“This is extremely satisfying,” my friend said as we pulled together massive amounts of leaves gathered in the landscaping. “It’s hard work, but gratifying!”

The same can be said for eliminating debris in my heart. It is hard work, but so satisfying.

Read: Galatians 6:9

Don’t give up! The effort you give to living a new life in Christ will never be wasted. It is tempting to throw in the towel, but the change you desire is just around the corner! Keep on!

Spring clean-up. Right now, that is a loaded phrase and one that could send me running from the room screaming, holding my head. It always feels like this at this time of year. It is the end of April and we have had just enough warm days to raise our hope that winter is over and spring will prevail. And that lasts about two days and then it is cold, rainy and windy again. So we rush back indoors to wait out the last pushes of winter.

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What does it mean to follow Jesus? If it isn’t found in following rules and it isn’t found in a life of self-denial and it isn’t about mysterious experiences, what is it?

Read: Matthew 16:24; John 10:27; John 13:34-35

If I could summarize the verses above, it would sound like this:

Stop thinking about only yourself and what you want. If you really want to follow Jesus, you will listen carefully to everything he says without fear. Love for others will be the indicator that you are a follower of Jesus.

So simple, yet not simple at all. And that is why we turn to legalism, asceticism and mysticism – it’s far easier to keep those practices than it is to love others and to act in loving ways. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with everything we have and to love others as our self. This is the litmus test of following Jesus.

How are you doing? Take a moment and ask Jesus to reveal any one in your life who could have used a little more love from you.

Read: John 20:1-10

An empty tomb! That’s what the women found when they rushed to the garden early that Sunday morning. Despair filled their hearts as they attempted to find Jesus’ body. It made sense to stay at the tomb.

I find it easy to stay at the tomb, to hang around outside. You know, the place where the dead things of my life are kept. Maybe the things I am just not quite ready to get rid of. It might be old friends, sinful habits, wounds – you know, dead things. I stand there waiting … for what?

Jesus died on the cross and they put him in the tomb because that is what happens to things that die. They are buried. But Jesus didn’t stay there. He overcame death and the grave! He walked out of tomb, left his grave clothes behind and left the area full of new life.

Today is an opportunity to worship the Father for all he has accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus. On the cross, Jesus experienced physical death for us and he took everything that stood against us and nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-15). He declared it all finished, paid in full. When sin and death are taken off the table, it makes a lot more room for courageous, joy-filled, outrageous living. So let’s get with it! Walk away from the tomb, leave your grave clothes behind and embrace new life in Jesus!

THE LORD IS RISEN!

Read: Isaiah 53:4-9

Today – the hours between the crucifixion and the resurrection – the most disheartening day for Jesus’ disciples. Their hopes were high that Jesus was going to set them free from Roman oppression, that he was the Messiah. And then Friday happened and they hid. Hid away from the authorities – both Roman and Jewish – wondering what had gone wrong.

But they had forgotten what Jesus told them. He said he was going to die and be raised back to life. More than once, in more than one way, he tried to prepare them for this dark day. But they had forgotten.

I wonder if you are sitting between the crucifixion and the resurrection – between the day the bottom fell out of your world and the realization of a new beginning. Have you forgotten the promises of God? Do you remember that Sunday and the resurrection is coming? Are you cradling your head in your hands wondering what in the world you will do next? Is fear your companion?

Take heart! He said he is making all things new. He is doing something new. Don’t you see it? He has not forgotten or forsaken you, so look around and listen carefully because SUNDAY IS COMING!!!

We aren’t obligated to a list of rules when we follow Jesus, nor are we asked to practice any of form of penitential discipline to strengthen our will against sin.

The final practice Paul warns against is MYSTICISM. Mysticism is spiritual intuition outside of normal or ordinary understanding obtained through the use of intermediaries (angels, spirits) or ecstatic experiences.

Read: Colossians 2:18-19

Even in the New Testament there were those who denied that Jesus actually came in the flesh. It was difficult to believe that an all powerful God would inhabit a frail, sinful human body, so they developed other explanations for Jesus. You see, some of these people had actually seen Jesus or knew people who had seen Jesus. So they couldn’t say he wasn’t real, because clearly, he was.

In chapter one of Colossians, Paul says:

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.

Colossians 1:15-16

Paul goes on to say that Christ is all we need:

I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. In him (Christ) lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Colossians 2:2-3

Those who insisted on mystical practices thought there was more to know, outside of Jesus; something they could learn through intermediaries. The problem? Anything that is Jesus+ is dangerous and unnecessary. In Jesus lie all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And that is still true today.

Throughout scripture we are invited to ask the Father what we want to know (Matthew 7:7-8). We are told to seek him first (Luke 12:31). We have the Holy Spirit to show us the deep secrets of God (1 Corinthians 2:10). If we aren’t looking to God for knowledge, we are looking in the wrong place.

Christ is God’s mysterious plan! The gospel is Good News, but it is simple news. It confounds the wise; it is foolishness to the world. But God’s “foolish plan is wiser than the wisest of human plans!” (1 Corinthians 1:25)

So, tell me, what are you looking for? Do you run after ecstatic experiences? Are you relying on the Holy Spirit to reveal the mysteries of God or do you look for intermediaries? Have you made the Good News more complicated than it needs to be by turning the wisdom of God which is Christ into impossible foolishness?

I invite you to come back…the mystery is in Christ!

Following Jesus does not mean adhering to a long list of rules and regulations (legalism) designed to control our behavior so we are right with God. Jesus makes us right with God; we don’t have to work for righteousness.

Reading: Colossians 2:18, 23

The second thing Paul said to get rid of in our quest to follow Jesus is ASCETICISM. Asceticism is the belief that a person can attain a higher spiritual and moral state by practicing self-denial (I don’t bathe), self-mortification (pinching myself until I bruise) and other things of `rigorous self-denial. The goal is developing a higher level of spirituality; denying oneself to develop a greater awareness of the spiritual and be separate from the pull of our bodily desires.

Martin Luther lived in the first half of the 16th century and was a ordained a priest in 1507. He struggled deeply with “feeling” he was not spiritual enough so he engaged in ascetic practices including wearing clothing made from animal skin with the hairy, scratchy side toward his body. On the nights he allowed himself to sleep, he used a rock for a pillow and refused blankets to keep himself warm. He would go without food for long periods of time hoping to mortify his physical body so his spiritual developed. All of this, and more, was an effort to attain a higher level of spirituality than he experienced at the time. It was in studying Romans that he discovered his faith needed to be in Christ alone and not in any acts of self-denial or self-mortification. He learned it was futile to deny himself the basic comforts of life; that did not bring him peace. But faith in Jesus alone did.

Paul could have saved Luther a great deal of pain. In verse 23 (sure, go back and read it again!), he said these acts of rigorous self-denial do NOTHING to control the desires in our bodies. So if you are trying to control lust by hitting your thumb with a hammer, it isn’t going to work.

I doubt you are choosing to sleep on a rock at night or wear clothes that scratch your body. But is there something that dances around the periphery? Something that says, “If I deny myself (you fill in the blank), then I would experience a higher level of spirituality.” Is there any type of self-denial that you think you should perform to make up for something you said or did? Go back and read the scripture again. I think there is a word of freedom for you in the passage today!

Read: Colossians 2:16-17

The first thing Paul warns against in following Christ is LEGALISM. Legalism is defined as strictly following the “letter of the law” rather than the spirit. It is following the rules without embracing the spirit of something. For example, church attendance is an excellent tool for growing in our faith. It is a place to interact with other believers, a place to encourage and be encouraged, a place to hear God’s word spoken and read aloud.

Attending as an obligation, as a duty, defeats the purpose. Going to church doesn’t make you more saved. It doesn’t get you points in some heavenly reward system. It is the spirit behind attending that matters.

The same can be said for Bible reading, prayer, fasting, meditation, good deeds, observance of holy days, dressing a certain way, avoiding certain activities – anything that can be leveraged against Jesus alone as the way to come into the presence of God.

In the gospels you will find Jesus breaking religious norms. He didn’t always wash in the prescribed fashion. He healed on Sunday and told the person to get up, take his mat and walk. He broke the rules. Not because he wanted to cause a problem, but because the spirit of the law had been forgotten. The activity had become the means to holiness, not God. In the process of following the rules, the people no longer showed compassion and mercy for one another. Obedience to the law(s) trumped love for people.

It is so easy to fall into patterns of legalism. What is troubling you today? Have you forgotten that it is Jesus alone who sets you free? It is Jesus alone you must follow. He radically loved others and wasn’t afraid to break the rules to do it. Are you?

I have always been a very devout person. I think my personality, my experiences – and perhaps my birth order – combined in me so that I always wanted to be “good.” I followed the rules (except once in fourth grade I stretched the truth so I could go to an event my mom didn’t want me to attend), I listened to my parents (except the time my sister cut my hair even though my dad didn’t want her to),\ and I obeyed (except when my boyfriend and I wanted to be alone so we left the retreat setting we were in to take a drive in -50 degree weather).

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Read: Colossians 2:2-4; 6-7

I do not do well with house plants. They die. It’s just that simple. Unless it is a cactus that doesn’t require much care or attention. I don’t seem to have the touch. Orchids are especially troubling to me. I know their roots need special attention…not too much water, but enough; loose soil, not compacted. But I can’t seem to get them to bloom.

As followers of Jesus, our roots are every bit as delicate as an orchid. If we don’t put our roots into the proper kind of soil we won’t grow and bear fruit.

Our reading today gives us everything we need to know to follow Jesus well. Paul says:

  1. We accept Jesus. He holds all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
  2. We choose Jesus every day.
  3. We put our roots into Jesus and his treasures.

Then Paul says, our faith will grow strong and we will overflow with thanksgiving.

This is where we will focus our attention this week. I sure don’t have it all together and some days I wonder what in the world it means to let my roots grow into Jesus. Maybe you do too. Join me as, together, we explore what it means to follow Jesus and put our roots into him.