In the final part of a series of posts, we look at the story of Mary anointing Jesus' feet with perfum in John 12:1 - 8. Something of this act of extravagant worship thrilled Jesus but at the same time had a provocative impact. Judas Iscariot, after witnessing this, went to the chief priest to plot his betrayal. So what can we discover from this extraordinary event?
Personal devotion to Him that looks almost eccentric thrills Jesus. What we think as a waste, Jesus wants preached everywhere the gospel is preached.
Sometimes an act of obedience may seem a waste but, beloved, He’s has beaten death! We’re all going to live forever! If that doesn’t blow away all sorts of rational thinking, then what does? Are we saying we’ve found a religion that is very nice? That we’ve found in Jesus a character that is attractive? Or are we saying ‘I’m going to live forever in a new earth and new Heaven that is pure and beautiful?’ The future is phenomenal, filled with things that are even beyond our imagination! That should change your thinking fundamentally and erode the normal way you evaluate.
When we meet Jesus and really understand the Gospel, everything changes. We abandon our former value systems and embrace a whole new world view. Down through the ages this radical attitude has led to gospel advance. This kind of devotion is almost incomprehensible. There should be something about the life of a believer that people simply don’t understand.
Now you might say, ‘Terry, I’d love to give more but there’s the mortgage and the kid’s education’. Thats ok I understand. ‘I’d love to be at the prayer meeting but at the moment it’s difficult’. Thats ok I understand. ‘ I’m not tithing regularly because at the moment we’re in difficulty’. it’s ok I understand.
You, I understand.
It’s Mary, I don’t understand.
In this 2nd part of a series of posts, we look at the story of Mary anointing Jesus' feet with perfum in John 12:1 - 8. Something of this act of extravagant worship thrilled Jesus but at the same time had a provocative impact. Judas Iscariot, after witnessing this, went to the chief priest to plot his betrayal. So what can we discover from this extraordinary event?
What was the worship that she brought? Sometimes you can see a sign outside a church saying ‘Divine worship is conducted here at 9 am and 11:30 am’. But this is different. This is a very strange thing. Lets looks at this worship more closely.
This was exclusively between her and Jesus.
The disciples saw her as totally irresponsible. They would rather the money be spent on the poor. Then Jesus says this, ‘the poor you will always have with you. You won’t always have me.’ Edwards says, ‘Jesus puts Himself forward in scandalous prominence.’ The whole thing is shocking.
Paul says ‘we don’t preach ourselves’. Not so Jesus. He says ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, the Bread from heaven, the true Vine, the good Shepard. Come to me.’ He always preached himself. Jesus is not a little bit of religion you do at 11 am on a Sunday morning. Jesus can satisfy every need of life.
Often we find people who don’t understand what Church really is. Political voices think that they can tell the church what to say and do and think as though they know what the church is. They don’t understand the mystery of personal devotion to Jesus. They think the Church is some philanthropic institution that is here just for the poor and the needy - a bunch of do good-ers. Now we know that the Gospel has massive social implications. In the OT they were told to care for the poor. One of the things the prophets told the Jews was that God was angry that they were grinding the faces of the poor in the dust. We are supposed to have a social conscience. But if you think that that is all Christianity is about, then you have missed the point.
Jesus said He wanted this spoken about wherever the Gospel is preached. Why? Because at the centre, there’s something profound about personal devotion to Jesus.
What is your motivation? Is it doing good or is it Jesus?
Jesus had won Mary’s heart. She’s absolutely devoted to Him and her extraordinary devotion was totally acceptable to Him.
Down through the centuries, the advance of the church, in terms of global mission, has been accomplished by crazy people. Men and women like Jackie Pullinger, Gladys Elworth, CT Studd and Jim Elliot. Reckless abandonment is the high motivational drive of the gospel because you’ve just been blown away by the love of Jesus.
In the final part to follow, we shall look at why Jesus wanted everybody to know about this event.
In this series of posts, we look at the story of Mary anointing Jesus' feet with perfume in John 12:1 - 8. Something of this act of extravagant worship thrilled Jesus but at the same time had a provocative impact. Judas Iscariot, after witnessing this, went to the chief priest to plot his betrayal. So what can we discover from this extraordinary event?
What was it that provoked her to take this step? The secret is hidden in the text. ‘Lazarus was sitting there.’
Lazarus was Mary’s brother. Mary had lived through watching her brother become more and more seriously ill. Jesus was their friend but He wasn’t always there. ‘If only Jesus was here’ she must have thought. So they send someone to find Jesus and tell him that Lazarus is sick. They wait. Lazarus gets sicker. They wait more. Finally Lazarus dies. It’s a strange mystery that Jesus knew but did not come. They would have experienced Jesus healing first hand and heard his breath taking preaching on the ushering of the new Kingdom. Tragically, they thought, in the end death wins. In the end, life is vulnerable to the biggest crisis you face - loved ones die. It may be nice having Jesus around but death wins in the end. You can have your life enriched but you’re going to die. Death had invaded their experience of knowing Jesus.
Then of course, Jesus turns up. It had been 4 days since Lazarus had died. 4 agonizing days of knowing the finality of death. Never again would they hear their brother laugh. Never again would they feel his touch. Mary goes up to Him and says, ‘if only you had been here’. And then you have the marvelous story of Jesus going to where the body of Lazarus was laid. "Roll away the stone," Jesus says and then shouts out, ‘Lazarus come out!’ It must have been phenomenal seeing this dead man walk out.
So here they’re having a meal together celebrating their brother is alive again. The realized death did not win, he’s alive, he’s back, he’s with us. Often when Jesus did a remarkable miracle, he associated it with a revelation of who He was. He heals a man blind from birth and then He preaches, ‘I am the light of the world.’ He feeds 5,000 people from a few fish and loaves and then preaches, ‘I am the bread of life’. Having raised Lazarus from death, He says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.‘ Jesus is the answer to death. He conquered death. He beat our biggest enemy. He destroyed death’s ultimate power.
People may ask, so what is Christianity all about? Is it about doing good? Is it about going to church? Not getting in to trouble? No it’s a great message - death has been beaten. Eternal life has been ushered in.
Mary had lived through it. That’s the background - her dear brother was dead and now he’s alive again.
Check back next week for the next post in this series.
Originally posted on Terry's Blog
Interpreting the parable of the sower as simply about coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus is missing its full significance. The familiarity of the story can cause you to switch off to an interpretation that is relevant to both the new and the experienced Christian. In part 2 of this series, we explore the pathway.
Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. (Mark 4:3-4)
These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them (Mark 4: 15)
The first seeds fall beside the road, on that hard pathway area that surrounds the field. There the seed doesn't penetrate but just sits on the surface. Then the birds come and take it away and it has no impact at all.
Luke's account says that the seed ‘was trampled underfoot’ (Luke 8:5). Jesus said 'do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet' (Matthew 7:6), referring to their indifference. You can be like that about the gospel itself, just indifferent to it by thinking nobody still believes that kind of thing or takes it seriously anymore. You can hear this in the media, the workplace, your family or sometimes from parents when you become a Christian. I remember my parents telling me not to take it all so seriously, no one takes that seriously anymore. The same seed that produces a hundredfold a few feet away reproduces nothing at all on the path. Why? Because the seed doesn’t penetrate. It doesn’t have any life imparting impact. It stayed on the surface.
This is obviously true for those who don't even entertain the possibility that God speaks at all, but it's also a very real warning to believers not to miss it. It's possible for Christians not to bother to take the word seriously and not be changed. Sometimes we dismiss truth and the seed lies on the surface. The Bible says we have an enemy and that the seed sown on the pathway is snatched away by the evil one (Matthew 13:19). This can happen even before we get out of the door at Church. We had a chat, a cup of coffee and so on, but the word didn't do anything in us. Whereas elsewhere it's phenomenally changing people.
A friend of mine was visiting the church of a famous preacher. He said he was so impacted by the sermon that he just wanted to go home and seek God about what he'd heard. Walking behind two people, he heard one say to the other 'he was quite good this week wasn't he?' and the other said 'yes, but not as good as last week'. No penetration! Simply observing how the preacher performed. The seed simply lies on the surface.
So the pathway is dangerous turf. It says in Matthew 13:18 that the seed which falls on the pathway is referring to someone who 'hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it'. Some will say 'well you take me as you find me, I'm Joe Blunt, I speak my mind, I don't take the bible very seriously because well, who can understand it? By not receiving the word, he's not being changed by it. He's not thinking 'oh I see, I need to change my worldview on this, I need to change my attitude on this, the way I run my home, the way I look after my wife, the way I train my children'. He's not being shaped by truth because 'well who can understand it? The Bible's difficult'.
When we don't understand, it's not because we've got low IQ, or we're not very clever, it's because we won't become as a little child, and let it speak to us and give it full weight. Paul instructed that we consider what he said and the Lord will give us understanding (2 Timothy 2:7). That's a twofold process. You consider it and the Lord will give you understanding.
When you first go to Starbucks, you read the menu and find lattes, americanos and cappuccinos and you think 'all I want is a coffee!' You've got to learn the language. And if we're going to be serious about growing as a Christian, maybe producing a hundredfold, we've got to start understanding the language of scripture and letting truth penetrate. The word is able to change us. It's able to do us good. It's powerful. So beware the danger of just missing it and letting it stay on the surface ready for the bids to steal.
This is the fourth blog in a series "The Calling" by John Lanferman
We all live our lives before an “audience.” We are consumed with whether we are living up to our perceived standard of acceptance, listening to the music our friends listen to, dressing the way our friends dress and so on. In our world today, leadership is driven by polls instead of by strong conviction and principle. My question: Which audience are we living for?
As Christ-followers, we are to be consumed by a sense of calling. Whether we are rich or poor is irrelevant. Whether we are famous or approved by others is irrelevant. What IS relevant for us to be true to our calling is living by faith and for the glory of God. This audience of One trumps all others.
In 2 Timothy 1, Paul explains that he has suffered as a Christian and then states, “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed.” Paul is not ashamed of what others think, not ashamed of the work he’s done, not ashamed of what he’s accomplished, and not ashamed of his tears. He lived for the audience of one. Do you?
Our primary call as Christians is to live “by the Lord, to the Lord, and for the Lord.” Calling is always to someone, not to somewhere or to something first. Our activity or location is our “secondary call.”
Is what we do with our gifts in our primary call? No. The secondary is never primary; the primary is always first. We are to be always His first in everything we do. Let us be sure to always live for the audience of One.
God has called all believers but there are many distortions of what it means to have a “calling”. First, there is a dualism which tells us there is a “higher” and a “lower” calling. This is revealed in phrases like “full time ministry”. This makes the spiritual higher than the secular. Unless we are doing “full-time ministry” our work isn’t really all that important or significant. We assume the secular isn’t significant. However everything we do is important as we follow Him for each station in life with gifts he’s given us.
Our calling is by Christ, to Him and for Him. When Pascal died at age 39, his sister felt a small bump in his shirt. She discovered there was a parchment rolled up and sewn into his shirt. It was a note to himself to remind him of a night in November, 1654 when for two hours, from 10:30 to 12:30 he had the experience that he begins to describe by the word “Fire”.
Pascal was a genius of mathematics. He was the grandfather of the modern computer and modern risk theory. What was at the heart of all he did? It was the fire of God that consumed him and he sewed this up in his shirts so he could keep it close to his heart for the last eight years of his life. God wants us consumed with His fire so that we burn for Him in this world.
A distortion in our calling is our view of work. Our focus can become our jobs and careers, which can be all consuming to us. This is a twisted and distorted view of calling that makes the secular exalted and we lose the spiritual all together.
We are to see God’s presence in all we do. When Jesus tells Peter to cast his nets into the water again after a fruitless night of effort, suddenly their nets are full! Peter saw this and fell down at Jesus’ knees. He needed to learn that Jesus’ lordship extended to every sphere of human existence.
Like both Peter and Pascal, He has call all into the life of His Kingdom. This call is for all believers into all domains of life.
Two enemies of our calling as Christ-followers are Boredom and Apathy.
Boredom is the personal feeling of indifference to what’s around us. A bored person lacks interest and experiences meaninglessness of his or her existence. However, if life has value and purpose, boredom wouldn’t exist.
We were created to have our existence fulfilled through the experience and knowledge of the One who made us. When sin entered the world it severed our close union with God and one another. Our thoughts, which are to find their home in worship and adoration of God and love toward one another, became marred, twisted and meaningless and now occupy empty space. Without the emotional stimulus and focus upon love for God, we came to despise not only Him but also each other and even ourselves. Boredom is the desire for desires. It is a loss of self, of purpose and of substantial meaning. It is a feeling that everything is a waste of time.
In contrast, purpose is the feeling that nothing is a waste of time. Our culture today has cheapened purpose to succeeding at work, sports, making money or a social position.
Apathy is another term for indifference. It’s an indifference to emotional, social, physical or spiritual life. Apathy leads us to detach ourselves from caring. As Christians, we can put ourselves under the stress of works of righteousness and living up to standards. When we fail, we give up or become indifferent to the things of God. Many Christians actually live as if God doesn’t exist or matter. Christians can live as an atheist in practice!
In reality, there is a reason you are here on earth at this time and place. We all search to find something, to choose something in our career or life that really fits “us” and brings satisfaction. Believers were made for a purpose so big it absorbs every ounce of our attention, inflames our passion, and carries the eternal element to inspire us until our last breath. Paul said, “…for me to live is Christ.”
Calling is the ultimate answer to the question of one’s purpose. The strongest source of purpose in life is to discover that we’ve been created and called by God. As we answer that call we come to be what we would have never been without that call of God.
There is a tension in our time. In our country 86% of the population considers themselves to be Christian. Yet Christians and the church are ineffective for the most part. Groups in smaller numbers have far greater influence and voice in our culture. It is tragic to see the splendor of what Jesus had in mind for his church only to be saddened by our lack of understanding of who we are and what we’re called to. In Acts, we see the church powerfully realizing her identity and moving in great power with effectiveness. This is because of the call of God in their lives, having a union with Him and a sense of purpose.
In calling we find our purpose and meaning in life. Jesus’ words “Follow me” created a great movement. Jesus called people to Himself and people left their boats and tax collecting business to follow His call. Something in His call was compelling. In discussing God’s call, Os Guiness writes, “By calling I mean that God calls us so decisively in Christ that everything we are, everything we have and everything we do is invested with a direction and dynamism because it is done in response to His summons and His call.”
Calling captures and masters us. Christ’s call shapes and inspires every second of our lives and every inch of the world in which we move. Where are you headed?
In the movie Shrek, Shrek tells Donkey that there are many “layers” of himself as an ogre. Peeling away the layers of an ogre is a lot like peeling layers on an onion.
Suppose after you peel away the identities that others put on you, you end up with nothing. After you peel away all expectations from people, you find nothing else is there. Does everyone have a “self” waiting to be found? I don’t believe it. Has anyone ever “found themselves”? Self is not something waiting to be found. One’s self is created. There is only one way to form an identity and with this, find meaning in life. That is through commitment. It is what we commit ourselves to that shapes our identity.
Believing is not just accepting the facts about something, it is giving yourself over to the one you say you believe. Are you committed? To what are you committed? For the Christian, there’s a big difference in you doing something “for” Jesus and Jesus doing something through you. The Christian life is not about believing in Jesus but in being committed to Jesus.
Having a sense of your calling in life is a powerful aspect of following Christ throughout your life. Paul’s letter to Timothy comes as Paul is reflecting on his own life and challenging Timothy because Paul knows he himself won’t be around much longer. Paul’s letters to Timothy were his last before he was executed. His life is consumed by what Christ had called him to which is evident in these verses.
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began…” (2 Timothy 1:8-9)
Paul was confident in being a person called into God’s purpose. He believed he had been chosen by the grace of God before the world was ever created. So we are also called into God’s own purpose and grace. Jesus still calls his disciples to “Come and follow me.”
God’s call leads to adventure and joy. There’s no greater joy than following Jesus, than embracing a commitment to your calling.
Paul wanted followership based on heart-felt conviction. He wanted people to follow him because deep down they really wanted to, not because they 'had to' or because 'Paul says we must do that'. He wanted them to follow him with 'a clear conscience' (2 Cor. 4:2; 2 Cor. 5:11). Here are some ways that leaders can help people follow with a clear conscience:
When a leader lacks conviction about a doctrine or strategy, followers catch the uncertain vibe and their conscience may begin to rebel.
When correcting the doctrine of the Galatians and Corinthians, Paul was very thorough. He contended and persuaded them with well-laid-out truth. Rather than rely on personality pull or bullying, he let truth do the heavy lifting to help them line up their consciences with what you wanted from them.
It is important to go beyond 'the elders and I have decided…' For example, when embarking on a new initiative such as planting a church, starting a new Sunday meeting, or purchasing property, present the vision to the people in a compelling and thorough manner. Talk them through how and why God seems to be leading you. Lay out the prophetic, logical, and situational factors. You want them to come out of that meeting persuaded within themselves that this is a good plan that they can back with a clear conscience.
Don't gloss over the concerns and difficulties that lie ahead. On the contrary, I usually find it best to pre-empt and honestly lay out the challenges up front. Three years ago when we embarked on an audacious land project, at a church meeting I invited everyone to shout out the potential pitfalls and fears concerning starting to raise millions of dollars. They threw them into the middle like hand-grenades … and we defused most of them. People were reassured.
Speaking your faith is essential, but also articulate that you are open to God's direction and leading at every stage of the initiative. It helps people to know that the leadership is pliable and constantly looking to God to confirm the direction you have embarked on.
If you have one of the foolish and controlling environments where to question the leadership is on par with 'rebellion' or 'challenging the Lord's anointed', then you and your church have serious problems! On the contrary, actively develop a culture where no question is too silly or faithless, and model being open to the advice of your people.
I have started two churches from absolute scratch. On both occasions I gathered a few friends and asked them to give me 'just three months' to help get the church started. I said, 'after three months we will know whether or not God is with us'. This cut-off point helped them commit with a clear conscience. And all of them ended up staying way beyond the three months!
As leaders we have an ace in the hole called 'my way or the highway' or 'please, just trust me on this one'. But I recommend you hold this back for when you really, really need it. Persuade, don't bulldoze.
Church leaders who operate in team regularly give authority and responsibility to others and avoid any sense of hierarchy in their daily practice. Team-led church leaders function as coaches: giving advice, equipping, training, and encouraging people in ministry.
This team approach is a return to the biblical leadership model of Jesus. The church began by being led by a servant-messiah who crossed the religious establishment to bring genuine faith back to the people. Paul's analogy of the church was “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:14-20). This model is highly effective in a postmodern world. You will not be given to hierarchal models of leadership based upon the New Testament model of the body. "The body is a bottom-up network based on cooperation, freedom, and the common good" (W.M. Easum, Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers). Easum writes, "individual members of the Body of Christ find their fulfillment, not as their ministry makes them feel good but when their ministry contributes to the health of the Body of Christ" (p. 45).
In the community of God's own Triune self, there’s no sense of domination hierarchy according to Miroslav Volf in After Our Likeness: The Church as The Image of the Trinity. Volf cannot find a connection between the communal nature of God and hierarchical systems.
So how does one formulate and build a team based church?
First: Begin with the team itself
Second: Everyone in the church is involved in a team-based approach
Third: Give yourself to structuring around team (not committees but teams)
Fourth: Create an enabling environment. (For example, you may change configurations of chairs in meetings…meet in a circle. Make sure elders are getting with with people.)
Fifth: Make team-building a lifestyle, not a technique. This lifestyle is not only in small groups but can be seen in other things, such as releasing gifts, letting others baptize new converts, and developing ministry teams in a variety of areas in church life.
Confluence is a place where the reformed, the charismatic, and the mission-minded converge to equip and serve the church to transform communities. Our authors are mostly leaders in the Newfrontiers family of churches. Read more.
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