Mary and Her Perfume

In John 12 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 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.”

So, Mary washed and anointed Jesus’ feet a few days before Passover. Then Jesus washed the disciples’ feet on Thursday, Passover. Now, after he did that, who there washed Jesus’ feet? Trick question. No one. Jesus went to the cross that next day with the powerful fragrance of spikenard still on his lower legs and feet.

Let’s back up just a minute and talk about the contents of that alabaster box. What is nard, or spikenard? Also called muskroot, it is a class of aromatic amber-colored oil derived from a flower in the honeysuckle family which grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, India. It’s got two uses classically. Song of Solomon discusses it as a lovers’ perfume enhancing the joy of the wedding night. It’s a musky scent that is life-giving, beautifying, and delightful. But it was also used for embalming, covering a deceased person with a pleasant aromatic. Mary, who clearly listened well to Jesus, was anointing his body for burial. He even says as much. She, using her hair, in humility, smelled of Christ and He of her. Union. Intermingled. Such powerful imagery.

So, he still smells of this perfume while he’s on the cross as it wafts up to his nostrils. Smell, by the way, is the number one memory trigger. Jesus, we are told, endured the cross for the “joy set before Him.” Now, I submit that this memory trigger, this wedding night aromatic, reminded Christ of His Bride. His joy. His wedding night: the Marriage Supper Of the Lamb, yet to be. It reminded him of us. His Bride! Us! His beloved! We got Him through it. That scent helped keep us in his memory and that allowed him to endure the cross. Her sacrifice that cost a year’s wages, that potent picture of the gospel, had eternal ramifications. Us. Here and now. She loved Him. And she’s to be remembered because of that.

From the Heart

When Jesus said “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” he was not instructing us to do more things. Remember this is from the Sermon on the Mount and is in the context of examining the heart. He goes on to equate anger with murder, lust with adultery, giving our word with integrity, and loving our enemies. He then naturally speaks about hypocrites, or “play actors,” those who “fake it til you make it.” He takes us deeper than behavior. Attempting to force others to do things (law, punishment, programs, steps) without focusing on proper motivation is shallow conformity at best. Legalizing morals is ineffective if there isn’t already a foundation of ethical rationale, as we’re seeing clearly in our own society. Natural law dictates that we can only go so far in establishing consequences for actions against civilization. Built into us, through nature, is a conscience which signifies order and obedience. Our deepest need is to mirror, magnify, and mimic the Lord. Without the Spirit’s guidance we’re blind to how to actually accomplish that so we either deny (Romans 1 says “suppress the Truth”), diminish or demand relief for our inability. The Gospel is our remedy and rescue. The gift of faith leads to living for Him from our hearts. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable Gift.”

The Futility of Identity

I’ve become convinced that “finding your identity” is an exercise in idolatry. Identity is static and stagnant. It tends to serve the purpose of what we want others to see. Being “something” is less than becoming someone which is at the heart of our redemption. We are not identity; we are story. We change and grow. We are in the midst of the “already not yet.” We transform. Oh, some day when our Heavenly Father hands us that white stone and bends down to whisper that new name in our ear, then we’ll have our identity but it will be at the end of our stories. We get inklings of it now as His Spirit moves us through sanctification from wrath to righteousness. We’ll recognize our new name, therefore, and say “I knew it!” We will have become the culmination of all the vignettes that have created us, the fruition of all the events that God will have used to form us into that image, the image of His Son. Until then, we wait, we groan (Romans 8:22,23), along with the rest of creation. We are becoming more of who God designed us to be, more fully human, more robustly gendered, more completely like Jesus. Our stories will do that to us. This is why we can rejoice in our sufferings (Romans 5:3-5) as it produces the ability to wait upon Him in the process (endurance) whose likeness it creates in us (character) for hope’s sake, that future identity (which obliterates shame). Those echoes of future redemption keep us tethered to our “I am” that someday we will be like him (identity) when we see Him face to face. His identity gives us hope. Our union with Him gives us faith (I have been crucified with Christ). Our union with Him gives us movement (purpose) to live as opposed to finding ourselves, our identity, outside of that union.

On Being a Man

1 Corinthians 16:13-14 Being a Man

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

Be watchful – we are to pay attention to our surroundings. We are the contexualition of the Gospel. We are to be aware of what is going on around us and by paying attention we are to know where we are and who we are in that context. And then in doing so – we are to stand firm in the faith. We are not to stand firm in the cultural context but to stand firm in the faith, which explains the cultural context – not the other way around. We get to inform the culture. Paul does this in the book of Acts at Areopagus – “I perceive you are very religious…” He was the contextualization of the Gospel for the culture at that moment. Penetrating the culture with the Gospel – this is at the heart of Paul’s admonition to act like men. Be strong. Don’t let the culture get to you – get to the culture. As God’s story intersects with your story let your story intersect with theirs. And the beauty of it all comes home in verse 14 – let all that you do be done in love. Toxic masculinity – patriarchal bullying – attaches itself to one part of those phrases, “act like men,” at the expense of all the rest. When I am watchful, standing firm, being strong, all for the purpose of loving well, that is when I am most manly as designed by God. The cultural (be watchful), the spiritual (standing firm), and the gendered (act like a man), all buttress the relational (love).

Thoughts on Jordan Peterson

In response to Peterson’s latest video I have a few thoughts to share.

“Lay hands suddenly on no man” Paul tells Timothy. The fascination with Peterson stymies me, frankly. He’s a natural law evangelist who has confused the curse of God (“and yet you will rule over her”) with the commandments of God. He seems far from grace to me as he preaches to the Church. While he correctly sees issues with how we raise boys, his cure is worse than the disease. Natural law, codified in the Commandments is fulfilled with Christ who says “Love…” which means our motivation is not dominion over others but humility in serving and giving. He seems, in his studies of Genesis, to have missed the point that our gender as male is primarily to reflect God’s glory as authority, not authoritarian. By making men victims he has gained a lot of traction amongst the “wild at heart” crowd. Victim identities will always inform a self-justification of blame-shifting and then try to dominate the conquerors. It’s a never ending feedback loop. The goal of the church, “first and foremost” (stated in his latest video) has precious little to do with masculine woundedness. We are not commissioned with taking back our man garden but to take on the world with the Gospel. Like his natural theology, he is consumed with binary opposition. Masculinity is never instructed to build a ladder to heaven. We don’t want what males apart from God’s Grace have to offer. We already have that and see it in operation. This cheering section for the testosterone laden is unhelpful and messy. Bring all things under submission to Christ is first and foremost, not Peterson’s gospel of the macho.

Morning, Moments, in the Meantime

The number one question I receive from clients when they come in for therapy is “What do I do?” While I understand what they’re looking for and what they want, I also know that “doing” is what got them to where they are in the first place. And “doing” is not going to get them out of it. Doing is usually a form of self-justification, a self-works program to fix themselves.

Work, “what we do,” albeit important, is not of primary importance. Our work needs to be what flows out of something much more important: His work. You see, if our work is not informed by our worship then all we do is futile and worthless.

God is Creator, we are creation. We are designed to reflect Him. This means that we are ultimately dependent upon Him and His work. Romans 1:21 states that everything began to fall apart when “they knew God [and] they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

So we need to start there, honoring and thanking God; honoring Him for Who He is and thanking Him for what He has done. This is worship. Begin the day sitting in devotion to Him, where “His mercies are new every morning.” And then in those moments when doubt and despair creep in, “consider it joy,” as your faith (that He is worthy) is being tested, stretched, and strengthened. Embrace those moments. And then, in the meantime, during the menial tasks that occur throughout the day, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Thats reflecting your God. In honor and thanks. The “doing” will then reflect that.

The Gospel, Jesus’ finished work on the cross frees us to sit in devotion to Him.

Worship. Walk. Work. In that order.

Folding Facecloths

On Easter morning I awoke very early and went to the passage in John 20 where Peter went into the tomb to find it empty. I noticed again that Peter saw the head covering folded neatly to the side and wondered again why would Jesus take the time, after coming back to life, to carefully fold His shroud. There was much to do outside the tomb, people running around in a frenzy, worried and scared. Then it dawned on me. It was time to tell the chaos of death and destruction that Order was taking over. Jesus was beginning the slow and determined process of reconciling all things to Himself. There was no rush. He was so secure in His plan. This was Jesus saying to Death, “I got this.” And in the midst of our uncertainty and dismal outlooks right now, know this: He is slowly, carefully and methodically folding the history of evil and death into His purposes for our benefit. He’s got you! When He said to Moses, “the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” He meant it!

Three Destructive Emotions

The three destructive emotions experienced by Adam and Eve when they “saw that they were naked” and they experienced shame were guilt, anger, and fear. 1. They covered up (guilt) in regret, attempting to prove to themselves that they weren’t really naked after all. Past. 2. They blamed each other. And God (“the woman you gave me, she made me eat”). This contempt (which turned inward to self-contempt turns to despair and depression, made them feel like they weren’t really naked or at least diminished that fact. Present. 3. And they ran and hid (fear) which made them hope they’d no longer appear naked. Anxiety and its frenetic energy keeps us on the run. Future.

All these emotions are in an attempt to deny, diminish or distort the obvious: we are hopeless and helpless in ourselves to solve or resolve our condition. We are naked, exposed, and in deeper need than we can imagine. But there’s hope in being “clothed” by Him, in Him and through Him. First, embrace the exposure as a gift and then engage with the Deliverer through faith. The destructive emotions will begin to dissipate and the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) will replace them as He clothes us in His righteousness (Romans 1:17).

“Vibing” the Imago Dei

Our story of power, our “dunamis,” our “dynamic” or “vibe,” using modern parlance, is the image of God. If He is an emotional, rational, volitional, God, He is incorporating all of that always to be relational. It therefore means he is existential, experiencial. This is how He reveals all that He reveals. He is, after all, the God of Revelation. He is Wrath and He is Righteous because He is Holy, Holy, Holy. We get the brunt or the benefit depending on our condition. If reconciled, we get the benefit of revealed righteousness through faith “beginning to end.” If not, we will be objects of wrath, given over to our idolatry, immorality, and disordered individualism. We will experience His dynamic one way or another. If we attempt to “suppress the truth in our unrighteousness,” well, we’re given over to that as well.

Our “vibe” is therefore whatever our condition is and where we are with God in our wrath or our redemption based on our reconciliation.

Idolatry says “Look at me, what I got! Aren’t you impressed?!?”

Immorality has its own vibe of that sensual setup.

Individualism is being controlled by anger, deceit, malice and other narcissistic tendencies.

Dynamic depraved will either pull or push others. We sense that from everyone. And they sense ours.

Redemption, in various degrees, invites mercy and grace. This is the Gospel after all: the power or dynamic of God for salvation. In us, there will be a lack of a condemning spirit, not confused with gullibility and naïveté. It will permeate strength mingled with sensitivity. Like Jesus’ “vibe,” “Come unto me and I will give you rest, for my burden is light and my yoke is easy.” As we are transformed more and more into His image, the Imago Dei we were originally designed, we will take on His Dynamic. “For we have not been given the spirit of fear but of power.” Dunamis. Dynamic. Vibe.

Our dynamic, our vibe, is indicative of our relational style that reveals one’s awareness of a story redeemed. The way we come across is the fruit of how well we know our story and see Jesus’ fingerprints on each page. We are either victims getting back at the world or we are victimized but still seeing how God is good and using that, gifting us with his Balm of grace and purpose. The Gospel takes our pain and uses it in the lives of others as comfort (2 Cor. 1:3, 4). If we don’t open our eyes to His movement in our lives, we will be blind to what we have to offer out of our stories and will seek to take from others for our benefit at their expense. But as we see His work in our stories we will see how much we have to offer relationally and will begin to come across as loving, serving, and giving.