First Things First

alabaster-jar


Devotional for Monday of Holy Week (April 6)

Note: An online prayer room will be available this evening at 6 p.m. Go to https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/607049869 to join, or dial in at (646) 749-3122, and then use this access code: 607-049-869.

John 12:1-11 (NLT)

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.

But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.

Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.


Yes, we are to care for the poor. Yes, we are to do all sorts of good works. We should commit a significant portion of our resources to the work Jesus calls us to do, caring for people living on the edge of ruin and death.

In this story, however, is a remarkable idea, one that even some very good-hearted people might find confusing. Honoring Jesus Christ takes precedence over all other motivations and actions.

The story of Mary anointing Jesus is a story of extravagant thanks. Jesus had recently restored to life the brother of Mary and Martha, after Lazarus had decomposed in a tomb for four days.

Mary took what was probably her life savings, her security, and used it all at once to honor the one who had granted this miracle. The stench of death had been the sisters’ great fear; now, a perfumed declaration of joy filled the room, emanating from the one who had driven death away. If you’ve never smelled spikenard, know that it is sweet and musky, an earthy, lively odor. Try to imagine peat from the Garden of Eden.

Even though Judas’ motivation likely was theft, some people might agree with his stated objection—the pouring out of all that nard in one place seems like an awful waste! These would be people who take a humanist approach to solving the problems of the world, saying if people would just act right and do enough good, with enough efficiency, most of the problems of the world would go away.

Christians see that as a cart-before-horse assertion, however. God is our motivator. God provides the power. In John 17:20-26, we hear Jesus root his relationship in the Father, and then Jesus prays that we will be similarly rooted in the Father and Son.

Even altruistic actions properly begin with an understanding of who we are in relation to God. If we are to develop that relationship, we need to stop occasionally and give extravagant and even inefficient thanks. Then, rightly motivated, we will see God pour grace into us until it spills out of our church and onto the world.

In fact, grace can arrive in such abundance that efficiency becomes at most a side issue. Remember the stories of Jesus feeding the multitudes? All those leftovers indicate efficiency was not something the disciples needed during the distribution.

Great works will happen through churches that put Christ first. We hold on to God, the anchor of all altruism, and then we are able to pull back from the brink people living on the edge of ruin and death.

Lord, we offer thanks for who you are, and we consider in our hearts what we might do today to show extravagant thanks. May we revel in the inefficiency of it all. Amen.

 

Let’s Make a Prayer

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Devotional for Friday, March 20

Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

We’ve all experienced worry at some point in our lives, but I think it is safe to say more of us than usual are feeling an extended kind of anxiety right now. Isolation is hitting many of us hard. Many of our businesses and investments seem in jeopardy, and we fear any light we see in the tunnel is an oncoming train.

God has a lot to say about worry, of course. The Big Guy, with his big-picture, outside-time-and-creation view, tells us repeatedly through prophets, disciples and even the Messiah to fear not, to stop worrying. And when we grasp the big picture, we see why God is able to say this. The hard work is done—Jesus has died on the cross for our sins, and his resurrection is a foretaste of what we will experience.

None of that is to deny, however, that we are little people who perceive our lives to be lived out in one tiny brush stroke on God’s vast canvas. And we worry. So God gave us ways to seek comfort.

Let’s not simply talk today about the greatest tool God has given us, prayer. As a church, let’s join together in prayer. Let’s build a prayer list, and let’s pray over it as we see it grow.

If you’re reading this on the website, at the bottom of this devotional you’ll see either a link saying “Leave a comment,” or an actual comment box. If you’re reading from the automated email that went out, you’ll see a comment button at the bottom.

However you get to the comment section, enter your prayer requests there. We will see those build through the day. FYI, you may not see your prayer appear right away; I have to approve comments before they go on the site. I’ll check regularly for new comments, though.

You check back regularly to read them, too. And throughout the day, pray about what you see!

Lord, as we pray, may our anxieties be transformed to hope and joy. Amen.