “knocked around” by the  Scriptures on a regular basis.

You know what I mean, don’t you?

There are a number of biblical passages that throughly work me over with conviction.

Frankly, there are some portions of Scripture that I want to highlight…with a black marker!

Within a couple of days of each other, my reading plan takes me to Exodus 18 and Acts 6. One details Jethro’s visit to Moses. The other deals with the choosing of servants to assist in the food distribution for widows. I have read both portions numerously and feel challenged each and every time!

In Exodus 18, Jethro cautioned Moses regarding his overbooked day-timer. He would sit as the only judge of the people from morning to evening. This is a classic recipe for burn-out. Not just for Moses though. The people of Israel will also burn-out. Moses’ father-in-law Jethro stated in verses 17,18 that “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.”

Did you see that? Doing it alone will not only wear out the leaders but also the followers.

In Acts 6, ministry was increasing at an alarming rate due to the growth of the church. In the process, some people were being inadvertently overlooked and complaints were flooding in. The apostles email inboxes were full. The natural response for leaders is often to work harder and longer, deal with the problems directly, and get a handle on the situation…fast. At least, that’s how I would deal with it. Unfortunately, this is how bigger and more severe problems are often created.

Thankfully, with discernment, the apostles opted to focus their energy upon prayer and preaching, and chose qualified people to tackle the food distribution fiasco. This was a good call with a good outcome:  “The word of God spread and the number of disciples increased” (vs. 7).

I love how everyone did what they were called and equipped to do and the Kingdom advanced. God’s design for effectiveness is that leaders in the church exist “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12,13).

Everyone has a place. Everyone has a purpose. Together amazing things can be accomplished.

 

Acts 24: The Patience of Paul

“When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.” Acts 24:27

Things seemed to be looking up.

It appeared as if Felix’s heart was warming.

Paul was given an opportunity to present his case before Felix the Governor and things were going rather well. Imagine a job interview or giving a report before a packed classroom. One waits, wonders, and well…prays, hoping for a seamless presentation and favorable results.

It appeared as if the situation was moving forward quite nicely, in that Felix informed Paul that his case would be decided soon (vs. 22). He then graciously allowed Paul to remain in “loose custody” and be granted various liberties, including unabated permission for visitation (vs. 23).

All lights were green when Felix, accompanied by his wife Drusilla, came to hear Paul speak further about faith in Jesus (vs. 24). But this is where the signals began to change. Doors started to close in succession and Paul was again being marginalized by the Governor. For nearly two years a ‘cat and mouse’ game was afoot, with Paul being the mouse (vs. 26). This season culminated with a changing of the governmental guard.

Felix was no longer in charge. Paul was stuck in prison.

How is patience produced? The answer, unfortunately, is not what we like. We tend to want things to happen quickly and without incident. But patience is only produced over time and with testing. There would be no need for patience if every aspect of our lives instantly and flawlessly converged.

We often joke about “asking for patience” because we know that that prayer if often like flipping a switch on problems. What if this is how God does his best work in us? Romans 5 affirms this:

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that sufferings produce endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”


Do you want to grow in patience?  How it is developed in your life?  Let me know.

Acts 10: God’s General Contractors

Recently my wife and I were driving past a construction zone where a new middle school was being built near our home. We were amazed at how fast the structure was going up and the degree of expertise it would require to pull off such a feat. The foundation was huge and the steel beams rose to intersect in ways that boggled my mind. Inwardly, I was wondering if I could ever figure out how to do that kind of work if I wasn’t pastoring a church. I concluded it was…well…doubtful.

When I look at construction sites I see so many little details that all come together to form a wonderfully completed project. It is similar to what I discovered in Acts 10. All throughout this chapter there are multiple details, big and small, that are interwoven to form a beautiful end result. The end of Acts 10 describes the culmination of the Holy Spirit falling upon the Gentiles.

Gentiles.

This was a big deal because up to this point the Gospel had been focused upon the Jewish people and folks had very little interest in taking it beyond that particular group. But God was the architect of a massive and masterful plan: His Church was being built and it would include male, female, slave, free, Jew AND Gentile.

How was this huge project going to happen?

In Acts 10 we have two General Contractors, Cornelius and Peter. One may think that having TWO general contractors would be chaotic, divided and ultimately unproductive, unless both of them did the two important things that Cornelius and Peter did.

They prayed.

And they listened.

Both of these men were instrumental in the newly-opened door to the Gentiles, because both of these men knew how to pray and listen.

In verse 4, Cornelius prayed, and the Lord, in a vision, told this Gentile man to summon a Jew named Peter.

In verse 10, Peter was in prayer when he had a vision in which the Lord said some very specific, and noteably, difficult things.

Pray. Listen.

It’s these small details that bring massive and masterful plans of the Lord into fruition.