Matthew 11:16-19, 20-25 – Following Jesus

Welcome, friends! Click the video below and let us consider the words of Jesus together.

You may also view this video on TimEhrhardtYouTube

Click Behold the Lamb (Communion Hymn) by Keith and Kristyn Getty, the song mentioned in the video.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you, today and always. Amen.

Keep It Real

take up your cross

Keep it real.  The only true path to Christian discipleship is through being a real person.

You know the disingenuous type.  The dude who sits in the church pew looking like he’s never passed gas in his life.  The lady who can purse her lips so tight she looks like her head’s going to implode.  The poor kid who wants to break it down in the church aisle, but Mom and Dad are so into how it all looks that they shush him like a steamroller over marshmallows.

Then, there’s the pastor.  Sometimes he (it always seems to be a he, not a she) is either so stiff and bashes on every people group on the planet except his own that you wonder if the guy’s ever been seen in public without a chaperone, or he’s overly trying to be hip and cool to the point of looking like a hippo stuffed into skinny jeans.

C’mon, man, let’s just keep it real, okay!?

How about we drop the pretense, the preening, the posturing, the positioning, the pedigree-ing, and any other p-word we can come up with?  Let’s try on something else on for size: humility; vulnerability; authenticity; genuineness; and, being real.  That’s the cost of discipleship.

Let’s consider Jesus for a minute.  I just can’t bring myself to ever picture the Lord of the universe looking like any of the dubious aforementioned persons in the church.  But I certainly can envision him just the opposite of them all.

I’m not trying to make Jesus in my image.  I’m just attempting to gain a glimpse of the unfiltered Jesus, minus the weird white-European-I’m-stuffing-all-my-emotions-down-to-my-intestines Jesus.  The unvarnished Jesus we see in the New Testament Gospels is a God-Man who gets angry at injustice, cries with others over a death of a loved one, has unbounded words of grace for marginal people, heals those who know they need it, and has no problem knocking down proud Pharisees to size, instead of cuddling up and trying to make them happy.  The Lord I see is a complicated bundle of emotions, paradoxes, seeming contradictions, and eagle-eyed and laser-focused on doing his Father’s will.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be like Jesus, not anybody else.  I want to learn to love with abandon, teach like I mean it, be secure and confident in my own skin, and constantly commune with Father God.  I want to get rid of anything that gets in the way between me and doing God’s will, and to speak with authority without being a jerk about it.

Maybe you, like me, are concerned for all the “none’s” out there, that is, the persons who don’t affiliate themselves with any religion, much less Christianity.  I feel like I understand them.  In a way, I feel like I’m one of them.  I find myself having a zero tolerance for pretentious “Christians.”  The fact that I keep sensing the need to put adjectives in front of the word “Christian” tells me that something is terribly awry in the church – “real” Christians, “fake” Christians, “authentic” Christians, “Pharisaical” Christians, “grace-filled” Christians, “legalistic” Christians… on-and-on ad nauseum.  Sometimes I get fed-up with the adjectives and just want to start labeling myself a “fartknocker” Christian just to keep everybody on their toes.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, I’m finally going to get around to quoting some Scripture.  Jesus said:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25, NRSV)

“I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62, NRSV)

“There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22, NRSV)

“Those who serve me must follow me. My servants will be with me wherever I will be. If people serve me, the Father will honor them.” (John 12:26, GW)

And the Apostle Paul said:

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NRSV)

“You imitated us and the Lord. In spite of a lot of suffering, you welcomed God’s word with the kind of joy that the Holy Spirit gives.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6, GW)

Christians are people who follow Jesus, period.  They live into the words and the ways of Christ.  Many of the “none’s” just can’t reconcile their experience of church and their observations of Christ, so they jettison the church while finding Jesus compelling.

But what if they found church compelling, as well?  What if, instead of seeing pursed lipped women, uptight men, and restricted kids they instead found a bunch of fartknockers just trying to discover Jesus and live for him?

Maybe I’m preaching to the choir, or perhaps I’m ruffling some peacock feathers.  It could be that I’m being too banal with sacred things, like some cornfed yokel.  But it might be that I’m not being hackneyed enough and need to go further into the ordinary.  Maybe we have come to the place of so much bromide religion that we are left with a vapid soul.  In short, we’ve lost our way.

Well, if that’s the case, Jesus is the only person who’s going to save us from our humdrum life and platitudinous pandering of kitschy Christianity (there I go with the adjectives again).  It’s likely high time we leave it all behind, get real with ourselves and follow him.  Wax figures sitting in pews can’t follow anybody – only real blood and guts people with actual insides can do that.

Lent is almost over.  If you haven’t gotten around to reading one of the Gospels, hurry-up!  Get to it!  Okay, I’ll throw you a bone: The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four.  For the compulsive overachievers out there, Luke is the Gospel for you.  Whether you need to get up earlier or stay up later at night, I encourage you to make it happen.  I’ve never known anyone who has read an entire Gospel in one or two sittings and not walked away profoundly changed in some way.

If you do it, come back and tell me what it was like to read a Gospel. I’m curious and wonder what you get from it.

And give it to me straight.  Keep it real.

John 12:1-11 – Broken and Poured Out

mary anointing jesus feet

“Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume.  Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained, ‘This perfume was worth a year’s wages!  Why wasn’t it sold, and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.)

Then Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.’”

When I was a kid there was a show on TV called “Quincy.”  Quincy was a coroner.  Every episode was him performing an autopsy on someone who appeared to have a rather normal death.  But Quincy always found something suspicious and spent his time prying into people’s lives to confirm his investigation.  His boss and the police chief would chide and warn him saying, “Leave it alone, Quincy.”  Quincy’s typical response was: “But I can’t leave it alone.  There’s more here than what meets the eye!”

Indeed, the Apostle John was the Quincy of his ancient generation.  In his gospel there is always more going on than what meets the eye.  There are double-meanings, sometimes even triple-meanings to the events unfolding.  There are deeply symbolic encounters, as well as the physical tangible events serving as almost metaphors pointing to the spiritual.

quincy

Mary, a woman with a sordid background, had her life transformed through meeting Jesus.  Now, near the end of Christ’s life as he was about to enter Jerusalem and be arrested, tried, tortured and killed, Mary senses what is happening and is aware of what’s happening when others are not.  Her own brokenness cracked open to her the true reality of life.

The surface event itself is a touching and tender moment in history.  This woman, whom everyone knows as a damaged person, takes a high-end perfume and breaks the entire thing open.  She proceeds to anoint Christ’s feet with it.  You can imagine the aroma which would fill the house with an entire amount of expensive perfume out for all to smell.  Giving what she had to Jesus, Mary demonstrates the path of true discipleship.

But there’s more here than what meets the eye.  Let’s point out some observations about John’s expert autopsy:

  • The broken jar of perfume shows us the brokenness of Mary and our need to be broken (Matthew 5:3-4)
  • Mary uses an extraordinary amount of perfume, picturing her overflowing love for Jesus (John 20:1-18)
  • Mary applies the perfume to Jesus with her hair; hair is richly and culturally symbolic for submission and respect (1 Corinthians 11:14)
  • The perfume directs us to the death of Jesus (John 19:38-42)
  • The perfume highlights for us the aroma of Christ to the world (2 Corinthians 2:15-17)
  • There is more to Judas than his words about perfume; he is not actually concerned for the poor (Matthew 26:15)
  • Judas and Mary serve as spiritual contrasts: Mary opens herself to the sweet aroma of Christ; Judas just plain stinks
  • The perfume presents a powerful picture of the upcoming death of Christ, for those with eyes to see; he was broken and poured out for our salvation (Luke 23:26-27:12)

Christianity was never meant to be a surface religion which only runs skin deep.  The follower of Christ is meant to be profoundly transformed within, inside and out, so that there is genuine healing, spiritual health, and authentic concern for the poor and needy.  Keeping up appearances is what the Judas’s of this world do.  But the Mary’s among us dramatically point us to Jesus with their tears, their humility, their openness, and their love.

In this contemporary environment of fragmented human ecology, our first step toward wholeness and integrity begins with a posture of giving everything we have – body, soul, and spirit – to the Lord Jesus.  Methinks Quincy was on to something.

Loving Lord Jesus, my savior and my friend, you have gone before us and pioneered deliverance from an empty way of life and into a life of grace and gratitude.  May I and all your followers, emulate the path of Mary and realize the true freedom which comes from emptying oneself out for you.  Amen.

How to Stay on Track Following Jesus Throughout the Year

paths are made by walking

Its normal to have a head of steam at the beginning of the year.  You have things you want to accomplish – goals you desire to see met.  On that list of things in your head, in your heart, and maybe even written down somewhere on your desk is the longing to know God better, to experience Jesus in a fresh way, to have better discipline with prayer or Bible reading.  Maybe you don’t know where or how to start.  Perhaps you have traveled the Christian road for a long time and its become stale and dull, and you think you’ve exhausted all attempts at following Jesus with enthusiasm.

There is a way, a road, a path for you to travel.  It’s a very well-worn journey that Christians for two millennia have been walking.  If you will walk with them down this road, your desires can spring to life and gain traction and direction.  It’s a path of truly walking with Jesus, to experience his birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification.

This journey with Jesus is not hard in the sense of simply following him.  Yet, it does require getting into a rhythm, just like you do when you walk.  Just as you have a certain gait, picture yourself walking with Jesus down a road.  Maybe it’s a slow saunter with him.  Maybe it’s going on a run.  Perhaps it’s a solitary tromp through the woods, or around the mall with others present.  Whatever it is, in this next year, imagine yourself recalling, retelling, and remembering the life of Jesus with him alongside you.

The Christian Calendar or Christian Year is a delightful and enlightening walk with Jesus throughout the entire year.  The Christian Year is a yearlong calendar that marks time according to the life of Jesus.  It is to live and walk in a rhythm with Christ at the center of your work and worship.  Observing the days and the seasons of the Year will bring you closer to Jesus with a greater awareness of his presence through the Holy Spirit.  It’s what I want, and it is, I believe, what you want, too.

The Christian Calendar is arranged in such a way as to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ over the course of a year.  Just one of the ways that help you to remember differing seasons is through color:  purple signifies a time for preparation and penitence; white represents celebration, joy, and victory; green lets us know it is time to focus on spiritual growth and mission; and, red helps us recall the Passion of Christ and the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Check-out how the Christian Year is organized and arranged according to seasons to aid you in your walk with Jesus:

Advent – The Christian Year begins not on January 1, but four Sundays before Christmas Day and up to Christmas Eve.  The purpose of Advent is to anticipate the incarnation of Christ and prepare us to celebrate the coming of Jesus.  We are also reminded that Jesus will again return….

Christmas – Yes, Christmas is more than just a day on the church calendar and encompasses the twelve days from December 25 to January 5 (you may recognize the 12 Days of Christmas).  Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ.

Epiphany – Epiphany follows Christmas from January 6 to the day before Ash Wednesday.  The term Epiphany means “manifestation.”  This is a celebration of God’s self-revealing, his manifestation to the entire world, not just the Jews, but the Gentiles, as well.  Epiphany emphasizes Christ’s earthly ministry of teaching, healing, and preaching.

Lent – There are forty days in the season of Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday.  Lent is a time to recall Christ’s temptation, conflict, suffering, and death.  It is a season to contemplate being disciples in light of Christ’s Passion, engage in repentance, and put deliberate focus on spiritual disciplines.

Easter – As with Christmas, Easter is not just one Sunday; it is a season of fifty days up to the day of Pentecost.  Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus; helps us recognize our new life in Christ; and, includes celebrating the Ascension of our Lord.

Pentecost – This season runs from Eastertide to the Sunday before Advent.  Pentecost celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the church, acknowledges our spiritual power, and calls us to rejoice in receiving God’s power.

Ordinary Time – Ordinary time refers to the ongoing work of the church to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the typical, expected, ordinary work of ministry that Christ’s followers are to do.

It’s easy to get distracted and get off track from our desires and goals.  But with observance of the Christian Year, we stay on track with Jesus.  The focus is on him, and not on our own schedules.  To center the year in Christ brings spiritual health, a close walk with Jesus, and a satisfaction to our hungry souls.

May your journey be fulfilling and fruitful.  Amen.