When we were kids, we gave our love freely. We would draw pictures for mom and dad, and they were proudly displayed on the family refrigerator. Then came that most terrifying day of personal evaluation: Valentine’s Day. That’s when mom bought a box-full of those cheap little Valentines, each containing awkward expressions of everything from friendship to attraction – “You’re cool”, “Be mine”, “Red hot!” So weird. And of course my mom made me give one to every kid in the class, even if I didn’t like them. Democracy in action.
The devastating part was when you were one of the kids who didn’t get many cards. That little guy with dimples next to me had a desk full of cards a foot high. So I tried to open mine up wider, sort of like a peacock stretching his feathers. I was hoping they’d look like there were more of them than there really were. I don’t think anyone was fooled.
The worst part of all was when I liked someone so much that I made a special card for them. I would handcraft it, using only the best construction paper and glitter. It was obviously bigger than all the other store-bought cards I handed out, too. But now as I sit at my desk with it hidden from sight in my brown vinyl TrapperKeeper, I start to notice just how much of my heart I’ve put on display into that “heart” I’m giving away.
The anticipation of giving it away feels like one of those nightmares when you realize you’re naked in class. You know, as if you just somehow forgot to get dressed that day? Completely exposed. And yet, I try to muster the courage to get up out of my seat and take her my elaborate Valentine, the one that looks like it was freshly stolen from Siegfried and Roy’s living room.
It’s getting tough to express your love for God these days. Do it openly and you’ll be target for criticism. Use your time and resources to give Him some “Valentine” from your heart, and your admiration will be open to ridicule.
That’s because religion is supposed to be a “personal, private thing”, they say. It’s alright to believe, just keep it to yourself. Don’t wear your faith on your sleeve. Act cool and nonchalant when God comes up in private conversation. You don’t want to look like a religious nut, do you? Say noncommittal things like, “Who cares what you believe, as long as you’re sincere.” Be careful not to stand for any moral issue, and for heaven’s sake don’t let your beliefs influence the way you vote!
I beg to differ. Which leads me to some tough questions for you, my friend.
Do you love God enough to actually sacrifice something for Him? Do you give anything to your church, or just attend? Many of us say we love God, but we don’t want to be the dummy sticking out in the room with the big glittery heart. So we play it safe and keep our distance. We only attend church occasionally, and when we do we’re barely involved in what’s happening. And giving? Yeah, I didn’t think I should go there. One reason many of us can’t give our hearts to God is that we’re holding on too tightly to our wallets.
Some I meet are even more cold toward the church. They claim they’re full of hypocrites who don’t live up to their beliefs. True, but that’s an easy critique when lobbed by those who stand for nothing. It’s easy not to be hypocritical when you have no beliefs to live up to.
They attack any expansion of a church’s facilities, and counties are becoming more and more restrictive to church building programs. New York City just banned churches from meeting in public schools. I guess every one has equal access EXCEPT people of faith. Of course, the critics argue how much good those offerings could do if given to the poor, never bothering to acknowledge how much charity churches do or to reveal their own charitable giving records. Maybe I’m cynical, but I’d bet those records wouldn’t be that impressive.
One woman interrupted a perfectly respectable meal held in Jesus’ honor. She barged into a roomful of glaring men and startled them by violently breaking off the top end of an alabaster jar. She then poured the contents – around $20,000 worth of spikenard – over the head of Jesus in an act of extravagant worship. Finally, with brazen humility, she anoints his feet and wipes them with her hair.
The significance of her act is missed by everyone there but Jesus. She had anointed the “Anointed One” (Christ, Messiah) as her true King. And she had prepared his body for burial, as he would soon face the cross.
The men in the room were shocked, and one, Judas, was vocally indignant. He asked why she hadn’t sold the perfume and given the money to the poor – what a waste! The others must have questioned what would make her do something so extreme.
Strange how in a roomful of people, only one got it right. In truth, the most logical question was not why she would do something so over-the-top, but why the rest of them could be so nonchalant in the presence of God Himself?
Can you imagine the courage she had to muster before doing something she knew would be misinterpreted? Even today, people try to imply there was something sensual about her love for Jesus. Dan Brown wrote a whole novel implicating an intimate relationship between Jesus and this woman, Mary Magdalene. But in doing so, they show the same ignorance displayed by the others at the meal that night. If they realized exactly who was at the table, and what He was about to do for them, they would understand no act of worship is too extreme.
I find it interesting how mad some people get when a person of faith does something demonstrating great devotion to God. Maybe they worship a little more passionately, maybe they would never miss a church service, or perhaps their sacrifice resembles the widow’s mite as they give all they have. These sacrifices seem like nonsense to a world who cannot believe in anything beyond themselves, and would not sacrifice for any cause greater than themselves.
And I have no doubt what people will say about me for writing this. “He’s a pastor – of course he wants people to give! He’s just out to line his own pockets!” It’s funny how people think pastors are wealthy – many pastors I know barely make a comfortable living. I currently work two jobs in addition to my church, just to keep things afloat. But I still give to the church – not because I have to, but because I think God is worth it.
Sure, I know there are religious charlatans. I know of churches who’s building were never meant to serve the community, but simply stand as monuments to the manipulative sales pitches of their pastors. As a church member, I’ve donated money trustingly just to have it wasted on someone else’s whim. However, none of that invalidates the beauty of making a sacrifice that makes no sense to the world, but makes perfect sense in the next world. Certainly I should give responsibly. But if it’s poured out for Jesus, it’s never a waste.
The Judases of the world are indicted by that kind of devotion. They want to find fault in it, because it betrays the sterile and dry condition of their own hearts. So they spout self-righteously about resources better used to meet humanitarian needs, when often they wouldn’t lift a finger to meet those needs themselves. Just like Judas who embezzled money from the disciples, these modern day critics often conceal ulterior motives. In reality, they’re mad the alabaster jar isn’t theirs to sell on Ebay.
They’re like children who give out the cheap Valentines to Jesus, and then make fun of the big, glittery heart one fat little kid offers Him (OK, maybe I’m personalizing the story too much). They realize He’s worthy of it, but they simply didn’t care enough to make Him one. They don’t mind “hanging out” with Jesus every now and then, but the kind of devotion that makes you sacrifice something precious, even being willing to break a valuable jar so that its contents can be spilled out and wasted on someone – they simply don’t get it.
So, do you get it? Do you see other people’s passion for God and wonder if they’re crazy? How can they love someone that much they can’t even see? And how can they give so much of their hearts to serving Him, often at a loss of time and possessions?
Well, you have two choices. You can be like Judas and ridicule them. Say it’s all a scam. Or you can learn from Mary’s example. You can put the cheap, one-size-fits-all Valentines with their generic sentiments back in the drawer. Then, break open your heart, just like she broke the alabaster jar, and pour out the contents onto Jesus. Do it regardless of the sneers and objection in the room around you.
If you really know Jesus, you know nothing is ever too much for Him. So go ahead – break open that extra bottle of glitter, and pour it on!