5 Things I Wish Older Christians Told Me

The following is an excerpt from Frank Viola’s monthly UNFILTERED updates. You can subscribe to get these updates by going to frankviola.org/updates

5 things I wish older Christians told me: Viola’s Unfiltered update

I could write a book on the topic because there are far more than 5. But this is an email update, not a book.

I wish an older Christian told me the following when I was in my 20s. It would have saved me a lot of aggravation, frustration, discouragement, [fill in the blank].

Hold on to your chair. These are blunt, even unsettling, observations.

1. You’ll turn your head and you’ll be 40 years old. So live in the present and savor every moment. You cannot rewind the clock of your life.

When I was in my late 20s, an older friend in his 60s said to me, “Frank, you’re going to turn your head and you’ll be 50.”

As I write this update, I’m 50 (still younger than Johnny Depp, mind you. And I’ll always be younger than Johnny Depp!). But my friend was right. I turned my head and I was 50.

What I wish he would have added was …

“Strive to always live in the present. Savor each moment of your life, like a glass of fine wine. Don’t mainline or inhale it. Because your life will slip by before you know it.”

Have you ever seen the movie, Click? Life is a slightly slowed down version of that film.

At 50, I can say that with sad confidence.

So the moral of the story is: Don’t let the frantic pace of your youth suck you into life’s breakneck vortex. Throw your hands on the gears, slow them down a bit, and take stock.

Redeem the time for the days are evil.

2. Life won’t get easier. So learn to accept trials, disappointments, suffering, and incalculable loss.

On some levels, life will become easier. Thank God, junior high is over. Can I get a tiny amen on that?

(Alas, the memories of middle school. In my eyes, a pencil sharpener was a knuckle destroyer and on some days I treated P.E. as though it were the Olympics! I do miss Dodgeball though. But I digress.)

Speaking of junior high, when I hit my mid-30s, I was stunned to discover how many adults act like they’re still in middle school.

Searing jealousy, two-faced back-stabbing, unabashed gossip, scorched-earth drama, perceived slights that never took place, schoolyard belittling, sophomoric one-upmanship, imbibing slander and spreading it, etc. all run at high tide among adults … even “Christians” adults.

Sigh.

Yes, these tactics are carnal, immature, absurd and appalling. No, not every adult deploys them. But I’ve seen so much juvenile behavior and sharp elbowing among grown men and women that it’s unnerving.

I used to be an angel, but the backbiters chewed my wings off.  

The fact is, as each year passes, you’ll weather one crisis only to meet another.

Life will never become void of pain, discouragement, disappointment, and periods of suffering.

Well, you do get some breaks between explosions. Then the napalm bombs start dropping again.

But remember. These are the tools of your Lord to transform you. So don’t waste your sufferings. Lean into them to see Christ in a fresh way through each difficulty.

As I’ve defined it elsewhere, a crisis is an unwelcomed opportunity to discover a new aspect of Jesus Christ.

And what you see depends on where you stand.

So seek to stand in Christ and view things from His perspective. And learn the secret of living “care-free.”

Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

Read the rest of the article here

The Unfathomable Worth of Christ

Consider the value of the perfume that Mary had in her possession in John 12.

It was worth three hundred denarii. A denarii was a day’s wage for the average worker in the first century. Three hundred denarii is one year’s salary. Let me put this in contemporary terms so you can feel the force of it.

At the time of this writing, the average annual income in America is approximately fifty thousand dollars. So the value of that flask of perfume was the equivalent of fifty thousand dollars.

Mary probably received the perfume as a family heirloom. It represented her savings, her future, her security. It could have been sold in case of a financial crisis.

With that thought in mind, I’d like to make three observations about Mary’s extravagant act:

(1) Mary recognized the supreme worth of the Lord Jesus.

Mary took that which was most precious to her, and she gave it to her Lord. Not just some of it. But all of it. She poured the entire contents of the flask … one Roman pound of undiluted nard … upon Jesus. A Roman pound is close to twelve ounces.

I’m impressed that Mary saved this precious perfume for Christ. Even when her own brother died, she didn’t use it for his burial. Instead, she kept it as a treasured gift for her Lord.

The shadow of the cross hovered over the banquet. By instinctive love and intuitive foresight, Mary knew that Jesus wasn’t going to be with the family much longer. Thus her act was in perfect season.

It was an elegant picture of extravagant worship, extravagant loyalty, extravagant love, and extravagant devotion. And it was precious in the Lord’s sight.

Jesus prized Mary’s love and faith in a special way. He gave her act a deathless fame that would spread everywhere the gospel was preached. Her good work won His warmest praise, being rewarded with a renown that was beyond the legacy of kings. And in the face of abrasive criticism, Jesus defended and commended Mary with words of matchless beauty and tenderness.

Recall what Paul said in Philippians 3:8:

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

In Bethany, Jesus Christ is valued for His exceeding worth. In Bethany, there is nothing too costly to lay at His feet. In Bethany, all things are counted as loss for the excellent knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord.

But even more, the way that Mary anointed Jesus was scandalous. It was shameful for a woman to unbind her hair in public with men present. It denoted loose morals and was guaranteed to raise pious eyebrows.

Mary of Bethany’s anointing shouldn’t be confused with a previous anointing by a “sinful woman” in Luke 7. There are too many discrepancies to view it as the same event, including the location, the people involved, the way the anointing was done, and the time at which the event took place.

In addition, there is no evidence to suggest that Mary of Bethany was a sinful woman. Quite the contrary.

Perhaps Mary heard of the woman who had anointed Jesus in the past and was inspired by the idea. This is quite possible. (The post-apostolic Christians believed the sinful woman was Mary Magdalene, though this cannot be proven or disproven.)

Regardless of whether Mary heard about the previous anointing or not, she was taking a profound risk by unbinding her hair in public. A risk that demonstrated that she didn’t care what others thought about her worship.

At bottom, Mary’s stunning act wasn’t motivated by the things that often govern spiritual service today, such as guilt, duty, obligation, the desire to impress others, the thrill of being appreciated, and the need to satisfy restlessness.

No, she performed this shameless gesture for an Audience of One. Her eyes had been opened to see the supreme value of Jesus Christ. And the Lord defended and commended her for it.

(2) Mary shattered the flask.

The shattering of the alabaster flask signifies excessive use wherein nothing was saved. Once opened, the flask could not be resealed.

John wanted his readers to know that when the flask was broken, the house was filled with the aroma of the perfume. Herein lies a great spiritual principle:

When the vessel is broken, the fragrance of Christ pours forth.

This brings us back to the matter of brokenness that we discussed in chapter 1. The alabaster cruse was beautiful and expensive. But it had to be broken in order for the sweet perfume to be released and the scent enjoyed.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Brokenness is a mark of the spiritual history of the Lord’s choicest servants. Our lives can only become fragrant with the Lord’s life when we’ve experienced the inner depths of brokenness. When something has been broken within us, something of God—who dwells in our spirits—is released, and the scent cannot be missed.

Charles Spurgeon rightly said that the jewels of the Christian are his or her afflictions. When people allow the Lord to break them and when they waste themselves upon Christ, those who come near them can sense the fragrance of His life.

There is nothing more precious on the face of this earth than a gathering of believers in whom the Lord feels at home. Whenever that takes place, there is an issuing forth of the aroma of Christ’s presence that can be detected by those who visit. It is the aroma of lives fully yielded to Jesus, poured out and wasted upon Him.

In the Messianic prophecy of Psalm 45, we are told that the Lord’s garments smelled of myrrh and aloes. Before Jesus was buried, Nicodemus placed myrrh and aloes on His body. And he used the same amount that was used for royal burials—a hundred pounds worth. By this act, Nicodemus testified that he believed Jesus to be a king.

Now think with me. In addition to the perfume that Mary poured upon Him, the Lord’s body was covered with a hundred pounds of fragrant spices. So when He rose from the dead a few days later, He was fragrant. And His fragrance could be smelled from afar.

Point: the resurrected Christ has a scent. He emits the everlasting fragrance of resurrection.

Now we cannot physically smell Christ today, but our spiritual senses can detect the fragrance of His presence among us.

The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

The sense of smell is the most delicate of all the human senses. By it, we receive impressions beyond our sight and hearing. Fragrance cannot be hidden. It’s pervasive. When released, the fragrant influence of Jesus Christ cannot be hidden.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

As A. B. Simpson once put it, “Preaching without spiritual aroma is like a rose without fragrance. We can only get the perfume by getting more of Christ.”

(3) Mary was criticized by Judas.

This story contains the only sermon that Judas ever preached. Listen to his three-word protest.

“Why this waste?”

When Judas saw Mary’s worshipful act, he exploded with criticism, saying, “Why are you being so wasteful? You could have helped the poor with this small fortune!”

But Mary stepped out in faith. Her act of extravagant love was shameless, selfless, and risked both embarrassment and the sneers and jeers of harsh criticism.

But love compelled her.

However, her act was rudely interrupted by a mean-spirited complaint. Her token of exquisite devotion exposed her own heart and the heart of Judas as well as the other disciples who agreed with him.

Judas sought to cloak the real motive behind his complaint with pious rhetoric. It was a case of cold-heartedness judging warm-heartedness under the guise of being spiritual.

Unfortunately, Judas is not alone in engaging in this behavior.

There are few things that are as close to God’s heart as helping the dispossessed and oppressed. Read your Old Testament. It’s spilling over with God’s concern for their plight.

Jesus Himself was a poor man all His life. The poor were His representatives, not His rivals.

But as important as caring for the poor is, Jesus Christ Himself is even more important. He is more valuable than any ministry, no matter how good or noble.

It is possible to worship the god of “ministry” in place of Christ.

Interestingly, the Lord’s death, which Mary highlighted by her anointing, would eventually solve the problem of poverty forever.

The contrast between Mary and Judas is dramatic. In Mary, we see the light of love. In Judas, we see the darkness of sin. Mary anointed Jesus for burial; Judas prepared Him for betrayal. Mary loved Christ in preparation for His death; Judas helped bring about His death.

I’m comforted to know that Jesus is an advocate to all who give Him the place of preeminence. He rises to the defense of every Mary.

While Mary was misunderstood and denigrated, she never justified, defended, or explained herself. Though she only speaks once in the Gospels, the legacy of her life speaks volumes by her actions.

For these reasons, Mary came closer to Jesus’ inner heart than anyone else.

And her loving act is one case among several where a woman got it right while the men got it wrong.

Every disciple of Christ has much to learn from Mary.

by Frank Viola Author

Mary Anointed Jesus in Bethany

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived (the man whom Jesus raised from the dead). There at Bethany they prepared dinner for him at the home of Simon the leper. Martha was serving, and Lazarus was one of those eating with him.

Then Mary took an alabaster jar of expensive ointment (a pound of pure nard) and came up to him as he reclined at the table. She broke the jar and poured the ointment over his head. She anointed his feet and wiped his feet with her hair. The house soon was filled with the aroma of the ointment.

When his disciples saw what she did, [they] soon became indignant and said to themselves, “Why is this ointment being wasted? This could have been sold for a considerable amount of money.” So they began to rebuke her. Judas Iscariot (who would later betray him) said, “Why wasn’t this ointment sold for a year’s wages, and the money given to the poor?” He didn’t say this because he was at all concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief and had charge of the money pouch and kept stealing what was put into it.

Jesus was aware of all this and said to them, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering the woman? She has done a good thing for me. She has saved this ointment for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you and can help them whenever you want, but you won’t always have me. She has done what she could. In pouring out this ointment she has anointed my body for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever in the world this good news is proclaimed, what this woman has done will also be recounted in memory of her.”

Many of the Jews who knew he was there came not only because of Jesus but because they wanted to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. That is why the chief priests discussed how they might also kill Lazarus. On account of him a large number of Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.

Matt. 26:6–13, Mark 14:3–9, and John 12:1–112.

Mystery & Majesty

The little village of Bethany is the place where mystery and majesty collide. It is the place where human power and hope come to their painful end.

It is the place where the immortal utterance of Jesus, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” is encountered in living color.

Our friend Lazarus is sleeping, and I’m going to Bethany to wake him.

It is the place where we discover that death doesn’t have the last word. Jesus Christ does.

It is the place where God’s people are made free from all forms of bondage.

It is the place where we encounter a God who doesn’t meet our expectations but is touched with our sorrows and agonies.

It is the place where we are unoffended by a Lord who allows things to happen that we do not understand.

It is the place where God starts all over again with a new creation—a new life that’s free from the bondage of death.

It is where we meet a persistent God who is determined to exalt His Son.

In all of these ways, the Lord desires for us to be a Bethany for His pleasure.

Offended by Jesus – A Case Study

In John 11, we see that Martha was offended by Jesus.

But why? There were three reasons.

First, Jesus did not arrive in time to heal Lazarus. Second, Jesus’ words to the messenger could easily have been interpreted to mean that Lazarus would not die. Third, Jesus did not show up for Lazarus’ funeral. In the first century, those who died were buried immediately. Six days of mourning followed. If close friends were not in attendance during the burial, it brought shame upon the family and the deceased.

Martha may have also felt slighted when Jesus asked for Mary after He arrived in Bethany. Perhaps she thought to herself, It doesn’t matter what I do or say, it’s always about Mary!

Regardless, being offended by the Lord is something that touches us all.

The Scripture tells us that Jesus is a rock of offense to the disobedient. In His earthly days, Christ was constantly offending the outwardly religious.

But when Jesus spoke these words in Matthew 11:6—“Blessed is the one who is not offended by me”—He had someone else in mind. He was speaking to His followers: “Blessed are you, My followers, when you are not offended by Me.”

John the Baptist was utterly loyal to Jesus. He walked a life of total self-denial, giving up everything for his God. And then he found himself in a cold prison.

We have no record that the Lord ever visited John in prison. So John questioned and doubted. He was probably thinking, Was it really worth it? I lived my whole life to pave the way for the Messiah, and now I’m in prison. The kingdom hasn’t yet come. Did I miss it?

John wondered and wavered; he was tempted to be offended by his Lord. So he sent word to Jesus, asking, “Are you really the One who was to come? Or should we expect another?”

Jesus didn’t visit John. He instead sent an answer through John’s disciples:

Go back and report to John what you’re seeing. The deaf hear; the blind see; the lepers are cleansed; the dead are raised; the good news is being preached to the poor … and happy is the person who is not offended in Me. Peaceful is the man who doesn’t stumble over Me. Blessed is the person who doesn’t fall away on account of what I do or not do.

Over the years, I’ve watched Christians take offense with the Lord. Some of them passionately followed Jesus in their youth, only to renounce Him later. Why? They took offense, because they chose to be offended.

“Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” This is the forgotten beatitude.

Set Free From Slavery

One of the most debilitating forms of bondage that a Christian can know is the bondage of guilt. It’s paralyzing, depressing … devastating even. But Jesus Christ has removed your guilt. The blood of Christ is enough to satisfy a holy God and that blood looms larger in His eyes than any sin you or I can ever commit.

For this reason, your righteousness is not based on what you have or haven’t done. It is solely based on what He has done.

So stand in the shed blood of Christ, which has cleansed you from sin, made you acceptable to God, and given you access to His “throne of grace.” It is the accuser of the brethren who would seek to paralyze you with the gripping power of guilt. But we “[overcome] him by the blood of the Lamb.” Rev. 12:11

Indeed, there is freedom in Bethany, and it is the freedom that only Jesus Christ can bring.

Second, Jesus did not unbind Lazarus; instead He told the crowd to do it. It was as if He said, “I want you to co-labor with Me in bringing freedom to others. Since I have set you free, you are now My agents to set others free. I’ve called you to be My bondage-breakers for others.”

“Loose him, and let him go!” is what the Lord said to those in Bethany.

If the Lord has set you free, He has granted you the power to set others free.

Note that Lazarus could not unbind himself. He needed others to do it. We cannot free ourselves.

This is precisely what resurrection life does. Resurrection life liberates us from all things except Christ Himself. And He gives us His resurrection life so that we may “go and do likewise,” liberating others from sin, condemnation, guilt, shame, the world, and the Devil.

Setting people free from bondage is deeply embedded in the soundtrack of Jesus’ ministry. And it should be embedded in ours as well.

This isn’t a burden, but a glorious privilege.