Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dirty Feet, Dirty Hearts, and a Savior Who Washes Them Clean

The Lord’s Supper
13 Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them [a]to the end. 2 During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, 4 *got up from supper, and *laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.

Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet
5 Then He *poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. 6 So He *came to Simon Peter. He *said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” 8 Peter *said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” 9 Simon Peter *said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” 10 Jesus *said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call Me Teacher and Lord; and [b]you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 18 I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.’ 19 From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”

I was going to write a short reflection on this passage, urging myself and others who trust on Jesus to wash each others feet, and the feet of those we disagree with.  The debates of the last week, the anger, name calling, fighting in regards to the Supream Court Case hearings have saddened my heart.  On the one hand I want to stand for what I believe scripture says, I don't want to compromise my beliefs, but on the other hand I don't want to alientate my friends who disagree with me, who feel passionately about the other side of the argument.  So I'd planned to put up a banner to encourage both sides to do as Jesus did and wash the feet of our enemies as He did for Judas, as He did for disciples whose sin put Him on the cross, for disciples who would abandon Him to torture and death in the next few hours.

Then I realized how far short such urgings would fall.  The thing is, such exhortations would reek of self-righteousness, a heart of pride, and the false belief that we can save ourselves.  Christ washed our feet because we could not/would not do it ourselves, He went to the cross because no matter how good our lives look on the outside, whether you are straight, gay, republican, democrat (or libertarian), tattooed, not tattooed, working, unemployed... inside we are rotten corpses - whitewashed tombs.  Our sin put Him there, and He went willingly.  He washed us with His blood...

So rather than shake my finger at the world and insist that "all of you need to be washing each other's feet", I want to pause and look to the cross, something I need to be doing way more often.  The God-Man Who gave His life there is the only One Who can take us rotten corpses and bring us to life, make us people willing and joyful to wash the feet of others.  May we not be distracted by the arguments and troubles of this world, especially over the next few days as we reflect on Calvery and the empty tomb, may God soften our hearts and miracle of miracles abide with us, and may this heart change seep into our actions as naturally as breathing.

Praise be to the God of all hope.   

For the lenten devotional that inspired this post, visit Kiki's site over at

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The God of All Mysteries

I struggle with anxiety.  Not just normal lose a little sleep anxiety, but weight on the chest, aching stomach, can’t breathe, miss a month of sleep anxiety.  In college I went twice to the ER because I felt like I was suffocating.  The first time the doctor didn’t listen to me and gave me an inhaler for asthma  (albuterol = racing heart…not good in the midst of an anxiety attack) the second time I was put on anti-anxiety medicine.  Neither “solution” ever truly resolved the issue; the former exacerbated the problem, while the latter messed me up in other ways.  After nearly a year of no change with the anti-anxiety medication I took myself off of it.  This lead to such severe dizziness I was scared to drive myself around.  And the attacks continued.

I could not fix my problem.

I struggle with insomnia.  Not just losing a few hours of sleep here and there every month or so, but fear based, fight or flight mode adrenaline, lose months of sleep insomnia.  Often I joke that I came out of the womb with insomnia (ask my poor mother, she’ll tell you how I did not sleep for the first four years of my life) but in the midst of it, it never feels like cause for laughter.  Sleep comes only when my body eventually gives up to grab a few hours before the alarm goes off and I’m required to make it through another day.  Home remedies, OTC sleep aides, chamomile tea…you name it, I tried it, and they all failed.

I was hopeless to change anything, and often I found myself in despair.

Then God graciously gave me relief.  I can’t pinpoint one day or one breakthrough, but the attacks eased, the fear calmed, and sleep came.  For a full year I lived alone without a severe bout of insomnia, something unheard of for me before, and I can hardly remember the last time I experienced the suffocating weight of an anxiety attack. 

These two particular struggles and their subsequent relief (no matter how brief) remain a mystery to me; threatening forces I neither understand nor have ability to fight, that once sucked away energy, and threatened my joy.  But the thing is there are no mysteries with God.  In fact, He is the God of all mysteries.

In my local church we are going through the book of Daniel.  Last week we studied the passage in which King Nebuchadnezzar asked all the wise men to interpret a dream he did not understand.  The catch was that he also wanted them to tell him what it was.  When they could not reveal this mystery, he ordered that they all be killed.  In steps Daniel.  He himself could not perform the task for the king, but the God he served could.  Not only was the captive Israelite able to tell the king his dream, but he was also able to offer the interpretation:  the kingdoms of this world will fall, but an everlasting one is coming, one that will fill the whole earth.

A comforting interpretation for King Nebuchadnezzar, this was not, yet he promoted Daniel because of it and worshiped his God.  Why?  Really I can only guess but I think it was because this proved that the God of Israel is in fact the God of mysteries, and if so this was a God that deserved honor: “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.” Daniel 2:47

My own struggles in this world, big and small, are often somewhat mysterious to me.  I don’t know the future, I worry far too much about it and my decisions, I am a finite creature…but I worship an infinite God, the God of mysteries, and by His grace I am His child.  So whether this relief I am experience is forever or only temporary, I can rest in His arms, know that nothing is beyond His understanding, and that one day in the true kingdom I will experience true rest with my Heavenly Father.

Daniel 2:19-23

19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven; 20 Daniel said,
“Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever,
For wisdom and power belong to Him.
21 “It is He who changes the times and the epochs;
He removes kings and [
ab]establishes kings;
He gives wisdom to wise men
And knowledge to [
ac]men of understanding.
22 “It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And the light dwells with Him.
23 “To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise,
For You have given me wisdom and power;
Even now You have made known to me what we requested of You,
For You have made known to us the king’s matter.”

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

In Light of Easter...

“In a form of communion between the Father and the Son to which the best human analogy is a covenant, He has voluntarily become the surety of His people and been accepted as such.  He has undertaken to meet their debts, indeed, to meet the whole cost of their redemption.  He has become the Head of the church; He has become her bridegroom.  To go even further, He has become her substitute: not only will He act on her behalf, He will suffer in her place.   He offers to become that in the covenant.  He is accepted as that in the covenant.  And it is as the Surety, Head, Bridegroom, and Substitute of the church that He comes into the world and lives and obeys and dies.  The sufferings are there.  No theory of the atonement adds one degree to their intensity.  But they cry out for explanation.  Why did the Lord bruise Him?  The only answer to that is, Because He is in the place of His people.  But how does He come to be one with His people?  By the eternal covenant of redemption!  Only the arrangements of that covenant can explain or justify the imputation of sin to Jesus.  And only that imputation can explain or even redeem the darkness which filled Immanuel’s soul, as expressed in the cry of dereliction, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’  It was not the evangelical doctrine of atonement which evoked these words.  The truth is, that only that doctrine, with its covenant, its substitution, and its imputation can at all explain them and rescue Christian theism from their implications.” ~ Donald Mcleod

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Christ Glorified that We Might be Glorified

I don’t understand God.  Really, even that statement falls short of just how little I “get” of Him.  Graciously He has allowed me to know Him, but what I know is much like the tip of an iceberg rising above the water; below are depths beyond my slight human grasp, depths that would overwhelm me in my frailty.  By mercy He keeps much of this from me, knowing the effect such knowledge might have and just how poorly I would use it (if I could continue to function at all after such a revelation).  Even what I do understand I often pervert and communicate very badly. 
One example?  Christ being glorified.

In my rather pathetic and shallow understanding, I’ve read of His glorification in the past with some reservations.  Not that I didn’t believe the Son of God deserved it and not because I didn’t believe that He has been, in fact, glorified, but because for some reason it rubbed me wrong.  “Yeah, yeah,” my sinful mind would hint.  “He did all that but He knew glorification and paradise were to come.  Doesn’t that sound a little self-serving?”

I always thrust this to the back of my mind, repenting of such evil thoughts against One Who suffered the Hell I deserve, and ignoring the topic all together.  Maybe I’m the only one who’s ever struggled with that, maybe I really can say with Paul that I’m the worst of sinners, maybe I apply human terms and conditions to God far too often and forget that He is wholly separate from us…I’m not really sure, but the thought always kind of bothered me a little.

But God has been merciful.  Rather than allowing me to simply ignore a bad view of Himself and leave me in simple ignorance, He revealed to me something very important about the glorification of Christ.  Jesus was glorified, in part, that we might be glorified also.  United with Him on the cross we died, rising with Him from the grave we lived, and ascending to heaven we were promised glorification.  Am I the only one who has never understood this?  Or perhaps it is just now hitting me square between the eyes and the truth of it is gloriously blinding.  Because Christ was glorified, so we will be too.  How baffling is that?

Maybe this is a simple truth you already understood, or at least knew academically, but I challenge you, dear reader, to mediate on that for a few moments.  The glorification of Christ was not just a self-serving reward (as if we could even use such pathetic human terms in relation to our God), but it was also a means of promising glorification to His bride, the Church.

“…for Christ Himself the covenant of redemption was a covenant of works.  Its promises were conditional upon His obedience…It is because He was obedient unto death that He is highly exalted.  It is because He has finished the work given Him that He asks that He Himself be glorified and the salvation of His people completed.”  Donald Macleod

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

“Insulting the Cross”

And Moses interceded for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.  Numbers 21:7-9

 “I’ve failed you again, God, fallen into the same sin for the umpteenth time.  You must be so sick of hearing me ask for forgiveness, must be tired of listening to me make excuses, crying out after having given in to worldly pleasures.  I’ll be better next time, try harder, be strong against the flesh…I’ll be more like You…”

I’m not sure how many times I’ve prayed this prayer, or one similar to it, but by now I’ve probably got it memorized.  The more my mind forms the words the worse I feel, the more fake and insincere.  This struggle frustrates and often sucks the joy from my life to the point that my whole mind is consumed by my unworthiness, my failure and stench.  Sin goes against God’s very nature, it is wholly opposite of Him, a lack of everything that makes Him God.  Though tempting and blinding and momentarily pleasing, afterwards when sanity returns I feel wrong and empty, like I’ve just eaten an entire bag of chocolates because I was hungry; full but by no means satisfied and headed for a crash.  I feel guilty because I am guilty.
This burden has laid on my so heavily in the past that I’ve been tempted towards the foolishness of penance, of trying to pay for my sin on my own.  Good deeds, giving up miscellaneous things like certain foods or TV (temporarily of course) or other acts of “self-sacrifice” all fell into this category of trying to make right what I had made wrong.  I wanted to do something.  I wanted to pay, to no longer be in debt.  I wanted to clear the record.

The problem?  I can’t.

Recently, after a slip into a particularly humbling “pet sin”, I found myself in prayer repeating the words I shared above.  What came near the end, however, stopped me in my tracks.  Rather than going into promises of “being better” or “more like” God, I stumbled across a statement that made me pause:  “Father, there is nothing I can do to make up for my sin.  All I can do is fall at Your feet and trust in Your mercy and grace.”

Nothing, absolutely nothing I can do will ever satisfy the wrath of a perfectly Holy God Whom I have offended.  No amount of community service, no amount of sacrifice, no amount of suffering, not even my physical death will pay for the sin I have committed.  My only option is to look to the One Who He sent in my place; the One Who became sin for me, for the Church His body (2 Corinthians 5:21), and trust in His provision.

My sin, all of my sin, has been completely paid for and any attempt on my part to pay on my own is not only foolish, but offensive.  I can abide in Christ, wrestle with His word, seek to know Him, but in the end it is His good work and faithfulness that saves and changes me.  By this I will grow in holiness and look upon others with gracious, God-given mercy. 

Look to the One willing to be clothed in the guilt of others, and rest in His good work.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The "Easy Way" Out

14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
Recently I read an article in Christianity Today by a woman describing what she called her “train wreck conversion”.  She tells the story of God breaking into her life and confronting her with His presence through the wise witness of a Presbyterian minister.  I was crying by the end of the article, moved by the work God did through the Church and in this woman’s life, but what struck me the most was her description of how the pastor and his family engaged her.

All too often the stories we read about Christians highlight hypocrisy, pride, and often times oppression.  In this story, we read of a pastor who accepts into his family a woman with a very negative view (and it seems very negative experiences) of Christianity, and does not invite her to church.  In fact, this last part is one of the reasons the author claims to have felt safe with him.  Rather than asking her to come to worship with him, this pastor invited her to meals, engaged in dialogue, prayed in front of her, and was honest about his own sin.  He invested.  He invited her into his life and the life of his family.

That’s when she went to church.  That is how God chose to draw her near.  Had this pastor chosen the rout most of us do by extending an immediate invitation to corporate worship, she likely would have headed for the hills.  Instead, he took the longer more difficult road of showing her love.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t invite people to church, nor am I downplaying its role in extending the gospel, but I think sometimes we try to use it as the easy way out.  Let the pastor share the gospel, let him do that part…it’s too hard…it’s his job anyway…I wouldn’t know what to say.  But what speaks volumes to the lost and the left behind (which really is all of us if we’re honest) is investing in their lives, seeing past how they’ve been labeled (or how they’ve chosen to label themselves) and through to their stories, to who God has made them.  They become a person rather than a project, a soul rather than a stereotype, and you earn the right to speak into their lives.

Let me repeat: invite people to church; just don’t use it as an excuse not to lovingly extend the gospel by way of pouring into another person’s life.  God uses relationships to draw people into a relationship with Himself, and I truly believe He will bless even are most pathetic efforts.