Mark 13-14 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is blessed by the sweet fragrance of our worship

When I was very young, I was given a tiny bottle of perfume.  It wasn’t cologne.  It was the real deal – perfume.  I remember opening it, enjoying its sweet fragrance and thinking that it was something only for special occasions.  Over the next few Sundays I dabbed it behind my ears and on my wrists like my mom had taught me, and I have to admit that I felt pretty special.  The perfume was a gift of great value for such a young child, and I used it sparingly.

Somehow the perfume was misplaced, and after a while, I forgot about it.  When I discovered it several years later, it had become rancid and stale and had lost its value to me.  That was when I learned that some things need to be spent and enjoyed when they’re fresh and available.  This was a lesson that dear Mary understood very well.

@ Mark 14
Chapter 14 portrays the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume.  We learn that she was Mary, of Mary, Martha and Lazarus fame.  There was just something about Mary.  Mary was excessive. Mary was extravagant. Mary was irrational in her worship of Jesus.  According to the dictionary, worship means great or excessive love, admiration and respect felt for somebody or something, and Mary was all over that.

In fact, we read in Luke 10 that Mary had an adoration problem when Martha could not pull her sister away from the Lord’s presence to help in the kitchen.  So this excessive use of her resources does not come as a surprise to us. Mary didn’t hoard or save.  Mary didn’t open her jar of spikenard with great care so that she could save some for other occasions.  No, she gladly broke it open to saturate her Lord with a year’s worth of wages.  Can you imagine giving to the Lord something equal to this entire year’s wages?  Not holding back some for a rainy day, but giving it all?  Mary got it – she understood worship.

All through the ages, God had been looking for a people, made in His image, whose desire to give themselves to Him is equal to His giving of Himself to them.  In our humanity, we’ll not achieve this, but He responds to our desire to do so.  Mary’s selfless worship of Jesus that day reflected God’s undying love for us, the gift of Jesus who was His most precious treasure, and it also reveals His desire for intimacy with us. “I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” (9)  Just as we’re doing today

Some of those present that day did not appreciate her extravagance, Judas to be sure, because they just didn’t get it – unabandoned worship was off their radar.  I’ve found that sometimes it’s easy to justify economizing my resources, time and attention rather than lavishing them on the One who most deserves them. It’s at those moments that I just don’t get it.  He’s waiting for my love for Him to resemble, as best as this human body possibly can, His love for me – excessive, extravagant love.

Jesus left the dinner that day carrying with Him the sweet fragrance of Mary’s gift.  “She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time.” (8)  Her gift permeated the Last Supper, it surrounded the betrayal and arrest in the garden, and it lingered in the streets of Jerusalem as Jesus was led to His death.  Oh, how I want my love today to permeate heaven, to fill His nostrils with a sweet fragrance of my excessive, extravagant love for him, to somehow reflect His love for me.  But for this, I understand it takes some breaking, some spilling out…some excess. 

Moving Forward:  My prayer today, “Broken and spilled out, and poured at Your feet. In sweet abandon, let me be spilled out and used up for Thee.” (G. Gaither) 

Tomorrow @ 2 Corinthians 4-5

Mark 9-10 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He welcomes all who minister in His name

When I’ve worked hard on a project from the beginning, knowing all the ins and outs of it, I tend to take ownership – it’s my baby! Others may come along to work on the project with me, but they always seem to do things differently. I have the tendency to think that without following my expertise, everything could be ruined. Most of us have felt this way at one time or another, and we’d almost rather go it alone. Because of this, we can somewhat understand the disciples’ hearts when newcomers on the scene started preaching about their Jesus.

@ Mark 9
“Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.” (38) He wasn’t in our group sounds cliquish and juvenile, but the disciples were more than likely concerned about protecting the name of Jesus. Perhaps they were questioning why this man wasn’t in their group? What group was he representing? What if he prays in a different style than ours? How will this affect our Lord?

Jesus was not terribly concerned about His reputation in His response. “Don’t stop him!” He said with emphasis. “Anyone who is not against us is for us. If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.” (39-41) To spread this Gospel, to reach the lost around the world, the disciples were going to need all the help they could get. Many of their encounters had been met with much opposition to the message of Jesus, but this man appeared to have faith in His very name.

We face this same issue in spreading the Gospel today. We need all the help we can get! The churches down the street or other ministries so often have a different style than we do in reaching the lost. Some are hard-sell, some are soft-sell and some, like us, get it just right. While we can appreciate the humor in that statement, why would we ever criticize a genuine move of God just because the method is different than to what we are accustom?

The criterion, according to Jesus, is not the style or method we use, but in whose name we are ministering. (39) Rest assured, He knows who belongs to Him and exposes charlatans and cons in due time. We all answer to Him directly, bypassing the opinions of others, and it’s His acceptance of our methods and results that have eternal value. So, I relinquish any ownership to the message of the Gospel and pray for all who minister in His name.

Moving forward: I’m thankful today for all who minister in the name of Jesus with pure hearts, regardless of style or method.

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 15-16

I Corinthians 11-12 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He asks that we remember His death

Every culture in the world has its holidays and remembrances, occasions that are celebrated and honored with gatherings, food and gifts. Beyond the ten major holidays we observe in the United States, it seems we are always celebrating someone’s birthday or anniversary where we set aside time to honor an individual or couple, remembering their special day.

When my family celebrates the birthdays of our children, I love to refresh everyone’s memory of the events that took place on the day of their birth. I especially enjoy sharing all the facets of our son’s birth, embarrassing little details for him. I’m not certain why I do this, but the word payback comes to mind – it was a difficult delivery. Regardless, our moments together as we remember and celebrate are filled with much laughter, joy and often sweet tears. Another day we frequently remember and honor is a day that entirely changed our lives.

@ I Corinthians 11
“For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.’ In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.’”(23-25)

These are familiar words to those who observe the Lord’s Supper, or Communion as we most often refer to it, and observe we should! We may struggle with knowing what God desires for us to do at certain times in our lives, but there is one thing we know for certain that He wants us to do and that is to remember, honor and give pause to what He did for us on the cross. “Do this,” He said, and even if we don’t know one other observance that He desires from us, we know to do this. Sometimes He observes our faithfulness in the things we know to do before He reveals the unknown.

As a child, I don’t remember a single Communion Service where I didn’t look over to see my mom’s face moistened by tears of gratitude and love as she remembered what Jesus did for her, transforming her from death unto life. My response is much the same, always humbled by His willingness to suffer the cross for me. “With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.” (Hebrews 9:12) And when I remember this, I am forever humbled to tears by His grace.

“For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” (26) Our participation in Communion is even more than remembrance – it is our confession, each and every time, of our involvement in the new covenant, the new testament or testimony of what Christ has done for us. In a Communion Service, we are testifying to everyone present of our commitment to Him as we eat the symbols that represent His body and blood.

How appropriate that this sacred celebration would be shared with others until He comes again. One day we will gather at another Supper with the very One we have remembered through Communion, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready…Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” (Revelations 19:7,9) Oh, what a celebration!

Moving Forward: Today I look forward to my next opportunity to do this, to remember His death, His body and His blood, and what they mean to me through Communion. Whether gathering with believers or at home with my family, I will remember…

Tomorrow @ Exodus 1-4

Mark 5-6 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He responds to our faith with help for our needs

Do or die, now or never, win or lose, all or nothing! This is the language and motivation of those who plan to succeed at any cost, those who put their heads down and charge, and we all know individuals who live at this level of determination. We realized our daughter was bent this way from birth and enjoyed watching her succeed in whatever she tried, but we can only imagine her frustration in growing up in a home with phlegmatic parents, brother and dog. It was at the age of 11 or 12 when she realized her predicament and declared with exasperation, “If it weren’t for me, nothing would ever happen around this place.” And she was probably right.

Persistence is the quality of continuing steadily despite problems or difficulties, and determination is firmness of purpose, will, or intention. Both of these are characteristics of people who know how to get the job done. Some people are just born with this drive, and others develop it out of great need, and the latter was more than likely the case in the story of the woman with the issue of blood in our reading today. With an attitude of all or nothing, something happened.

@ Mark 5
“A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, ‘If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.’ Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.” (25-29) Do or die!

This dear woman had gone through the proper channels to get well, but all of them had failed her. Now it was time to put her head down and charge, and charge she did right through the crowd surrounding her target, right through the many obstacles she faced:

1) She was a woman. Approaching a religious teacher was not acceptable in her day.

2) She was unclean. Her bleeding issue labeled her impure in the eyes of others.

3) She was sick. Weak and sickly from her disease made her approach to Him a significant challenge.

4) Movement through the crowd was difficult. Everyone wanted to get close to this great Teacher.

Are we as determined to see our needs met by the Lord as this tenacious woman was? Do or die? All or nothing? Fight every demon in hell to win? Or do we allow what people think or our place in society to stop us? Do we push past the people who say there is no answer? Do we push through the pain of our situation to touch Jesus the Healer, the Shepherd, the Provider? Scripture charges us, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:16) In other words, don’t stay back in the crowd and wonder if it would be acceptable, don’t be hindered by the press of the crowd or the challenge of our need. When we boldly go to the throne of our gracious God, we, too, will see our needs met.

“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.” (34) Jesus wanted to know who had touched Him, not to chastise, but to tell her that it wasn’t His garment that made her well because many had touched Him that day. No, it was her faith in His healing virtue that got His attention. Persistent determination brought her faith to the attention of the Healer.

Moving Forward: When a father asked Jesus for deliverance for his son, “Have mercy on us and help us, if you can,” Jesus replied, “What do you mean, ‘If I can’…Anything is possible if a person believes.” (Mark 9:22-23) I believe!

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 11-12

Mark 3-4 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He speaks peace to the storms of life

The thing I remember most about viewing the movie, The Perfect Storm, is the irritation that started to build in me as I watched it.  Anytime money and/or greed determine the destiny of an individual, life takes an unfortunate turn in one way or another.  I was irritated that the storyline made me care for the willful crew of the Andrea Gail and for the loss that would occur.  Commercial fishing is a fickle business, dependent on weather, sea, and fish, all of which are out of the fisherman’s hands.

The Captain and crew didn’t know about the catastrophic storm that was brewing when they started out.  When they learned of it, they chose to put themselves at the mercy of the storm in hopes of saving their catch instead of seeking safe harbor.  Grrrr….  Some fishermen in our story today found themselves in the perfect storm, but instead of riding it out alone, they ran for help. 

@ Mark 4
“They took [Jesus] with them in the boat…A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But He was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’  He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.  He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’  And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” (36-41, NRSV)

Several years ago I happily found myself in a boat on the Sea of Galilee…without a storm.  It was hard to visualize a treacherous storm as I sat on the calm water, but our host described the nature of this Sea.  Encircled by mountains and hills, the Sea of Galilee sits at 680 feet below sea level with somewhat shallow waters for a body of water this size, making it aptly conducive for a sudden, perfect storm. This was the situation the disciples found themselves in that night.

It was no small rowboat that carried the crew across the Sea.  It was large enough to hold 12 men and provide space for Jesus to stretch out for a nap.  Most on board were not novices at sea – they were seasoned fishermen.  To find them in a panic speaks to the fierceness of the storm they were facing, but they soon learned that no storm was too fierce for the Lord.  Although their fright revealed a lack of faith, at least the disciples knew where to go to for help!  “The disciples went and woke Him up, shouting, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’” (Matthew 8:25)

We may find ourselves in a situation that feels like the perfect storm, out to destroy us; but as with the disciples that night in the boat, our storm is never too fierce for the Lord to save us.  When we follow the Lord, we are never at the mercy of the storm.  We are at the mercy of Jesus, the peace speaker.  And when we run to Him in our storm with its raging winds and torrential rains crying “Lord, save us!” we will not drown.  He will speak peace to our storm, and if we let Him, He will fill our hearts with peace as well.

We may sense the storm still raging around us, but it’s as if He places us in the calm of the storm, the eye of the hurricane, if you will.  Our hearts are filled with peace, and we are in a place of safety until the storm dissipates.  When we’re facing life’s storms, it’s easy to forget that we are not alone in the boat.  Right there with us is the peace speaker who will speak to our storm, Peace! Be still!” 

Moving Forward:  Who then is it that even the wind and the sea obey him?  “I know the Peace Speaker, I know Him by Name.  I know the Peace Speaker, He controls the wind and the waves.  When He says, ‘Peace, be still,’ they have to obey. I know the Peace Speaker, Yes, I Know Him by Name.” (Geron Davis/Meadowgreen) 

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 9-10

Mark 1-2 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He sees and responds to our faith

Youth today often get a bad rap in the press.  Yes, they are facing some significant struggles because of the evils of our day, but not all have bowed to the god of this age.  Across the country on any given day, thousands of teenagers will gather to worship the true and living God.  They gather in churches, at school flagpoles and anywhere the name of Jesus is lifted up, gathered to pray for their country, their homes and their friends.

Many teenagers work all year long and save money to travel to foreign lands during their summer breaks, not as a tourist, but as missionaries delivering the Good News.  They give their strength and energy to aid in disaster relief around the world.  Nothing thrills me more than to see thousands of youth gathered together in rowdy praise and worship to the Lord – I think it makes Him smile. Mark was older when he wrote his gospel, but at one time he was a young follower of Jesus and some of the participants in our reading today were young and full of faith. 

@ Mark 2
Mark was not one of the twelve disciples, but it is evident that he was a disciple of Jesus, a young follower, who recorded more miracles of Jesus in his book than the other gospels contain.  Even today in this world of skepticism, nothing excites a group of young people more than a bona fide miracle like the one told by Mark in Chapter 2.  A paralyzed young man’s friends tore open the roof of the crowded home where Jesus was speaking in order to lower him down right in front of Jesus.  Awesome!

“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’”(5)  Although He knew that the man was placed in front of him for physical healing, Jesus chose to bring healing first to his soul by forgiving him of his sins.  Sitting in the house that day was a group of religious leaders that probably was not there in a supporting role, but rather one of judgment and criticism of this new teacher in town.  In light of Jewish custom, it was their view that forgiveness of sins was necessary before a body could be healed, sin being the original cause of all sickness, pain and suffering.  In forgiving the sick man, Jesus had their attention. The religious leaders were correct in saying only God could forgive sins – they just did not accept that they were talking to God.

Now that Jesus had the attention of everyone present, He healed the man’s body as well, and the miraculous healing of his body added credibility to the miraculous healing of his soul.  The crowd was stunned with shock and awe! They praised God for this miracle, but most of them did not understand that it was Jesus they were praising as well.

“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’” Apparently, Jesus knew the paralyzed man believed in Him, or his sins could not be forgiven, but the word says He saw their faith – those tenacious men who so believed in this miracle worker that they tore up the roof to get their friend to Him.

This causes me to question – will I tear up the roof, so to speak, on behalf of those who are in need of healing, whether physical, spiritual or emotional?  Will He see my faith and confidence in Him?  When I pray for others, do I really believe He will heal them? The bottom line according to Mark 2 is that He sees when I believe and He responds to that belief.  Jesus is never fooled.  It humbles me to know that my faith carries this potential. 

Moving Forward: Unlike the religious leaders, I know who I am talking to when I pray – the true and living God!  I will tear up the roof on behalf of those who need healing of any kind today because I know He sees my faith. 

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 7-8

Isaiah 56-61 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He has anointed us to bring Good News

Several years ago I was waiting in my car for my daughter to finish her music lesson and reading my scripture portion for the day that happened to be in Isaiah.  I was going through a difficult time, dealing with some minor health issues and also with some ministry challenges, and I remember saying, “Lord, can’t we do better today than Isaiah.  Come on!”

While Isaiah seems to be mostly about judgment, my reading that day happened to include Isaiah 61.  As I began to read the first verse, I felt His Spirit fill my little car, and before I knew it, I was singing the Word, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.  He has anointed me to preach Good News, Good News. To bind up the brokenhearted, to set the captives free, to deliver the prisoners from darkness and to comfort those who mourn.”  I sang it over and over again until my spirit was soaring with His.  I believe He gave me a song that day to highlight His mission and to remind me of my mission. 

@ Isaiah 61
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.  He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come…” (1-2)  These words in Isaiah repeated by Jesus in Luke 4 sent a shock wave through those gathered in the synagogue of Nazareth in Jesus’ day when, “He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. ‘The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!’” (Luke 4:20-21)  This was how Jesus announced His earthly ministry.

Jesus did not complete the scripture in Isaiah which continued, “…and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.” (2) Most feel he stopped because the day of God’s judgment had not yet come, and the next time He came to earth would be the Day of Judgment.  Today we are living in the time of the Lord’s favor, the time the Lord has given to save the lost, the acceptable year of the Lord, the year of Jubilee!  This was His mission.

What did Jesus come to do?  Anointed by the Spirit of Adonai Yahweh, the Sovereign Lord, His mission was clear:  He came as Prophet to preach the good news, the gospel of the Kingdom, to all those who would humbly listen.  He came as Priest to heal the brokenhearted, all those who were broken and sought healing for body, soul and spirit.  He came as King to deliver, as only a king could do, all those who were held captive by sin and sinful enemies.  He came as Comforter to comfort all those who mourn.

This was His mission, and so it is ours as well. As Jesus was leaving this earth, He told His followers, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’ Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22)  Isaiah prophesied that those who accept the One who sends us will receive “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” (3, KJV) How can we help but share this good news!

On that day so long ago when the Lord gave me His song, He was reminding me of His mission, my mission.  He was encouraging me to not get bogged down with the challenges or heaviness of the mission, but to allow Him to breathe on me and receive help from His Holy Spirit.  We are not alone in our mission; He has anointed us to bring Good News. 

Moving Forward: All I can say today is, Holy Spirit, breathe on me and pour on the oil of joy. 

Tomorrow @ Mark 1-2