Monday, December 26, 2011

She Hath Done What She Could

A phrase has been echoing through my head.  The phrase is the title of this blog post, in fact.  Everyone should become very familiar with the author of that quote.  His name is Jesus.
But seriously, this phrase has been hounding me...over my whole life.  "She hath done what she could."  You may be wondering what a phrase that has a feminine pronoun in it twice has to do with me (don't say anything!), but let me explain.
I came across this phrase again when reading a Lamplighter book, recently.  I have a lot of the Lamplighter books as inventory, so I've been reading several of them before I have to send them back.  The book was called, "Christie's Old Organ", first published in 1874, according to the front cover.  In essence, the book is about an old man who is dying and asks his only friend in the world, a young orphan boy, to find out all he can about heaven before the old man's last month is up.  The boy does as he's asked, and the old man learns about Jesus, but just before he dies he laments the fact that he wished he could have had more than one week to show Jesus how much he loved him.  In remembrance of this, the boy devotes the rest of his life to demonstrating his love for Jesus, and the local minister mentions that the goal of each one of us should be that in the end, the Lord will be able to say of us, "He hath done what he could."  That's what got me thinking of that.
The phrase comes from Mark 14:8.  It's the well-known story of the woman with the alabaster box.  This is the story as we find it in Mark:
Mark 14:3-9  And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. (4) And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? (5) For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. (6) And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. (7) For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. (8) She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. (9) Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.
She did everything she could!  Went to the furthest possible extent to show Jesus her love!  (By the way, is it furthest or farthest?  I get mixed up about which to use...)
This was a very precious, precious gift.  We learn from verse 5 that it might have been sold for more than 300 pence.  A penny, Scripturally, is equivalent to a denarius, which was a day's wages.  That means this gift was almost a year's wages!  Think about that in today's terms!  That's pretty incredible.  It was probably her most precious possession, and she poured it out for Him.  I find it interesting that Jesus says this will be story will be spoken of wherever the gospel is preached throughout the whole world.  I think it's because, her response to Jesus parallels what He did for us.  He poured out His soul in death for us, and she responded with appropriate gratitude.  What she did could never equal what He was about to do, of course.   But it showed that she understood the great gift He was about to give.
A similar story Jesus commends is in Luke 21.  The widow with the two mites.  He said that what she did for God was worth more than what all the other rich people did, because even though she only threw in two mites...probably not real significant towards paying for the elaborate temple in comparison to what the rich men were throwing in...but in God's eyes she'd cast in more than they all.  "For all these have of their abundance cast in into the offering of God; but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had." (emphasis mine)
Why was the woman with the alabaster box to be spoken of throughout the whole world, wherever the gospel was preached for a memorial of her?  I believe because she stands as a shining example of the correct response to the incredible good news, the incredible gift of the gospel.  In response to God's great gift, we should be willing to pour out our lives for Him!
Now we might not die a martyr's death, or have the opportunity to physically give Him our most precious possession, but have we done what we can?  Wouldn't those be wonderful words to hear?  "He hath done what he could.  Well done, thou good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of thy lord."
But what can we do?  Whatever He asks. :)  And above.  Some of the things we do might be small.  But the greatest gifts, I believe, are when we do unnoticed things for God just because we love Him.  When we do something, without any other motive, without receiving any credit or recognition, (and maybe at times even receiving criticism), just because we love God...that's the greatest gift.  A lot of times, this is simply accomplished by 'loving your neighbor as yourself.'  
Our family watched a movie the other night called, 'To Save a Life.'  At least, I think that was the title...but anyway, in the movie there is a kid who commits suicide just because he felt alone.  The movie deals with people wrestling with reaching out to people who are usually ignored.  He went to a youth group just before he died, but people were busy, distracted, and he left.  But, as a result, people begin reaching out in small ways.  Inviting people to sit with them at lunch, being friendly, etc.  And it makes a difference.
Another Lamplighter book I read recently was called, "The Rescue of Jessica's Mother," a sequel to "Jessica's First Prayer."  (Both are very touching stories, by the way.)  But the second really addresses this particular man named Daniel as he reaches out to poor people, unlike the rich people in the congregation of the church he attends.  He uses his comparatively smaller means to do what he can for God because he loves him.  When I read or hear stories like these I realize I am lacking.  I don't always do what I can.  But I want to be able to say: 

'Yes, Lord, yes, to Your will and to Your way.
I'll say yes, Lord, yes; I will trust You and obey.
When Your Spirit speaks to me,
With my whole heart I'll agree.
And my answer will be yes, Lord, yes.'
Sometimes it can be just the smallest thing.  Praying for a visitor at church, or being friendly with someone at the grocery store.  When I feel the unction to do something like that, ironically many times I'll brush it aside.  "That's not the Lord telling me to do that," I'll say to justify myself.  But it's certainly not Satan telling me to do it!  And, really, what harm could something like that do?  Shouldn't I do what I can to show Jesus' love to people, regardless, and not make excuses?
These have been my random thoughts recently.  It's certainly not something I'm doing perfect.  But with God's help, I want my answer to be 'yes', and I want to do what I can to show my love for Him.
In this season when people are thinking of Jesus' birthday, it's good to think of the precious gift Jesus gave us, and of the precious gift He was glad to receive...and that He wants to receive from us.
Philippians 2:5-8
(5) Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
(6) Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
(7) But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
(8) And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Confessions of a Christian Cynic

Hi, my name is Michael Schroeder, and I'm a cynic.  The last time I thought cynical thoughts, actually.
I do tend to be a bit of a 'Doubting Thomas' even when it comes to miracles, (or people pointing out blurs of light that are probably angels in photographs), but actually, if you're a cynic hoping I'll bash faith and validate your indignation against ignorant imbecile believers, you should probably go to another blog, because I'm actually talking about a different kind of cynicism.  That kind of cynicism is directed toward God; the kind I'm talking about is directed toward people.  Stay tuned though and there may be a 'Confessions of a Christian Cynic part II.'
Where does my cynicism come from if I'm only 18, you ask?  Good question.  Jesus mentioned a reason for cynicism that sums things up pretty well in Matthew 24:12.  "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold."  And even though I'm only 18, I've been placed in situations where I've seen the...uh...not-so-bright side of people.  Nowhere near as much as I will see, I'm sure, but enough to make me wonder at times if there's ANYONE who's really real and wants to genuinely serve God.  There have been times when I've felt like Elijah under the juniper whining to God about being the only one left, then I have to remember God's rebuke to him: "Hey you little elitist, I've still got 7,000 people who haven't bowed their knees to Baal, so quit acting like you're all alone."  The psalmist's words in Psalm 116:11 also come to mind..."I said in my haste, All men are liars!"
But is this kind of attitude right?  God's words to Elijah show that it's not.  It's hard to remember that some times.  When Jesus used the words 'the love of many will wax cold, he was intimating something.  I get the picture in my mind of a candle slowing burning out.  This isn't a sudden process.  It comes from being hardened from seeing iniquity all around us.  I've seen so many people use other people as an excuse to quit coming to church and even as an excuse to stop serving God.  My mom taught be by example early on that no matter what anyone else does, even if that person is someone highly respected, or supposed to be on good terms with God and yet still fails, we can still depend on God no matter what.  Man in his best state his altogether vanity.  People are people and will fail us, and the fear of man will bring a snare.  And the church is made up of imperfect people!  I'm often reminded of Proverbs 14:4; "Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of oxen."  But in realizing the truth of the first part of that verse, (that the only perfect church is a church without people in it, just like the only clean stall is the one without oxen in it), the chance comes to become bitter and not trust anyone.  I realize that people are imperfect, and therefore, I also realize that people will often fail me.  What do I do then with that knowledge?  Sadly, a tendency of mine is to isolate myself from others.  I'm polite, but don't want to go any deeper.  I rarely share my deeper thoughts and feelings with others.  (You would be shocked if you could hear some of the sarcastic commentaries that run through my head from day to day.)  There are a few select people that I let into my inner circle, but they have to work to earn my trust.
Yet the second part of Proverbs 14:4 is essential to remember.  God designed us for community.  In His creation, after He created everything, He said it was good.  But then in Genesis 2, for the first time God says something is 'not good.'  He said, 'It is not good that man should be alone.  I will make an help meet for him.'  God designed the body of Christ to depend on one another. (1 Cor. 12)  Much increase is by the strength of oxen.  Even though there are some smelly situations that arise from the church, there is also much increase.  What I've come to realize is that I need GOD'S love for people.
I have been teaching on 1, 2, and 3 John recently, and one of the main concepts the apostle John focuses on is love.  Love one another.  And he has some pretty straight comments for those who don't.  And while I nod to that concept in my head, my practice of it is still quite lacking.
I realized this when I was praying a few weeks ago.  There are certain times in prayer when it's like I can glimpse what God sees.  God is holding out His arms, waiting to pour out His love on people, and yet they pass Him by and ignore Him.  They don't listen when He calls, turn away when He reaches out, scoff when He tries to show them His hand.  And whenever I get a vivid picture of this in prayer it makes me morose...and angry.  Why can't certain people see how much God loves them?  How can they do that to Him?  Instead of taking on and exhibiting the love God has for them, I see with indignation this unrequited love and the opposite effect is produced in my spirit.  Yet I have to realize that I've done, and in some respects am still doing, the exact same thing.  I've ignored God's love before.  I've turned my back on Him.  He loves me so much and yet I act like such an idiot.  The parable in Matthew 18 is a very accurate picture to depict the irony of my feelings at times.  And what I'm learning is that I can't love people on my own strength.  I need God's help to do it.  I need God's Spirit to fill me, and produce in me the love that He has for others.  One of the first fruits of the spirit is love.  It's the most important thing we can do as Christians.  We can't let bitterness and cynicism rule our lives.
So what's the recovery plan for this Christian cynic?  Focus on God.  Completely.  Once I get my mind off myself, and off of other people, I have a feeling that loving them will all fall into place.