– pastor Chad Setter – Cornerstone UMC, Lake Crystal, MN
Over the Fourth of July weekend, I found myself thinking about the amazing array of freedoms we have in this wonderful country. Freedom as a country has opened the door to freedoms of all different kinds. In other words, we have the gift of being able to choose how we want to live our lives from day to day. And the choices we make each day begin to collectively reveal our values, those things we believe are most important in life. Values can be nuanced into several different categories, but for the purpose of this article, I’m writing about values as indicators of how we spend our time.
One downside of freedom to choose our values is that we may have competing values with others. A crisis of competing values is unfolding on the National and World levels. That’s clear for all of us to see. But if we’re honest, each of us has competing values even within our own hearts, or within our families. For instance, we may say that we value “family time,” but being overcommitted to other values leads to very little quality time together. We may say that we value living a healthy lifestyle, but don’t prioritize exercising on a regular basis. The personal examples are endless and I’m sure you can think of some of your own.
Competing values also show up in the church. For example, many churches state that they want “young families” to come to the church and make it their home. But when asked to make a change that could help families feel more welcome, the “influencers” of the church may dig their heels in to make sure things stay the way they like it. Or those same young families may say they want the church to grow and thrive, but they don’t commit their time or resources to ensure it will survive. These are just two examples of competing values in the church among many.
There are many teachings about values within the Bible. The examples are actually endless. I’m sure you know “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). You can think of “treasure” as what you value in life, and your heart is what you’re willing to do to reach those things. One of the most striking examples of competing values in Scripture comes from John 12:1-8. See if you can spot it:
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
This is quite the story. In this intimate meal in what was likely a rather small space, Mary opens (or breaks) a jar of expensive perfume and anoints Jesus with it. The disciples aren’t happy. Now if I were them, I think I’d be annoyed by someone making the whole house smell like perfume while we were trying to eat! It’s pretty tough to eat when you can’t breathe! But the disciples are mad that Mary wasted the money the perfume would have been worth at the time. The 300 denarii value of the perfume was believed to be enough to feed 7,500 people in one meal! 300 denarii were also believed to be a year’s worth of wages for the average person! No wonder the disciples were mad at her. But in a dramatic twist, Jesus comes to Mary’s defense saying, “leave her alone.” Mary’s actions didn’t make sense to the disciples because they had competing values. They rightfully valued serving the poor. But Jesus affirms Mary’s actions because he knew that her act was one of humble devotion and surrender to Him. Mary was showing Jesus that honoring Him, whatever the cost, was her highest value. Jesus affirmed Mary’s action because he saw her heart, and he knew that Mary would do anything in the name of Jesus (including serving the poor) because she demonstrated that following Him was her highest value.
Like Mary, Jesus sees the heart behind our actions. Jesus knows when we are just doing what we’re supposed to or going through the motions. He knows when we are living with humble devotion to Him, following Him as our highest value. And when following Jesus is our highest value, he affirms us as we experience an abundance of peace and joy.
Think about your life… When have you felt most affirmed by Jesus? When have you experienced His love for you, sensing His greatness and presence with you? Those moments were most likely times when you’ve taken a step of faith – when you’ve LIVED out your value. Maybe it was when you attended the Walk to Emmaus retreat (the next one coming in January 2022) or participated in a small group study. Maybe you felt most affirmed when you made an intentional act of devotion in your private life like reading the Bible or a devotional book. Or maybe you felt affirmed by Jesus as you lived out your faith in action. Times when you demonstrated generosity, offered forgiveness to someone or served people who are less fortunate than you. No matter what the specifics, the same reality is true, that Jesus affirms our actions when we live out following Him as our highest value.
We need affirmation from Jesus for many reasons. Affirmation from Jesus helps us believe He is present in our lives, giving us strength and courage from every day. We need affirmation from Jesus because we don’t learn how to set our values from our culture. Rather, we are encouraged to have and do it all, to experience the best that life has to offer. Busyness is the celebrated value of our time. But those are competing values with following Jesus. Jesus tells us to detach from our possessions, our desires, and our perceived power so that we can receive the peace and joy that comes from following Him. So, if we desire to follow Jesus, we need affirmation from Him directly. We need to know Jesus is pleased by our actions because as Mary experienced, others may not understand or approve of the choices we make in following Him.
An important step in following Jesus is identifying and thinking through your lived values. The best way to do this is by examining the ways you spend your time. Ask yourself, “what would someone else say my values are if they looked at my calendar or daily planner?” Each of us (myself included), has many competing values within our hearts. It’s easy to say that we value “faith,” “God,” or “religion” as our values, but the ultimate test for examining lived values is to see how much time you commit to it. The hard reality for committing to any value is that it requires we do other good things less. If we say we value Jesus above all values, it means we will have to value other things less. It’s a simple reality involving the amount of time, energy, and resources we have available to us.
Maybe none of this rings true for you. I know it does for me. Every time I make Jesus my highest value through my actions, He affirms those choices and I grow in faith. When I set time aside for sabbath, prayer, reflection, or Scripture reading (among many other possibilities) Jesus affirms those choices. Those actions show up in the way I spend my time and I receive the peace, hope, love, and joy that Jesus offers us regularly through following Him. This has been critical for me to learn and experience as a follower of Christ and as a pastor. I’ve learned that the only thing any of us can do to make a difference in life is to commit to living our values as fully as possible and offer a compelling vision to others of what it looks like to live that way!
Now imagine an entire church that made following Jesus their highest priority. If individual believers were living out following Jesus as their highest value, they would be bringing their very best to the life of the church. No matter what age or life stage, followers of Christ can offer their most precious time and resources for the sake of honoring Christ and reflecting His character to the community they’re in. Such a church would overflow with joy and peace! Such a church would offer a compelling vision of what it looks like to follow Jesus. Such a church would have the power to change their community and region because people would experience the transformative power of being affirmed by Jesus as they decide to follow Him. Such a church is exactly the type of church Jesus wanted all along. And the benefit for us all is an abundance of peace and joy, assurances of love and grace given directly from the Risen Christ.