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Jesus washes feet

The preparations have been made. The Passover Feast has begun. Jesus knew this would be his last Passover with the disciples, and this meal certainly wasn’t the only thing on his mind. The cross loomed tall and imposing in his near future, and he knew his time was short.

The disciples on the other hand were clueless as usual. Maybe they were semi-conscious of the strange things Jesus kept saying and how he’d been acting, but the one thing you could count on with the disciples was how oblivious they were. Typical males, right?

The disciples were looking forward to celebrating another Passover with Jesus. It was always a memorable time of eating and laughing, relaxing around the table, and reflecting on the goodness of God.

So here they are again, gathered together, gathered round the table, ready to begin the ceremonial meal. We are familiar with how the story begins. Jesus gets up from the table, wraps a towel around his waist, pours water into a basin, and proceeds to wash the disciples’ feet.

Now this would have caught the disciples off guard; this was out of the ordinary. It seems out of the ordinary for us, too, but for different reasons. We are not accustomed to this custom; we are used to washing our own feet, not having someone else do that.

In Bible times, when you were a guest in someone’s home, they took it upon themselves to wash your feet. The purpose was to be hospitable, to be a good host, and to honor your guests and make them feel welcome, comfortable, and at home during their stay in your house. And after a long day of walking dirt roads in sandals, having clean feet makes everything better.

This practice of being a good host to guests is one we still practice today, even if it looks different. We welcome our guests when they arrive, we take their coats, we invite them to sit down, we offer them food and drink. Things really haven’t changed that much.

While our Bible-times-host wanted to make sure his guests had clean feet and were comfortable, the actual washing of their feet was not something the host ever did. It was beneath the host; it was not proper for a free man to stoop so low.

So the job of washing feet was given to the servant or the slave, and always the lowest one on the totem pole. If a family did not have the means to have their own servants, the job fell to the lady of the household or the children. Never the man of the house.

This is why the disciples were shocked. This is why Peter resisted. The one they held as their King was stooping down to do the job of a worthless slave? Not on Peter’s watch.

But let’s look at this event from the perspective of Jesus.

More than likely, this is the first meal Jesus has hosted for his disciples. Jesus still lived at home with his mom. He didn’t have a place of his own, so he would not have had occasion to be a host.

But Jesus is hosting this meal. He ordered the preparations. He rented the space.

And as host, the responsibilities of taking care of the guests fall to him. Finding someone to wash everyone’s feet is his job.

But he doesn’t find someone. Whether this slipped his mind or was part of his plan all along, there is no servant in the room to wash feet.

I wonder if the disciples picked up on this. I wonder if they kept looking around the room nervously, trying hard not to make eye contact with Jesus, afraid he would ask them to get up and do this humiliating job?

I imagine it might have been similar to when you go out to eat with friends, and the food arrives, and everyone just stares awkwardly at their plate until someone finally offers to pray for the meal. I imagine it might have been like that.

So then Jesus gets up and does what comes naturally for him. He doesn’t think twice about it. He does not see it as something beneath him.

Of course he doesn’t. He himself once said, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”

It is perfectly natural for Jesus to wash their feet. It is his very nature, his character, to humbly serve others no matter if it costs him his time, his reputation, or his life.

And he does not limit his service only to those who would call him friend. He lowers himself even before Judas, and serves and loves and hopes for the best while being aware of the worst.

Afterwards, he says to his followers, “I have given you the ultimate example of how you are to be. Serve each other just as I have served you.”

While we may or may not literally follow Jesus’ example of washing feet, we are not to just be copycats of Jesus. We are called to be like Jesus. Just as his natural response and reaction was to serve his neighbor, so we should be seeking to become more like him so that our natural responses and reactions look like his.

One week ago we sat down as a family and watched old home movies. We had documented and edited the kids’ first steps and first words, birthdays and holidays, and times of dancing, singing, and playing. The kids could hardly believe the little people on the video were themselves, and Kelly and I would make comments about what they were like at each age.

Our kids ate it up. They absolutely loved it.

I was surprised by how much it affected them. They were so excited to see what they used to be like, and enjoyed laughing and mimicking themselves. But what seemed to affect them the most was seeing how enthralled Kelly and I were with them on the video. At different times they would snuggle in closer to us, and this whole past week they have been extra cuddly and loving.

But the thing is, our kids have no idea how we really feel about them.

They know they are loved, but they don’t know we love them to the moon and back. They can’t grasp the intensity of our feelings for them. They don’t realize we would do anything for them, that we wouldn’t hesitate to die for them, or how impossible it would be for us to live without them.

I resonate with what Elizabeth Stone once said about being a parent: “It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

At this stage of their lives, they simply don’t have the perspective to fully understand how loved and cherished they are. And it really has nothing to do with anything other than that they are our Addi, Levi, and Micah.

Maybe someday if they have children of their own they will know these kinds of feelings.

You and I are in the same boat when it comes to how God, our Heavenly Father, feels about us.

You have no idea how God really feels about you.

Sure, you know He loves you, and maybe that thought moves you to tears, but you still can’t fully grasp how loved and cherished you are.

Sure, you know all about Christmas and Easter, and maybe you have experienced some of the most overwhelming, intimate times with God, but you are still incapable of comprehending the fullness of God’s love for you. And it really has nothing to do with anything other than that you are His.

Maybe someday when we are finally face to face with Him we will be better able to understand that kind of love. But I would guess not.

It will have to be enough to know we are loved. And to long for those times of intimacy and enjoy those grace-filled moments when we feel His love. And to share that love with the world that God loves just as much as He loves you and me.

Painfully Worth It

Tim —  August 1, 2011 — 1 Comment

Photo Credit Weisimel

Jesus once told a parable that went something like this:

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hiding in a field. Every day, hundreds of people walked by it, around it, even over it, completely oblivious to the riches right under their nose.

One day, a young woman stumbled upon it. At first, she didn’t realize exactly what she had found. As it slowly dawned on her, she became more and more excited, until finally she hid it again and hurried back home.

Over the next couple of days, she gathered up all her belongings and boxed them up. Some things were easy to part with, but she shed many tears as she said goodbye to nostalgic items from her childhood; clothes, shoes, belts, and more shoes from her closet; books, CDs, and movies; laptop, television, cell phone, mp3 player; furniture, appliances, even her car.

It took her several days to sell all her stuff, and in the process there were moments of doubt and uncertainty about her plan. When she moved back in with her parents and told her friends what she was doing, they could not understand. They tried to get her to change her mind, at least to hang onto some needed items, but she knew what she wanted. Her father forced her to see a psychiatrist, but afterwards the doctor acknowledged that she was in her right mind despite her behavior being so unusual.

“I can’t explain it,” she said to her family, “but it’s almost as if I have no real choice in the matter. Now that I know it is out there, the thought of it consumes my every waking moment. I don’t think I can live without it. And if this is the only way for me to get it, then this is what I will do. I believe it’s worth it.”

Three weeks after first finding the treasure, the young woman met with a real estate agent and joyfully signed her name to many papers. It was a long process, and she could hardly contain herself as she patiently signed over and over. Finally, she was done; she was shaking hands with the others in the room, and it was a done deal.

She rushed over to the field as quickly as possible. Her heart felt like it was going to explode as she crouched down, turning over the soil, and then… there it was! Sunlight glimmered off of the treasure.

It was hers! Fully and truly and forever, hers. An overwhelming feeling of joy and peace came over her as she realized her life would never be the same.

Based on Matthew 13:44.

Question: Why don’t we see our life with Christ as such a treasure?

In certain situations, being comfortable is the worst thing possible.

If it’s Ice-Age-cold outside, it’s best not to get too comfortable.

If you’re working with extremely dangerous equipment that could easily alter your figure or your DNA, it’s best not to get too comfortable.

Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Sile...
Image via Wikipedia

Or if you find yourself sitting across the dinner table from Dr. Hannibal Lecter, it’s best not to get too comfortable.

In these cases and many others, being uncomfortable is a good thing…
it might even save your life!

We all like being comfortable, but we should recognize comfort can be a slippery slope. A little comfort is a good thing and enhances life. You could even argue a certain amount of comfort is necessary for survival.

But with too much comfort, something happens. Our senses become deadened, we slip into a coma-like, almost-vegetative state, and turn into medicated-zombies. Too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.

When we like our comfort too much, we become obsessed with protecting and maintaining it… at all costs. We’re constantly on guard against anything that might rock the boat.

When we like our comfort too much, there’s no way we’ll do something that might make us uncomfortable. We have a tendency to walk through life half-asleep, with our head in the clouds.

When we like our comfort too much, we’re happy with how life is. We ignore the facts that we are not yet who we are to be, that the world is not yet what it is to be, and that we have an active role to play in these things coming about.

When we like our comfort too much, we’re not very interested in making a difference, of serving, of living for another.

We must remember we were not called by Christ to be comfortable or complacent. We were called to count the cost, to serve the least of these, to be living sacrifices.

The best thing for you and I is a healthy level of dissatisfaction. Of discomfort. Of longing for what is to come. At least enough to get us off the couch…

So how much discomfort can you handle? How much do you want?

How do you justify the exorbitant price tag of a short-term mission trip? When 80% or more of what’s raised goes towards flight and lodging?

That money directly invested towards fighting poverty or training and supporting the local pastors would have a much greater impact than our spending a week smiling, holding kids, doing crafts and playing sports.

In light of that, is it worth it to do short-term missions?

I still say yes. First, the significance and impact of us being there is greater than we realize. We are relational beings, and we bring love, hope, respect and dignity with us that even a blank check cannot provide.

Second, something happens to us that cannot be replicated here. It is hard to explain what this is or how it works, so let’s turn to the Chronicles of Narnia for help.

In The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe four children from our world find themselves in the land of Narnia and play a small role in saving Narnia. (Aslan, a lion, is the Christ-figure in these stories, and he is the one who actually saves Narnia.) The four children are crowned Kings and Queens and reign for many years. They grow up in Narnia.

Then one day they stumble back into our world and discover no time has passed here, and they are once again children.

In the second book, Prince Caspian, the four children are pulled back into Narnia to help save the country again. The more time they spend there, the more they become who they once were. The very air of Narnia has a magical effect on them, and they are becoming Kings and Queens again.

At the end of this book Aslan tells the two oldest children, Peter and Susan, they will not be coming back to Narnia.

In the third book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the two younger children, Edmund and Lucy, return to Narnia with their cousin Eustace and have more adventures.

As this story ends, Aslan tells Edmund and Lucy they will not be returning to Narnia. They are upset mainly because they think this means they will never see Aslan again. But he says this is not so.

Edmund asks, “Are you there too, Sir?”

“I am,” replies Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

This is the simple reason why short-term mission trips are worth every penny and more. Something happens to us while we are there. Our eyes are opened wider to God, to His world, and His heart for the world. It is not just so we can have a great week we will never forget, but so we can be different here.

So we may know God better here.

We were spoiled rotten on this mission trip.

The mission organization we worked with in the Dominican did not have adequate housing, so teams stay at a nearby hotel. It is not necessarily the nicest hotel on the island, but it was the nicest place I’ve ever stayed on a mission trip!

It was clean, the rooms were nice, the water was usually warm and sometimes hot, the food was great, and the view was spectacular.

We were right on the ocean. Literally thirty feet away from the waves crashing on the shore.

We were spoiled rotten.

They also had a very nice pool, which was greatly enjoyed and used by all. But by the end of the day, it was a bit messy.

By the end of the day, bugs had found their way to the pool. Sand had been tracked into the pool. And plenty of leaves, twigs, and flowers were not only in the pool, but by nightfall the whole area around the pool was covered. You could hardly take a step without landing on something. It wasn’t a big deal; it was just the way it was.

One of the first mornings there, as I was walking past the pool on my way to breakfast, some of the workers were just putting the finishing touches on the pool and the area around it. The work they were doing was nothing short of a miracle; they were making the pool brand new again.

Each day this was the routine. We dirtied the pool, the wind dirtied the pool, but by morning it was brand new again.

It struck me that this is what God does for us.

Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us God’s mercies are new every morning. We dirty up our lives during the day, and then while we are sleeping, God is at work cleaning us up. Extending his mercy to us so when we wake up, God says to us, “You and I are alright. Things are good between us. Let’s spend the day together.”

We inevitably mess things up, but it’s not a big deal. God is faithful despite our unfaithfulness, and He says to us again (and again and again and again), “You and I are alright. I’ve taken care of it. I’ve made things good between us again. Let’s spend today together.”

That’s amazing grace. Grace that can change our perspective, change our understanding of how we relate to God, change how we live our lives.

Are you trusting in God’s daily mercies? Are you able to lean into and embrace this gift God brings to the table? This gift that does not depend on you or I in any way? Can you believe it is true? And that it is for you?

Pictures of Grace

Tim —  June 27, 2011 — Leave a comment

I recently got back from a missions trip to the Dominican Republic with a group of students and adults from my church. The experience impacted us greatly: seeing the widespread poverty, interacting with the people there, those living with joy and hope and those not, doing our best to love the Haitian and Dominican children we met, getting to know each other better, worshipping God in another culture. It is hard to articulate all we experienced or what we are processing or how we are different, but here are some snapshots that have stayed with me.

The first snapshot is Pastor Joe sharing his story of growing up in Mexico and being sponsored so he could attend school as a young child, and then leading the schoolchildren in a prayer asking God for help to be the best students they can be, that their story might take a similar path as his did.

Twice a day, we spent time playing with kids and their families, holding babies, doing crafts, blowing bubbles, playing baseball and soccer and frisbee. And sweating… a lot. At one of these neighborhoods, a Dominican pastor walked up trying to get our attention, trying to gather all “the missionaries” around him. He did not speak any English, but with the help of Pastor Joe he prayed for us and shared Psalm 121 with us:

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

One of the most unique things we did was go in groups into homes, visit with a family, and actually pray for them with the help of a translator. These were, in essence, pastoral visits that our students got to experience. One student later shared with us about visiting the home of a woman with 10 kids who was a former prostitute. She had a picture of Jesus hanging on her wall and pointed to it and said, “Jesus is the only man for me now.”

A couple other impacting statements from students included one sharing how she hoped when she went back home she could continue to be who she had become here. What a great prayer!

Another student said he learned everyone just wants to be loved. What an insight for a 16-year-old to grasp!

And one student wanted to bring home one of the Haitians he met, a boy his age with great basketball talent. He recognized that basketball was this young man’s ticket out, and he also recognized that the only difference between the two of them was where they were born. He desperately wanted this new friend to have the same opportunities and privileges he had always enjoyed.

Not only did we have these holy moments in the Dominican, but a holy moment also broke out on our way home, in Miami International Airport of all places. We had two hours to make our connecting flight. Two hours to get 43 people through all the hoops amidst the chaos and confusion of customs and security checkpoints and needed bathroom breaks and long lines to get food for dinner. We all did get onto the plane in time to sit down, get our seat belts on, and be told by the pilot we wouldn’t be leaving for two more hours because of bad weather in Chicago.

But before that, on our way to the plane, myself and a small group were bringing up the rear, weaving our way through the airport, when I looked ahead and made eye contact with a very large, intimidating TSA agent. He waved us over to him, and I’m just thinking, “Perfect! What’d we do wrong now?”

He walked right over to us and said, “Thank you. Thank you for being missionaries and doing what you did.”

He shared with us that he’s unable to go on mission trips himself, but he always has an eye out for large groups all wearing the same T-shirt and makes a point of personally thanking each group on their way through the airport.

What an unexpected blessing! And what a blessed trip!

Getting Grace

Tim —  June 24, 2011 — Leave a comment

One more from our friend, Brennan Manning. Here, he is talking about Rich Mullins (google him if you’ve never heard of him) and Rich’s deep understanding of grace.

Every Christian knows we are saved by grace, that we can’t earn righteousness in God’s eyes. We know it, and we laugh at the silliness of someone trying to work their way to heaven.

But then, far too often, we catch ourselves trying to earn favor with God, trying to earn God’s approval, striving to work our way into God’s good graces. Ironic, isn’t it?

Brennan Manning, one of my all-time favorite authors and speakers, gives us some critical insight into this.
(Transcript below the video.)

In the 48 years since I was first ambushed by Jesus, in a little chapel in the Allegheny Mountains of Western Pennsylvania, and in literally thousands of hours of prayers, meditation, silence and solitude over those years, I am now utterly convinced that on Judgment Day the Lord Jesus is going to ask each of us one question and only one question,

“Did you believe that I loved you? That I desired you? That I waited for you day after day? That I longed to hear the sound of your voice?”

The real believers there will answer, “Yes, Jesus, I believed in your love and I tried to shape my life as a response to it.”

But many of us who are so faithful in our ministry, in our practice, in our churchgoing, are gonna have to reply, “Well frankly, no, sir. I mean I never really believed it. I mean I heard a lot of wonderful sermons and teachings about it. In fact, I gave quite a few myself. But I always thought that was just a way of speaking, a kindly lie, some Christian’s pious pat on the back to cheer me on.”

And there’s the difference between the real believers and the nominal Christians that are found in our churches across the land.

No one can measure like a believer the depth and the intensity of God’s love, but at the same time no one can measure like a believer the effectiveness of our gloom, pessimism, low self-esteem, self-hatred and despair that block God’s way to us.

Do you see why it is so important to lay hold of this basic truth of our faith? Because you’re only going to be as big as your own concept of God.

Remember the famous line of the French philosopher, Blaise Pascal? “God made man in His own image, and man returned the compliment.” We often make God in our own image and he winds up to be as fussy, rude, narrow-minded, legalistic, judgmental, unforgiving, and unloving as we are.

In the past couple three years I’ve preached the Gospel… (all over the world) … and honest to God, the God of so many Christians I meet is a God who is too small for me, because he is not the God of the Word, he is not the God revealed by and in Jesus Christ who this moment comes right to your seat and says,

“I have a word for you.

I know your whole life story. I know every skeleton in your closet. I know every moment of sin, shame, dishonesty and degraded love that has darkened your past. Right now, I know your shallow faith, your feeble prayer life, your inconsistent discipleship.

And my word is this:

I dare you to trust that I love you just as you are and not as you should be, because you’re never gonna be as you should be.”

There’s a problem with how we read the Bible. We miss things. Important things. We focus on the wrong parts. We forget what’s core and remember the peripherals.

We read a passage like the fruit of the Spirit, and all we take away is, “Here’s an essential list of character qualities for me to begin building into my life. I better start working on this.”

We read that faith without works is dead, and we zone in on doing works without doing the hard work, the foundational work, of having faith.

We have the whole story before us, but we skip to the end without poring over the chapters that come before it.

There is an order to these things, to this life-with-Christ, yet unfortunately we have a tendency to mess that order up and then wonder why we’re so messed up. This clip from “The Matrix” illustrates our problem when reading the Bible.

We are like Neo.

Neo is told that if he can “free his mind,” or have faith, then he will be able to jump a city block and do other seemingly impossible things. But before he has faith, he attempts to do what can only be accomplished with faith.

No surprise, he fails. No surprise, we do, too.

We read principles and commands throughout Scripture and we add them to our lives (just as the Pharisees did). We know if we are Christian, then this is how we are to live. But we have not done the foundational work that is required first.

We have not fully grasped or embraced grace. We are not completely convinced that God loves us as we are right now. We do not totally believe when Christ on the cross triumphantly cried out, “It is finished!” that it really is finished.

We are trying to live the Christian life without surrendering all of our life, without vulnerably trusting Christ with every area of life. We are trying to live the Christian life on our own, because we haven’t figured out yet how to abide with Christ or walk with the Holy Spirit.

So, the issue isn’t reading the Bible. The real issue is that as we read we tend to jump too far ahead of ourselves; we put the cart before the horse. Our foundation continues to be our own efforts to get it right, instead of getting grace… which means we’re not living by faith.

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
Galatians 3:3

Question: Can you recognize in yourself a default tendency to move ahead without God? To try to get it right on your own rather than living by grace?