Sunday, March 27, 2016

Seventy-five Pounds of Spices

John chapter 19 is one of those places I am tempted to skim. I know the story. I understand it. I believe it.

I am so thankful for it.

But it’s details are a relentless read.

It hurts so much—all that chaos and cruelty.

Such bloodlust stirred on that Preparation Day.

The Friday the Jewish leaders worked frenzied to make all the silence of Saturday possible.

His own people.

Screaming for his death.

They wanted him gone.

They eventually succeed but not before Pilate tried to set Jesus free.

He found no basis for the charges.

He couldn’t believe what all those religious people were asking him to do.

In defense of Caesar? Really? Did anybody buy that?!

Pilate’s disdain for this whole matter seems evidenced in his sign.

“Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

There. For all who passed by and viewed the humiliation and cruelty of crucifixion. Pilate proclaimed in his posted sign that this man represented the very Jews who demanded his execution.

And then.

The Jewish leaders pester further, after Christ’s death, wanting their mess cleaned up completely so they could offer their next day to the Lord.

The marching mass of religious outrage storming satisfied to their own quiet Sabbaths with tables laid to break bread and pour wine remembering the Giver of All.

It is entirely possible to honor God's law zealously while completely missing the point.

Just like I've read chapter 19 my whole life and missed a most fragrant point.

"Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus...He was accompanied by Nicodemus. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about 75 pounds."

The victorious leaders of God's people slip off to their homes as Friday evening falls, while two of their own set a sepulcher stage for the greatest Sunday morning in all of time.

Two Jewish leaders came to clean up the mess created by their brothers. Their community. Their church.

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

With 75 pounds of spices.

Seventy-five pounds?

As if seeing it for the first time, this gives me such pause. When we travel internationally we spend some days weighing and repacking our bags to meet airline restrictions. Currently we are allowed 50 lbs per bag but in our early days of missionary travel we were allowed 70lbs per bag.

I became very adept at judging the weight of 70lbs. If I could just barely lift it off the floor, we were near 70lbs. I can lift 50lbs with more ease, but 70lbs makes me strain substantially and I could certainly not carry that weight very far at all.

Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of spice. From his home? Or a shop?

He carried all that weight from a distance.  Not smallish bags tucked into pockets.

75 pounds!

A very heavy load of aromatic scent lugged through town to settle around the broken body of an executed man.

An extravagant and obvious outpouring.

Two wealthy Jewish men, who did not even dare to openly proclaim their adoration of the living man Jesus, now blatantly grieving all the mess of that Friday with their honorable wrapping and setting into place and tidying of the oozing cruelty.  They must have had large households and servants, but they did not send others to do this job for them. They made themselves unclean (Numbers 19:11) by doing it themselves.

With 75 pounds of sweet telling spices announcing them as they moved to do so.

“…everyone will know that you are my disciples, if…”

Joseph and Nicodemus, in that defeated and crushing hour, finally stepping up to the plate.

Finally standing pungent into the mess around them exuding testimony.



Sunday’s dawn hadn’t crept over the horizon yet, but it was winning already.

Two previously secret believers now reeking loud with all their smelly devotion.


Where are your spices?

That moment when it becomes ALL and EVERYTHING and EXORBITANT.

That moment when He steals your whole, whole heart.

When it doesn’t matter if they smell you coming. If they know of your radical passionate love.

In chapter 19 we agonize at the cruelty and we grieve in the sepulcher, but it’s not just Sunday’s dawn that eases us into hope.

Reconciliation and redemption were already streaming as two leaders settled the cloths around Jesus broken body.

The love scent overwhelming.

This chapter will remain very hard to read, but I must hear it and absorb it and smell it anew.

That brand new burial cave holds a treasure.

Meet me there.

Don’t be afraid.

And bring your spices.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:35

Thursday, March 10, 2016

There is No Time Like the Present

I love two countries. And I love their people. The two countries have felt so different to me in most ways. But currently both of my beloved homes ache and groan in similar fashion.

On a recent visit to our capital city we found the streets moving unexpectedly slow and quiet, with an edge of disconcerting emptiness. On that same day but in a completely different accent my social media feeds shouted quick and fervent with the exact same edge of disconcerting emptiness.

So many different shades of my belonging echoing two simple words: What now?

Currently, it's all the electing. All the choosing. All the winning and losing. All the Final Results.

But there are other seasons too. Other circumstances that land us bewildered and searching.

We can agitate among all the confounding that life provides with the most common refrain crooning:

What now?

While the question seemingly begs for a final answer to settle and soothe, we often find the most realistic comfort in the life long reminders we practice in tiny bits every day.

Such as:

This is not new. None of it.

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.”
Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

We don’t have insurmountable struggles.

We have old ones.

And our next best step?

Also the same as yesterday. Last week. Twenty years ago.

Pray for those in leadership.
(1Timothy 2:1-2)

Love, love, love those neighbors.
(Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14)

Work as if working for Jesus.
(Ephesians 6:7-8)

Hope in the Lord.
(Psalm 147:11; Psalm 130:7)

And do not fear.
(John 14:27; Hebrews 13:6)


Any awareness we are allowed of the reality of our perceived control can remind us where true sovereignty rests and sustains.

Our lack of control does not in any way mirror His.
(John 16:33)

When pressed into doubt and wondering we can often look to something outside of us to bring help and comfort. Some concrete thing we feel deep admiration and respect for that can help gain some semblance of control again.   

“Dear children keep yourselves from idols.” I John 5:21

Idols are not just oddly shaped statues in some other foreign place. In fact, chopping down such physical things might have been far easier (so dangerous and costly still) than routing idols we've taken into the very fabric of our lives. The gods we honor with our eyes and hearts and worry and time. The places we count on for provision and strength.

The places we feel panic when we sense something slipping away.

‘But I NEED this thing. It is MINE. I use it for good!’

Once upon a time there were high places. Elevated mounds maybe on a hill or maybe in the valley, but raised places where people would go to worship. 

Most commonly these ‘high places’ were known for pagan offerings. Molech, Asherah, Baal---deities honored for their power and control that required high costs of their followers including child sacrifice. There was no relationship involved with these gods. Just placation and appeasement. Pacifying religious practices completely bound up in fear.

Those Old Testament high places were raised one stone at a time.

Sometimes by pagan prophets. Sometimes by the people themselves.

Sometimes by Kings.

Solomon, honored as the richest and wisest of Israel’s kings--the one chosen to build God’s holy temple-- also raised pagan worship places to please his wives. (I Kings 11:6-11) We weren’t made to serve two masters and Solomon’s duplicity ultimately led to his downfall. (No amount of money or power will ever make one immune to reckoning.)

The high places and their worshipful degradation always led to defeat somehow.

The leaders of God’s people were called upon time and again to eradicate the ‘high places’. To remove them completely. (Numbers 33:52, Deuteronomy 12:2, 2 Chronicles 14:3,5; 2 Kings 23; Ezekiel 6:2-4; Hosea 10:8; Amos 7:9)

And obedient leaders would eliminate the high places only to have someone come along and rebuild them.

It has always been difficult to completely eradicate fear.

In fact, the toppling of any idol has never been one-and-done but instead a daily rehearsal. A regular choosing.

God commanded that He be the One and Only in his people’s lives and instead of the many scattered high places of worship, He planned for His people to have one place of worship. (Deuteronomy 12:1-32) This One Holy Place was at first a transportable tabernacle and then a permanent temple in Jerusalem.

God trained His nation to seek that One Place. Not just to be bossy or demanding, but, I think, to make a very loud point.

You see, it was not so much about the place when it was all said and done. (John 4:21-26)

It was, instead, entirely about the Provision. (It always is.)

God called His people to honor and focus on the one Most Holy Place. A place only one high priest could go. The place where God’s presence was seated between the cherubim.

This was the place where God’s Name resided. (1 Chronicles 22:6-19; 2 Chronicles 6:10) 

“The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. The cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark and covered the ark and its carrying poles…. Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud…for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.”
2 Chronicles 5:7,8,13b,14

There was a curtain dividing the Most Holy Place from the other parts of the temple.

“Make the curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim woven into it by a skilled worker. Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the ark of the covenant law behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.”
Exodus 26:31, 33

God instructed His people to honor that separating curtain. He designed it with gorgeous hues to draw the eyes.

He didn’t want anyone to miss it!

Because someday that elaborate and ornate curtain was going to rip cleanly in two.

“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
Mark 15:37-38

It was always His plan.

A doorway forever opened.

It was the One place—His place-- that would join us to Him forever. Distinctive from the worldly and prevalent deity worship of appeasing placation, God’s sanctuary designed inherent as a relationship restored by the Blood of the Spotless Lamb.

And now?

Any worship that sets God as distant and away should be circumspect.


Let’s read that again and say it out loud.

“Any worship that sets God as distant and away should be circumspect.”

Of course, we praise our Father. Of course, we honor Him as High and Lifted Up.

 “Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.”
Psalm 148:13

But that same God manifests through all of time as Near and Alongside.

“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.”
“But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge…”
Psalm 73:23,28

When our Father, the one true and living God, chose to physically represent to us He chose ‘God With’ for His Name. (Matthew 1: 22-23)

This is remarkable and distinct.

It (He) changes everything.

And this moment (every moment) is the perfect time to be reminded.

Where do we turn when panic creeps in?

I have friends who beat drums. I have friends who set cleansing fires. I have friends who think those things are strange. But. We all have our drums and fires.

What do I do to calm my fears?

What actions disguise my lack of control?

Where do I turn?

Do I set another stone onto my own created high place?

Do I venture to a high place someone else suggests?

Or do I keep my eyes on that torn curtain?

The place where I am restored to God through Christ in fellowship with His Holy Spirit that He has allowed to live in me.

“Therefore brothers and sisters since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”
Hebrews 10:19-22

Wonder of glorious wonders!

There is no time like the present.


This is The Victory.

The only Final Result that matters.

Him in Us. Reconciled.

No one can take this from you.

Don’t return to the high places of fear and dread. Don’t beat those same wearing cadences.

Go to the one altar. The Holy of Holies. The most sacred seat of Yahweh God where the curtain has been torn for all of time ushering us in.

There, in a place where ALL are welcome, everyone can find their place.

We may not find our answers. We may not see victory as the world defines it for us.

But we will most certainly be nearer to Him.

And I’m confident—this, He, will always be enough.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
Hebrews 10:23

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
Revelation 22:12-13

Stand firm.


There is no time like the present!