Extravagant Love

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 

Matthew 26:6-10

Jesus regularly talked about using money wisely and certainly seemed to shun extravagance. So when this woman wasted this valuable resource, the disciples gave this woman a dose of righteous indignation. Like the many social justice warriors that would come 2000 years later, they thought they were doing the right thing.

But Jesus rejects their form of righteous indignation. When it comes to love and grace, Jesus is extravagant. For Jesus, this was a beautiful act of extravagant love. It was preparing Him for burial and for His own extravagant act of love.

We can get embarrassed by acts that seem wasteful or over-the-top. Extravagant displays of love for God can make the rest of us uncomfortable. We can tend to defend our lack of extravagant love with reasonable arguments about propriety, order and decency.

Yet, this woman was not so prideful that she let propriety, order or her own sense of decency get in the way of her extravagant display of love for Jesus. And we learn that, far from Jesus rejecting her, Jesus is very comfortable with extravagance when it comes to love.

There are times in worship services when people pour their heart out to God extravagantly. It causes a little bit of a scene. It makes people uncomfortable. What about propriety and order? What about decency? Jesus isn’t as concerned about those things as He is about our heart. And if our heart is in the right place while we pour out extravagant love, Jesus is not embarrassed. We shouldn’t be either.

There are other times in worship services when God pours out His Presence on His people in a way that is extravagant. There are times when His Presence comes so powerfully upon people that it causes them to weep, shake, fall down, or cry out. This extravagant love of God pours into the body and soul of a person and can cause some extreme reactions. Propriety and decency go out the window.

God is not unwilling to show His children physical affection. And when the Holy Spirit begins to show up physically in someone’s body or emotions, God is not embarrassed by the result. We shouldn’t be either.

Jesus dying on the cross, paying for our sin, is the ultimate act of extravagant love. When it comes to love, God is very comfortable with extravagance.

Have you been holding back on extravagant acts of love to God? Are propriety, order, and decency being leveraged by your pride as excuses to avoid extravagant love?

If God extravagantly poured out His Presence upon you right in the middle of a worship service, would you be willing to receive it?

Terrified

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

Luke 2:9

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Mark 4:41

When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

Matthew 14:26

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.

Matthew 17:5-6

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

Matthew 27:54

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid…”

Revelation 1:17

Angels show up to announce Jesus’s birth and the shepherds are terrified. Jesus calms the storm and the disciples are terrified. The disciples see Jesus walking on the lake and are terrified. Jesus gets transfigured on the mountain, the Father shows up and speaks words of love and affirmation over Him, and the disciples fall down terrified. Jesus dies on the cross, the ground shakes, and the guards are terrified. John sees the glorified Jesus show up to him in a vision, and John is so afraid that he falls down as though dead.

People who say that the Lord would never act in a way that would scare people must have never read their Bible. Over and over again, Jesus does things that absolutely terrify people. American Christians have so often made Jesus out to be a tame, passive, stoic teacher. The real Jesus was way more unpredictable than that. He often left people shaking in their boots!

Today, sometimes the Holy Spirit moves in a way that people don’t understand. And when people don’t understand something, they are often afraid of it. Fear causes people to reject all kinds of good things. Fear is often the wall that prevents people from having a radical encounter with the Lord. Then, in order to compensate for their fear, they rationalize that it can’t really be God. He would never do something that would scare people.

Really?

Go read those passages of scripture above and tell me with a straight face that God would never do something that would scare people. He did it all the time. He does it all the time.

Don’t let fear of not understanding the movement of the Holy Spirit keep you from an encounter with the Holy Spirit!

What are you scared of when it comes to the Holy Spirit?

Resist

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith… 

1 Peter 5:6-9

The enemy is real. Satan is not a fictitious personification of evil. On several occasions I’ve ministered to a demonized person and seen the demon take control of the person’s body, face, and voice. I’ve had demons talk to me through these heavily demonized people. And while I shut down their chatter immediately, these occurrences only verify the truth of scripture that warns of the reality of our enemy.

This passage clues us into areas that can come under attack by our enemy, the devil, who prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour. Any area of our life where we haven’t humbled ourselves becomes an easy target. That’s why the exhortation to humble ourselves comes before the warning about Satan’s attacks. An area that we’ve not submitted to the Lord but have pridefully held under our own control becomes an easy target. It becomes a weak spot in the wall of our spiritual defenses.

Likewise, any area of anxiety becomes an easy target. Fear is like artillery that softens up our spiritual defenses before the enemy attacks. Any area of our life where we are full of anxiety, fear and worry will be targeted. This is why we must cast our cares upon Him because He cares for us.

If there is an area of our life where we are not “alert” and of “sober mind,” it will likely be targeted as well. These tend to be areas of addiction or ways that we indulge in escapism as a way to cope with pain and hurt we experience in our life. These become areas where we no longer operate with a “sober mind” because we are self-medicating with our favorite drug, pleasure, or form of escape.

We need to sure up these vulnerable areas in our life. We’re commanded to stand firm and resist the enemy’s attack. We need to strengthen these weak spots in our walls. We must remember that these words from scripture were written to Christians. Just because we have the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean that we’ve automatically surrendered every room in our house to the Lord. And any room in our heart, mind or body that hasn’t been given over to the Lord can be broken into and occupied by the enemy.

The Holy Spirit has infinitely more power than the demonic invaders, but we must hand the Spirit the keys to that room. We must give the Holy Spirit permission to take over and revoke the right of the enemy to be there. Otherwise, we remain a house divided.

Not Timid, Not Ashamed

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—

2 Timothy 1:7-9

The New American Standard Bible translates verse 7 this way: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Paul was encouraging Timothy not to be timid regarding the “testimony about our Lord.” Fear can paralyze a person into silence about the truth of the gospel.

Paul was reminding Timothy that the Holy Spirit gives us a boldness about the gospel of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is not a spirit of fear but of power, love and self-discipline. The Holy Spirit gives us power to see the impossible become possible–miracles, signs and wonders. The Father also pours His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. His love changes our heart toward people we would otherwise avoid. And the Holy Spirit is a refining fire within us, giving us self-discipline and moving us into a holy life.

Paul also lets Timothy know that part of following Jesus is suffering for the gospel. Specifically, suffering for the gospel in the New Testament is not about facing illness or the normal hardships of life. Suffering for the gospel is the ridicule and persecution that comes from proclaiming the testimony of Jesus. And part of why we are given the power of God from the Holy Spirit is to fortify our souls during times of insults and false accusations.

Jesus warned of this same thing when He said,

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:11-12

We couldn’t do any of this on our own. On our own, in our own power, we would shrink into fear and self-protection. We’d spend our time trying to hyper-manage our reputation and other people’s perception of us. It’s the Holy Spirit that breaks us out of self-protection and into courage. It’s the Holy Spirit that empowers us to swim upstream against cultural norms that are anti-Christ. It’s the Spirit that gives us the power and love to call people back to their Heavenly Father–the One who longs to welcome us home and shower us with grace (Luke 15:18-24).

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:19-21

Pacifier

Throughout the centuries, there have been different tactics employed by the enemy to pacify the Church. Usually it is some form of trying to get Christians to want to “fit in” to the religious subculture or the current dominant culture. In Paul’s day, there were those who wanted the Gentile believers to fit in by getting circumcised. He writes, “Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ”(Galatians 6:12).

In this case, to “fit in” meant compliance with the Jewish religious subculture. Paul calls them out for what they are doing. They are trying to avoid being persecuted, mocked, insulted and left out. And this same thing has existed in every generation of the Church.

Today there is a similar pressure to “impress people by means of the flesh.” There are many in the American Church who so badly want to fit in with the rest of culture. They try so hard to prove they are “normal” and not some fanatical Christian. They compromise holiness and soften the gospel until it is barely unrecognizable. All of this is an attempt to “avoid being persecuted” even though persecution in America just means mockery, insults and social condemnation (not beatings, imprisonment and death like in other countries around the world).

There is a lie that is all too easy to believe. It is the lie that we can make the gospel more respectable. It is the lie that we can make the Christian life easier to accept. But if the last century of American church history has shown us anything it is that, if this tactic does “win people to Christ,” it too often creates Christians who look like, act like, think like and live like the rest of the world. Instead of being the called out ones we’ve become the blended in ones.

Too scared to pray for people in public, too scared to share the gospel, too scared to stand firm on morality, too scared of what others think about us, too scared to believe in the miraculous power of God, too scared to allow the Holy Spirit to move in a way that might seem “weird,” too scared to take risks, the American church has been thoroughly pacified.

We need a new generation of Christians who aren’t full of fear, who aren’t trying to impress unbelievers with how “normal” they are, who aren’t afraid of being persecuted for the cross of Christ.