Thursday, March 31, 2016

Being the Best for Him

     In our office the other day, several of us ladies were discussing how we used to dress for Easter Sunday during our growing up years.  We agreed that we wore a pretty hat, white gloves, a special new dress and in my case, my father always bought pretty corsages for each of us.  To be certain, it was a special day so we wore our best.  I once asked my mother about why it was so important to dress up for church.  Her response was simple.  She said that in all things we do for the Lord we should offer our best.  My mother was not implying that "our best" had to be the most expensive.  Rather than cost, our "best" is a matter of the heart.  Jesus pointed this out to His disciples.
     Luke, in his Gospel, records the observation of our Lord (Chapter 21:1-4):  "Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and He saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.  And He said, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.'"
Our Savior pointed out the difference in offerings to make the point that the widow was truly making a sacrificial offering to the Lord out of a heart that was right with God.  On the other hand, the more wealthy people were giving out of their abundance.  They gave to the Lord, but was it their best?  In the case of the widow, she gave her very best to God for along with this gift she also gave her heart.
     Whether it is clothing, our service to the community, our jobs or work within the church itself, we need to really examine our motives.  We are ambassadors for Christ in this world; therefore, we need to consider how well we are representing Him in all areas.  Striving for the best is something that the Apostle Paul frequently talked about when he said:  "24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever" (I Corinthians 9:23-25).
     Our goal here on earth is not to impress people or perform to earn man's praise but rather, we are to live in such a way that reflects our respect, love and obedience to God our heavenly Father.  Holy living in all areas is something that often gets put on a shelf like our Bibles do.  We forget that the way we talk, dress and behave towards others reflects either a life changed by Christ or one that is lived to please man.  Unfortunately, our culture has gotten so casual in the way we dress and approach God that there is often little difference between us and unbelievers.  Yet, we are called to be holy as He is holy.  I Peter 1:15-16 says:  "15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”  Let me give one more example.
     When my husband and I traveled to Europe for an anniversary trip, we visited England where we had the privilege to tour Buckingham Palace since the queen was not in residence.  It was a beautiful palace inside and out.  Now imagine with me that the queen had been in residence and we were invited to meet her.  Out of respect for her, I would have worn my best clothes and shown her due courtesy.  Likewise, I would be careful in my speech and behavior.  If I would do this for an earthly person in a high position, how much more should I do this for my heavenly Father who made me?
     Indeed, the days of hats, gloves and corsages may have passed with time, but that does not mean
we cannot offer God our best in worship, dress, behavior and words.  Let us learn to be holy as He is holy that we may reflect His glory and show Him the respect He is due.  Selah!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Live Like It's Easter Every Day

     This past weekend was filled with many blessings.  After several months of work, our choir performed Stainer's "The Crucifixion" for our Good Friday service.  When our music director first introduced us to this cantata, I wondered if we could do it justice, but with practice and God's grace, we were able to sing the Scripture filled songs.  How encouraging to hear God's greatest act of passion set to music!
     Then, on Saturday, we had a treat with family coming to share a meal and celebrate Easter early with us.  Somehow family fellowship in Christ satisfies like nothing else can do.  Watching children hunt for Easter eggs, praying together, and talking about the real reason we celebrate deepens the faith we share.
     Of course, the greatest blessing came on Easter Sunday.  Hearing God's Word afresh from the Book of Mark concerning the resurrection filled my heart with joy in what God has done for us.  As our service of worship closed out, our music director chose to conclude with George Frederic Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" on the organ.  Typically, we choir members remain seated during the Postlude, but on this day, we rose and spontaneously began to sing this song in praise to God.  Many in the congregation stayed to listen or sing along with us.  We all were praising the Lord for His gift of salvation.  What a celebration weekend, but then, a thought occurred to me.  We are meant to live like it's Easter every day!  So how do we do this?  Jesus gives us some direction.
     As Jesus was preparing His disciples for what He was about to do, He gave them (and all of us who would follow) words of comfort and assurance so we could live in victory every day.  John 14:1-3:  "Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in Me.  In my Father's house are many rooms, if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."  Later in verse 27 of this chapter, Jesus said:  "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."  In both sections, Jesus speaks words of comfort and encouragement.  He reminds us to not let our hearts be troubled two times in this passage.  He did this to emphasize how important it is to walk by faith and not by sight.  We must trust in Him.
     Likewise, we must consider that Jesus left us His peace and it is a peace that passes all understanding which will guard our hearts and minds according to the Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:7).
We need to embrace this daily and remember that Jesus told us He would come again.  These are the blood bought gifts our Savior gives to those who believe in Him.
     Most importantly, Jesus gave us a commission to take this wonderful news into all the world.  Our world, our family, our friends, our neighbors and business associates all need to know that in Christ we can have peace, salvation, untroubled hearts and an assurance of life eternal.  There is nothing to fear in this life when we are in Christ for He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).  As we tell others this Good News, our own faith grows and it becomes Easter all over again as we touch another life.
     The glow and joy of this past weekend needs to grow into an every day occurrence.  We are all meant to live like it is Easter every day!  By reading His Word, prayer, walking in His promises and giving all our concerns to Him, we can experience the peace which Jesus so freely gives.  We only have to believe, trust and obey Him.  Holidays come and go, but the power of the resurrection needs to be lived out in our lives moment by moment.  May we become Easter people living and walking in the power of God's Spirit!  Selah!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

One Who Knows the Pain of Living

     Have you ever been falsely accused, persecuted, hurt, misunderstood, condemned or gone through some physical suffering?  Living in this fallen world exposes us to all of the above at one time or another.  Even our brothers and sisters in Christ can inflict pain by letting us down; however, there is comfort in knowing that we have an advocate in Jesus Christ.
     As I was reading Scripture today, these verses stood out clearly:  "14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."  Having a Savior who has undergone all the same emotions, temptations, hurt and physical pain that you and I will ever experience means we have a God who knows what it is like to be human.  The difference here is that Jesus never sinned.  Therefore, He is the perfect One to plead our case before His Father in heaven.  He knows
what it is that we face and fully identifies with our humanity.  I find comfort in that.  I also take joy in knowing that when I am going through hard places I have a Savior that fully understands.
     This is holy week and a time to reflect on all that Jesus did go through.  He faced Satan one on one in the wilderness while he fasted for 40 days.  Over and over again Satan tempted Him to give up and give in to sin, but Jesus succeeded in having complete victory by standing on the Word of God as given in Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11).  What were these temptations?  Satan tempted Him in his hunger to make bread from the stones.  He tempted Him to test and manipulate God by throwing Himself off the pinnacle of the Temple so the angels could save Him and finally, Satan tempted Jesus to take a shortcut to ruling over all the kingdoms of the world.  If our Savior would bow down to him, He would not have to face the cross, shed His blood and go through rejection.  All these temptations our Lord endured, but He never gave in to sin.
     Furthermore, we know that our Savior also experienced false accusations.  He was accused of casting out demons by the power of Satan (Matthew 12:24).  The Pharisees were looking for any excuse to discredit the true work of our Lord.  In order to do this, they claimed He could only work miracles by the power of Satan.  Their lies were turned back at them when Jesus rightly pointed out that a house divided cannot stand.  Again, He faced the accusations but did not sin in His response.
     Perhaps the greatest accusations came when Jesus was accused at his Kangaroo trial of blaspheming God.  False witnesses testified against Him to no avail (Mark 14:56).  Nothing was done correctly or consistently, yet the leaders of Israel sought to put Him to death.  Speak of injustice!  Again, we have a Savior who can fully identify with us when we face false accusations.
     One of the most painful times, though, came when Jesus was betrayed by one of His disciples with whom He had spent three years.  Even though He knew this must take place, the sting of betrayal and later, desertion of the Lord by His own disciples (most especially the denial of Peter three times) can only be described as an emotional bomb shell.  Being fully God and fully man, Jesus knows the range of emotions and heartache we suffer.
     Then, the final agony came when he was beaten and tortured on the cross until He died.  The power in this is that He suffered for us.  This, however is not the end of the story.  He rose and conquered death giving us the assurance that if we put our faith in Him, we also will live eternally and be raised from the dead.  What a Savior!
     There is no emotion, trial, hurt, pain or suffering that Jesus Christ has not experienced as He walked among us.  He is the perfect high priest of our souls.  He understands when no one else does.
This is why we can come to Him in complete confidence, and when we cannot go on, He gives us the strength to endure because He has overcome this world and all the pain in it!  The God of all grace made us, knows us, loves us and sent His Son to redeem us!
     Not only on Easter but throughout the days ahead, let us run into His arms because He is the perfect Shepherd of our souls.  In Him, we will find joy, grace, mercy, acceptance and understanding. He is our advocate in whom we can fully trust.  Therefore trust Him today!  Selah!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Adapting Our Message Without Compromising

     One of the things we all have to learn in life is how to adapt gracefully to change.  As we all know, nothing stays the same forever.  I remember finding a Bible that my grandfather wrote in one Christmas long ago.  He told of how happy he was that the entire family was gathered together and wished that it could be this way forever.  How many of us have felt the same way when we are enjoying a special time?  Yet, sadly, we cannot stop the march of time.
Children grow up and begin their own journeys.  Friends move away or change in such a way that we hardly know them any more.  However, I love the attitude of the Apostle Paul.

     In his letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul writes in I Corinthians 9:19-23:  “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.  To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

     Within this passage, we see a man who has learned to adapt himself but not compromise himself.  This is how we face change in life.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to become “all things to all people” for the purpose of winning them to Christ…not manipulation or any other motive.  Paul was well aware that situations, circumstances and people are ever changing.  Nevertheless, he was able to adapt without giving in or compromising his values.  That is the key for us as well.

     What has happened throughout the church today is that many have learned to compromise their belief system in order to avoid making waves.  This has diluted the message of the gospel rather than strengthened it.   Paul, on the other hand, adapted his message and lifestyle without giving up the Christian worldview in the process.  He was able to converse with the weak, other Jews, and Gentiles to name a few.  His flexibility to change was the result of His trust in God to fill his mouth with the right words at the right time.

     One of the key things that I believe Paul understood was that no one can change another person by a direct action on our part.  We can really only change ourselves.  It is even impossible to do that outside of Christ!  However, with the Holy Spirit residing in us, we are more than capable of demonstrating love and the fruits of great character that we otherwise would have trouble modeling to others.

     This much we know.  Change is inevitable in life, but how we respond to it is not.  When we are walking by God’s Spirit, we are able to adapt rather than compromise our beliefs.  Let us strive to become all things to all people that we might win them without losing any of the godly principles upon which our life is built.  This will bring glory and honor to God as we live this way.  Selah!

     Father, never let us compromise our beliefs and become like the world.  You have called us to walk in this world but not be a part of it.  May we have the right words to say and the right actions as we share with others the Good News of Jesus Christ.  May we never compromise for the sake of political correctness, but give us strength to stand for the truth in the face of change.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Contented Heart

      Have you ever wished that you could have the life that someone else has?  Maybe if you had their money, influence, fame, or job, you could finally be able to relax and enjoy life a little more.  Most of us at one time or another may have had that desire.  We look at our neighbor down the street who just bought a new car or went on a great vacation, and we find ourselves wanting what they have.  The Bible calls this covetousness.
      In Exodus 20:17, God gave this command:  "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's."    This is a pretty straight forward command which God has given to us, and of the the Ten Commandments, it is the only commandment that deals with the inward motivation of the heart.  This is where coveting begins as an inner longing to have what someone else has.  We cannot see someone's inner motives, but God can and does.
     Furthermore, covetousness can actually be said to be a sin that leads to many other sins for if we break this commandment, we have broken them all.  The book of James says:  "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then, desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death" (James 1:14-15).  Examples of this abound in our newspaper every day.  We read about people who feel they deserve more money so they embezzle funds from their employer.  Then, another person may steal something from an innocent victim because he/she feels they deserve it.  People have been killed because someone wanted to have their possessions.  Coveting, then, is very much like a cancer that needs to be removed from our very soul.  It is the height of ingratitude for what God has done in our lives.
     Jesus spoke these words as recorded in Luke 12:15:  "...Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."  Having more "toys" will not bring us happiness and being angry with God because our neighbor is prospering and we are not  does not change anything.  It is not for us to tell the Lord what we are to have in this life.  He is sovereign over us, our possessions and our days on earth.  Rather, we need a heart of gratitude and joy.  This leads to contentment which brings peace to our hearts.  The Apostle Paul learned this and we would do well to emulate his example:  "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need" (Phil. 4:11-12).
     I wish I could say that I never struggle with envy, and that I am very content at all times.  However, that would not be truthful.  There are times when I wonder why God allows someone else to have a certain opportunity and not me.  When the Spirit of God reveals how sinful my thinking is, I turn to the Lord and once again repent for having a covetous heart.  At this point, this is when I need to make a list of things for which I am grateful in my life.  Keeping an answered prayer journal as well as a gratitude journal would go a very long way to restoring our hearts to beat in rhythm with God's.  After all, He has given us life, provided us with salvation through His Son Jesus Christ, and He keeps us daily in His care.  How much more could we ever want?
      Instead of wishing that we had what our neighbor has, we need to develop a heart of contentment.  We need to thank God each day for all the things He has given to us,  If we would begin to live in this manner, we would find it easier to overcome the temptation to covet.  Paul learned how to be content, and this is what we must do.  Selah!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Change of Seasons

     This past Fall, as I was out walking with my husband, I noted how colorful and beautiful the leaves were on the trees.  Here in Florida, we do not experience the wide ranging changes in the season and weather that I experienced in my native Ohio.  However, we do get a change of leaves in late November and into December.  Some trees even bear the most elegant berries just in time for holiday festivities even though the trees are a pest (the Brazilian Pepper is almost like holly in contrasting colors).  The cloudy day overhead seemed to intensify the colors even more, so despite the sprinkles, I took several photos.
     When I thought about the cloudy day, I could not help but compare it to the changes we experience in the seasons of our life.  Some days are sunny, restful, unburdened and full of joy.  There doesn't seem to be any challenges we have to face.  Then, there are cloudy/stormy days when all our energy seems to be sapped as we face circumstances we wish we could live without.  However, it was on a cloudy rainy day that I noticed how brilliant the colors were around me on the trees and plants.  Could it be like this in our life as well?  I believe this is what the Lord would like the world to see.
The Brazilian Pepper tree in bloom in December
     For each of us, it is easy to be a Christian when the times are good and life is going at an even pace.  The question is how brilliant is our light for Christ when the storms come?  Jesus gave us an example of two men and the houses they constructed to protect them from the storms.
     In Matthew 7:21-27 reads:  "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell, and great was the fall of it."  This is a familiar story to us, but it contains the secret to weathering those difficult times in life that come to us all.
     Jesus indicates that those who hear His words and then do them have a solid foundation that can face all types of weather.  Their lives will remain strong no matter what life throws at them.  On the other hand, those who choose not to listen to the words of life which Christ gives will find that they will not be able to withstand the crippling winds of chaos that come along.  No one - Christian or unbeliever can escape the change that comes with living in this fallen world.  It rains on both the wicked and the righteous equally.  The difference between the two, however, is the way in which each handles life's problems.
     At one point in my life, I was busy raising four young children, caring for my mother who had Alzheimer's and home educating as well.  I certainly felt more than stretched.  Frequent trips back and forth to my mother's assisted living apartment to check on her coupled with teaching four different levels of school for our children left me exhausted.  It would have been easy to put aside my efforts to home school, but I knew the Lord had called us to this task.  Thankfully, my faith and trust in Christ saw me through these days and my house stood.  The cloudy weather that had set into my life made me run to the arms of my heavenly Father for comfort and guidance.    Like the colors of the fall trees against the cloudy sky, my life radiated a difference that others could see.  God  brought out the colors of deeper trust, a steadfast faith, and perseverance despite the hardships by allowing these trials in my life.  He may be doing the same in your life right now.  I am here to tell you that you can survive as I did by putting my life on the rock of Jesus Christ.  His words have life and can see us all through the most violent storms.
     Sunny weather is wonderful and to be enjoyed, but it is only when the storms come that we can see in whom we are trusting.  Our true colors become clear to us and others at these times.  While the time I spent caring for my ailing mother and teaching our children was not easy during those ten years, it made me more compassionate and able to minister to others.  God taught me so much as He walked with me through the valley.  Therefore, I encourage you to allow God to work in and through your current circumstances.  If your weather is cloudy/stormy right now, make certain you are anchored on the rock and trust in Him.  He is able to make us stand firm and reflect His glory.  Selah!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

When Convictions Collide

     Jesus told us in John 16:33:  "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  With these words, our Savior pointed to the fact that we live in a fallen world where we are bound to clash with others.  This is no less true among Christians.  Within the pages of Scripture, we see examples of believers at odds with one another.
     Perhaps the best illustration is the Church at Corinth.  Here was a young congregation who had come from a pagan society.  They were growing at a rapid rate, and when Paul left them, they seemed to be moving in the right direction.  However, their background and the sin nature held them back.  A description of Corinth as noted in "The MacArthur Study Bible" introduction to this letter indicates the following:  "Even by the pagan standards of its own culture, Corinth became so morally corrupt that its very name became synonymous with debauchery and moral depravity.  In I Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul lists some of the specific sins for which the city was noted and which formerly had characterized many believers in the church there" (pg. 1681).  
     In addition to their carnality and immaturity, the believers there also could not get along and broke into factions.  When Apollos (a gifted teacher) came to minister, a group of his admirers formed a clique and did not mingle with others in the church.  Another group clung to Paul and still others pledged their allegiance to Peter.  Of course, there were also those who proclaimed their loyalty to Christ alone ( I Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:1-9).  These factions were creating a good deal of disunity in the Body.   Each group felt they had the right perspective, teacher and direction.  
     John MacArthur points out, though, that the greatest problem the Corinthians had  was their worldliness:  " unwillingness to divorce the culture around them.  Most of the believers could not consistently separate themselves from their old, selfish, immoral, and pagan ways" (pg. 1682).  Now if we step back after considering this, how many churches today fall into the same problems that these believers had?  I would venture to say that many do.  Why?
     One of the chief reasons goes back to the sin nature.  While the power of sin is broken by the blood of Jesus Christ in the life of a believer, we still have to deal with unrealistic expectations, old habits, prejudices and selfishness.  As someone once pointed out, the church would be perfect if it wasn't for all the people.  Imperfect people on the road of sanctification are bound to collide in their opinions, thoughts and outlooks.  It takes time to grow in Christ, and therefore, we need to extend the love of God to one another as we walk along.  The Apostle wrote these words in Romans 12:17-19:  "17Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.19Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord.…"  This, then, should be our goal when our visions crash into one another.  
     Disagreements and development of factions can happen in any group, but it can either be an opportunity for growth in the church as we work through these or it can bring division.  Our goals should be to love one another and maintain a bond of unity.  This brings glory to the Lord.  Likewise, our witness before the world is enhanced when we treat one another with respect.  The Body of Christ is meant to work together even when we have disagreements.  With this in mind, let it be our goal to think more highly of others than we think of ourselves.  Selah!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

An Extravagant Gift of Love

     When we hear the word extravagant, most of us think of a very pricey item over and above what one would expect.  A picture of a young man buying a very expensive gift for the love of his life comes to mind; or we might think of the rich and famous with which to associate this term.  However, when my pastor used it in a sermon as he told the story of Mary the sister of Lazarus, many new thoughts blazed through my mind.  What did this woman do that forever linked her to the Gospel story?
     In John 12:1-8, we read:  "Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  So they gave a dinner for him there.  Martha
served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with Him at the table.  Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair.  The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, (he who was about to betray Him), said, 'Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?'  He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.  Jesus said, 'Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.  The poor you always have with you but you do not always have me.'"
     Both the Gospel according to Matthew(chapter 26) and the Gospel according to Mark (chapter 14) have this same story presented but no name is given for the woman involved.  All three stories remark about the extravagance of this gift which is given to Jesus.  In Matthew and Mark, however, it is mentioned that the head of our Lord was also anointed, and in Mark 14: 9, Jesus said:  "And truly, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."  This is a remarkable statement and one worth noting.
     Looking at the passage in John, it is important for us to reflect on the background of this woman who gave her best to the Lord in an act of humility and devotion.  Mary and Martha are the sisters of Lazarus and resided at Bethany.  Jesus had come to visit (as recounted in Luke 10).  Martha busied herself with a meal preparation but Mary sat at the feet of Jesus to hear Him teach.  When Martha complained to the Lord about Mary not assisting her, Jesus gently told her that Mary had chosen the best part.  Later on, we see both sisters again when their brother Lazarus died.  Following this momentous event, we do not encounter them until this meal at Bethany six days before the Passover.
     What Mary did at this meal was scandalizing to Judas Iscariot and the other disciples.  She took an expensive perfume equivalent to a year's wages and poured it on the feet of Jesus.  Then, she took her hair and wiped His feet.  We can only speculate what was running through her mind, but ultimately it was an act of devotion.  She had broken many traditions of the day; first, by sitting at the feet of Jesus as a disciple in the earlier visit to their home, and secondly, by letting her hair down to perform an act of servitude.  Neither act was acceptable for a Jewish woman. This devotion and love for our Lord was extravagant.  Jesus noticed her genuine heart and proclaimed that she would never be forgotten.
     On the opposite end of this spectrum is the grumbling, Ebenezer Scrooge response of Judias Iscariot the treasurer of this band.  He took no joy in her sacrifice.  He saw it only as a monetary loss because he really did not care about the poor.  No, Judas was a thief himself as the Scripture recounts.  His hand was in the till so to speak.  He would have loved for Mary to sell the ointment and give the money to him as treasurer.  He could have used it for his own desires as he had before.
     Within this short 8 verses, we see the contrast between the heart forever changed by an encounter with the living Lord, and the miserly, empty clutching heart of a man who would betray the Lifegiver for 30 pieces of silver.  Mary gave her best in an extravagant display of her love.  Certainly, she was thankful for the restoration of her brother to life, but she had also had a true encounter with "Emmanuel"...the God with us Messiah promised by all the prophets.  How could she not give Him her all?
     In the same manner, we need to ask ourselves if we have given the Lord our very best.   After all, His display of extravagant love was to step from the height of heaven to become man and suffer a tortuous death so that we might have eternal life through Him.  His sacrifice went beyond perfume or pretty gifts. He gave His very life for us.  So what, we may ask, can we give Him in return?  The Apostle Paul writes the answer in Romans 12:1:  "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."  Nothing less, than giving ourselves in utter gratitude for our salvation by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is our due.
     Because He first loved us with such extravagant love, we are now free to offer ourselves to Him completely just as Mary did in her act of devotion.  She did not know what would occur in six days, and that she was preparing the Lord for burial.  She only knew that she had been changed by her encounter with her Messiah.  She gave the best that she had.  We are called to do no less.  Our time, our talents, our love and our gratitude all belong to Him.  This is what extravagant love really is all about.  Selah!