Life in Community: Learning to Love Extravagantly


While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper,  a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.  When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.  “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”  Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.  When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  – Matthew 26:6-13 (NIV)

In October of 2001, I was privileged to work with others at Ground Zero during the recovery efforts.  I was careful during my time away to call my 1 ½-year-old daughter every day to stay in touch.  However, this plan did not end up working out so well. About day four, she had grown quite tired of talking to me on the phone and wanted to know when I was coming home.  By day five she was no longer speaking to me and Mommy was dealing with many tears at night about Daddy being gone. I returned home after my two-week tour and was met at the airport by my wife and little girl.  As soon as she saw me, any thoughts of anger vanished in tears and excited cries of “Daddy! Daddy!”

She ran through that airport completely unaware and certainly unashamed of her extravagant display of emotion.  We held each other and cried and laughed and hugged and kissed and didn’t care a whit about what anyone thought.  For a moment the rest of the world didn’t exist.  This is the beauty of life among believers.  This is the power of fellowship.  We learn to love God with such abandon and extravagance in the presence of our spiritual family that we grow more capable of expressing it where less understanding eyes will see.

It is years later and I have not yet reached that point in my relationship with that once little girl where she is embarrassed to be seen with me.  I hope that I never will, but it causes me to ask the question, “Am I ever ashamed to express my love for God?”  I read the passage above and wonder if I would have loved Jesus enough to overcome my fears and doubts.  I wonder if I am more driven by self-preservation than I am by compassion and devotion.  Fortunately my current spiritual family is more than willing to seek an extravagant love for God together.

I want to worship God with abandon.  I want to weep with tears of deliverance.  I want to laugh with heartfelt joy.  I want to kneel at the feet of my Father and worship Him as He sees fit.  While the thought of this sometimes causes me to fear, I am assured that “perfect love casts out fear.”  There are not words to express the comfort and courage that are gained by knowing I am surrounded by others who desire the same experience.  We want to love God more than we love our reputations, more than we love our possessions, more than we love anything that this world has to offer.

So what is your alabaster jar?  What is it that you need to give up in order to love God as He deserves to be loved?  Who is it that looks with mocking eyes on your faith?  What price are you willing to pay in order to worship without shame? To be honest, I’m still working on answering those questions myself, but I am sure that I want to know the answers.

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Broken and Beloved


Here we are, the broken,

Waiting while we praise

Praying for Your hand, oh God,

To heal, to help, to raise

Your people from their fallen ways

 

Here we are, the blessed,

Watching for Your grace

Praying for Your love to change

Our hearts, our heads, our hands

Your children need to learn Your ways

 

We are beloved and broken,

Children of the living God

Marked by grace, transformed by love

Your kingdom come today we pray

 

Here we are, beloved,

Washed in the blood of Christ

Praying for clean hearts and hands

To serve, to teach, to reach

Your lost sheep, Your broken lambs.

 

We are beloved and broken

Children of the living God

Saved from sin, changed within

Work Your will in us we pray

 

We are beloved and broken

Our God can make us whole

We are beloved and broken

He heals the wounded soul

We are beloved and broken

Your kingdom come

Your will be done

Make us whole

 

By Chris Yeager

Gardening Tips: Fallow Ground


For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. – Exodus 23:10-11 (NRSV)

In the years before chemical fertilizers and horticultural sciences, it was common practice to let fields rest so that the soil could replenish and recover.  There are still many places that rotate their crops from field to field so that each crop is getting the nutrients needed for a good harvest.  This is something God has wired into us; a need for rest to replenish and restore. For the people of Israel it was a necessary and vital part of their culture; for us it is a necessary and vital part of our spiritual growth and health.

We used planters this year for growing most of our garden.  We used some of the same soil we did the last two years and thought it would be enough to mix in some compost, but we had to use far more fertilizer than normal to keep our garden going.  The soil we used was tired.  It knew it, but we did not.  As believers we need to be attentive to the soil of our hearts to know when it needs to rest, replenish and restore.

One of the most important ways to practice this is holding to a weekly Sabbath.  This is certainly any area of improvement needed for me, but I believe it is endemic to our current American culture.  We have sleep aids, technology that keeps us constantly connected and entertainment that draws us away from rest to busyness.  We need to overcome our culture and claim the rest that God has prepared for us.  We need to make holy for ourselves what God has said is holy.

Rest is not easy for most of us.  It is a discipline because we can always think of something we could or “should” be doing.  This is the handiwork of the enemy and a broken world.  There is never anything more important than doing the will of God and the Sabbath sits firmly in the center of His will.  It is the practice of the Sabbath that prepares our hearts for the fresh crop, for new seed, for the tiller in the hand of God preparing our hearts for the next season.

Lord, help us be a people of the Sabbath, resting in Your presence and power.  Let us cast aside every care and worry, trusting wholly in You to provide all we need.  You are the Lord of the harvest, but also the Lord of the Sabbath and we want to be Your subjects on that day.  Amen.

The Shepherd and the Sheep: Restore My Soul


Wild Garlic in Bloom

My family and I will be at Family Camp this weekend, so I am reposting for this week.  Next week, I will be posting  something I wrote for 9/11 last year.  Please have a safe and sober Labor Day weekend.

Oh Lord you call my name

Like a shepherd in a field.

You use your rod and staff

When my spirit needs to yield

But my ears are deaf with busy noise

And your prodding is ignored

So I wander far from your sweet voice

And my soul is not restored.

Give me ears to hear

Give me eyes to see

I want to be obedient

But I am struck with fear.

I need courage to walk,

I need patience to stay

Restore my soul with living streams

Oh God please draw me near.

Restore my soul,

Restore my soul,

Good shepherd come and lead me home

Restore my soul

Read the Directions: Please Wash Your Hands


Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.
He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior. – Psalms 24:3-5 (NIV)

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16 (NIV)

There is a Seinfeld episode where Jerry is on a date at a restaurant when he runs into the chef in the bathroom.  When the chef, Papi, leaves the bathroom, he does so without washing his hands.  Given Jerry’s phobic tendencies about germs, hilarity ensues when Papi brings their food to the table.  I have to admit my own unease with that kind of situation.  There are appropriate times and places for cleanliness, and preparing food for others certainly fits the bill.

When discussing salvation, I have heard the phrase, “You don’t have to clean up for a bath.”   The idea is that since God will clean you up in the work of salvation that you don’t need to clean up your sin first.  This is a true and correct perspective because we cannot clean up our own sin.  But once saved, we can maintain cleanliness.  It is one thing to ask someone to wash their hands before preparing food at a restaurant, but can you imagine if they had to take a shower every time they came back into the kitchen?

We need to be clean.  It is healthy, makes us feel better and certainly is considerate for those around us with sensitive noses.  In the same way, purity of spirit is healthy, makes us feel better and gives us the ability to “consider others as more important than ourselves.”  There is a cleansing we are given and there is a cleanliness we maintain.  One we receive that removes the stain of sin and one helps keep us from sin.

Too often we wait for the bath.  We wait until the dirt and grime of un-confessed sin has built up and the Spirit convicts us to seek cleansing.  Been there, done that (more than once).  By the grace and mercy of God, we are forgiven and made new, but maturity and purity ask us to grow strong and true so that we remain clean.  We all fall.  We all come short, but in the pursuit of holiness, we can find ourselves falling less and coming closer to the mark.  A daily discipline of cleanliness can help us in this pursuit.

Confession and repentance are the cleansing steps we take toward purity.  When we make them a daily discipline, we set ourselves apart for something better than a cycle of deprivation and redemption.  This is the life I want and hope for and struggle after.  This is the life God’s holiness calls me to.  This is the life God gently reminds me of in the moments I need a bath.  Lord, help me to be holy as you are holy.  Give me clean hands and a pure heart.  Amen.