Cans of Veggies and Wet Feet

 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;  so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
John 13:1-9

I had a bizarre dream last night.

I was being discharged from the hospital.  My room was filled with plastic bags of canned vegetables (why? who can even know) that I had to take to the car.  However, after lugging them down the stairs (in my hospital gown), I found that my car had been moved.  My friend offered to drive me around to look for the car, but in the process she kept not listening to my directions, turning the wrong way, and running into walls.  I couldn’t find my car, and my arms ached from holding up the heavy bags.  I was anxious to the point of frenzy, still woozy from my illness, and unwilling to surrender my burdens. 

And then I woke up to the sound of my one year old crying.  Now I am no dream analyst, but I can pretty much tell from this dream that I have some control issues.  And some feeling-out-of-control issues.  Starting my morning in this manner left me feeling a bit jittery, and like there was something I NEEDED to do, a small alarm ringing in the back of my mind.

And then today, I sat down to meditate on Jesus washing Peter’s feet.  As I sat in the silence and imagined that moment, I began to have some of the same reactions as Peter.

But wait- Jesus, I serve YOU, you don’t serve me!  Yes.  This sounds good.  And this is a principle I adopt more often than not when it comes to life as a disciple of Jesus.  But it is totally backwards.  When I view myself as a servant of God, and don’t first allow Jesus to minister to me, I am operating on human terms.  My service to God is earning me favor.  It keeps me feeling secure, righteous, and in control.

Laying down all my gold stars, all my good works, all my efforts, and allowing Christ to cleanse me is a powerful act of surrender.  It is saying that I can’t keep things going smoothly on my own.  There are too many cans of vegetables (I know- it’s bizarre- but let’s roll with the metaphor) and the car keeps moving.  I will never finish the task on my own.  And I am not meant to.  Because if it were possible for me to be good enough on my own, then Jesus sacrifice for me would be a cosmic waste of time.  And oh how I am in need of that sacrifice.  I need the redemption.  I need to be forced to admit that I can’t do it all by myself.  I need to be willing to be humble enough to allow God to minister to my soul- my heart, my needs.

The martyr on the Cross should always remain Christ.  When I look at my life and realize that that I am casting myself in the role of suffering servant, it’s time for a reality check.  For if I can’t humble myself and allow Christ to wash my feet, how can I possibly accept the enormity of his sacrifice for me? If I am unwilling to first be ministered to by Christ, then those who see my efforts will never see God shining through them, only the increasingly strident acts of a pretty good human.

If I keep trying to be good enough, responsible enough, DO enough to keep my life running smoothly, I will inevitably fail.  The truth is, we aren’t in control of our lives.  Sooner or later, something will happen that will prove to us beyond all doubt that WE are not in charge.  And when that happens, if all of our trust and valor is built upon our own resources, our defenses will crumble.  However, if we continually seek to submit to the tender ministrations of Christ, then we know the One who holds our future.  And we are able to stand in trust that God is sovereign, and that God is in control. Humility leads to trust, and trust leads to a deeper, truer life.

wash20feet

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Alabaster Jar

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.  Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”  He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
John 12:1-8

This Holy Week, my church is hosting a collection of daily reflections, each day focusing on a different character in the narrative of Jesus’ final days.  Today, we reflected upon Mary’s anointing of Jesus.

It is commonly held that Mary anointed Jesus with an alabaster jar of pure nard, worth about a year’s wages.  An extravagant gift.  Many reflections dwell upon the value of this act, the monetary investment wrapped up in it.

But today, as I was sitting with this passage, I found myself thinking along another line.  This alabaster jar of nard was usually given to a Jewish female by her parents, traditionally as a bride price.  Therefore, as Mary used this precious gift to anoint Jesus, she must have also been aware of the hopes and dreams associated with this oil as she was pouring it on the Lord’s feet.  Hopes for a wedding, a family, a life filled with love and joy.  That jar, that oil, meant so much more to her than it’s monetary value.  After all, oil is meant to be used.  It is how and where it is used that is significant.

All of the hopes wrapped up in this small jar are wonderful things, and yet, all of them also have the potential to become idols.

alabasterThis made me wonder- What is in my jar? What hopes, dreams, and values am I holding in my jar full of treasures?  What are the things for me, that are valuable beyond simply their monetary worth?

Here is another common misconception.  Mary did not smash the jar to get the oil out.  Instead, when it says she broke the jar, what it means is that she broke the seal on the jar.  God didn’t ask her to smash her dreams to bits in service to Him.  Neither does he ask this of us.  As I was praying through this, I began to understand something more clearly:

I don’t believe that God calls us to sacrifice our dreams,
But he does ask us to surrender them.

To me, the difference between sacrifice and surrender is similar to the difference between smashing the jar and breaking the seal.  When the jar is smashed, its contents become  useless, poured out on the floor amidst sharp shards of the broken vessel.  However, when the seal is broken the jar remains whole, its contents protected.  But the beautiful aroma begins to escape, and permeate the room.

I can admit that there are many dreams I hold that I have been afraid to surrender.  They are too precious to me to be willing to allow God to do what he wants with them. They are too tender even for me to be willing to fully name them, for fear that they won’t come into being.  Yet hoarding them sealed tight in a jar is the one way to guarantee they won’t come into being.  Instead, I think that God is calling me to take a step in trust.  Break the seal.  Allow God to begin working with them, and allow the aroma to begin to permeate my world…

Lean not on your own understanding.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
Proverbs 3:5

pathI love this verse.  The words to Proverbs 3:5-6 are the lyrics to the song that I sing both my children each night before bed.  My son came home from school last week and this was his ‘scripture’ for the week.  To hear his precious, 3 year old voice reciting these precious words meant the world to me.  Of the lessons I hope they learn from their mother, I hope these words rank high on the list.

So I was surprised to discover today that I have not been living as if I believe them.

I was watching this video today, as part of my Lenten devotionals.  The monk who is speaking tells of the lesson he learns from his dog- who greets each morning by springing out of bed with an exuberant yip.  This dog’s delight to face the day points to two things- first, an admirable lack of caffeine dependence, and second (and more importantly), an inherent trust in the faithfulness of God.  In order to take joy and delight in what our day holds, we must trust that the One crafting the day has our good in mind.  When we know this deep in our souls, we are able to engage our lives with a sense of lightness and whimsy.

How do you get out of bed in the morning?

I know I don’t spring out of bed.  When facing the day of late, my attitude has ranged from somber to resigned.  I look at the future with a sense of anxiousness, not adventure.  When did this happen to me?  I know the One who holds my future.  I believe his promise to work things for my good!  I delight in my work, my children, my friends… so why the sense of resignation?  When did my actions and attitudes begin to belie my belief?

And how to change it?

Resolution #1- Seek delight.
Daffodils.  Curly toddler hair.  trail mix.  thomas the train.   All wonderful, beautiful elements of my day so far.  Did I take the time to delight in them?  No.  I walked past, fixated on the next task in front of me.  Going forward, I hope to acknowledge these small gifts, allow them to bring to light the blessings and love in my life.

Resolution #2- View the future in light of the past.
I am amazingly blessed.  God has been so faithful to me.  Even when things logically should NOT work out- budgets shouldn’t balance, children should have been injured- I have been amazingly, miraculously blessed.  God is good.  All the time.  Why is this not my operating premise?  From here on out, or at least, starting today, starting right now, I am walking in trust.  God will provide.  God is good. He is the bringer of daily bread, and the one who directs my paths.

How are you neglecting to walk in trust? How are you leaning on  your own understanding?  In what ways is God calling you to walk in trust, to embrace delight, today?

That Time Yoga Pants Blew Up My Facebook…

**I want to say up front that I HATE conflict of any type, and I legitimately see ALL sides to this issue.  I am trying to tread a fine line here, while also acknowledging my feelings and beliefs.  So let me begin with the blanket assertion… if what I write seems offensive to you, I am sorry.  I didn’t mean it that way.  I promise**

A few weeks ago, I posted an article to my timeline that was reminiscent of some conversations I had with my roommates in college.  I thought we would have a chuckle and that would be that.  To my surprise, the link began filling up with comments almost immediately.  Clearly I had hit a nerve.

The article was on the debate about whether yoga pants and leggings are appropriate things for Christian women to wear.  The comments were so immediate and so passionate, that I realized there was much more to the issue than meets the eye.  And when I reflected upon it, my feelings ran deep too.  So here is my response.  To everyone.

Let me start by stating the obvious.

1) There are more important issues in Christendom.  People are dying.  Souls are at stake.  Yes.  Let’s dig wells and seek reconciliation and lift high the name of God.  But, with the level of emotion here, I think this may also be an issue that needs to be brought to the table.

2) Dressing modestly is important.  I do not wear string bikinis, crop tops, or short skirts.  I do think that it is part of our responsibility as Christian women to “dress modestly, with decency and propriety” (1 Timothy 2:9).  However, the issue here is not push up bras.  This conversation is about yoga pants.  First cousin to sweatpants.  Just to be clear.  I also realize that there are some black sheep yoga pants out there that were designed to entice.  However, I think it’s safe to say the people wearing these items are not reading this blog.  So stinging rhetoric in the blogosphere is not the most effective way to address this issue.  My assumption is that the women reading this blog own yoga pants paired with hooded sweatshirts, and leggings sold to be pants and not followed by ‘-yhose’.

OK.  That out of the way, here we go.  *deep breath*

The number one argument used against leggings/yoga pants/female clothing trend in debate is usually this…

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.  When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
-1 Corinthians 8:9-13

Following this line of thought, men who view women in tight pants can stumble, by being caught up in lustful thoughts.  Valid.

However, I would like to bring up another side to this debate.  What if the person caused to stumble into sin by this current debate is me?

Here is the thing.  My body image has always been a stumbling block to me.  I struggled with eating disorders in high school.  I have never once felt comfortable in tight, or even correctly fitting… anything.  And, as I grow older, I realize how MUCH emphasis is put on women’s bodies by the media, by society’s norms, and by my fellow sisters in Christ.  Female actors are critiqued on the clothes that they wear instead of the words that come our of their mouth.  In a middle school girl’s argument, the worst thing you can say is “well you’re FAT.”  We as women are constantly under a microscope- it feels as if our body does not belong to us, but to the public domain.  Am I a person, or an object?  Each time a wardrobe debate comes up, and they come up often, the message is reinforced that there is something inherently wrong about my body.  That I have to change, to hide, to be ashamed of my physical self.

In the church we speak a lot about souls.  And there is this implicit thought that we as humans are souls trapped within bodies.  That this physical container is merely a temporary holding place, something we must deal with until we are set free by death.  At best, our body is labeled as a temple- but still the message is that we have to care for it, feed, water, and exercise  to make sure it is an acceptable holding place for the Spirit of God.

But what if, as humans, we are souls created WITH bodies?  That our body, just like out soul, is part of the way God created us?  That my physical self is just as much ME as my mind or my soul or my heart?  That instead of hating it, starving it, resenting it, or hiding it, it is part of my journey as me? That coming to love me, my body, it’s limitations, its daily embarrassments, is part of my journey of faith?  Let’s put it out there- we all fart.  Perhaps that is a means of teaching humility.  We all have parts of our bodies we would change if we could.  Maybe that reminds us that God’s plans are higher than our plans.

This is probably one of the few times you will hear me talk about my body, or my struggles with self image.  Why?  Because I don’t want that to become a defining storyline of my life.  I don’t want to pass along a legacy of shame about my body to my children.  Because I have decided that the way I look, the numbers on a scale, the jiggle in my yoga pants, isn’t what matters about me.  That may sound trite, but for me, this is a huge battle.  One I fight daily.  And it’s one fought by us all one one level or another.  So be gentle with each other.

Here is the thing I have noticed recently- the main people objecting to yoga pants these days?  Women.  Females judging other females.  Sisters, why are we tearing each other down?  Why are we so busy policing each other, instead of encouraging each other?  What logs in our own eyes are we ignoring as we focus on the splinters in others?

Perhaps you hate my yoga pants… but honestly, isn’t there something else more important to say to me?  Like- ANYTHING else?  Because the fact I am wearing yoga pants today probably says a lot about the kind of morning I had- wrestling two toddlers into clothes and on to school.  Or maybe it speaks to the fact that I spent some time on myself today and went for a run.  That’s something I am proud of, and had to sacrifice to do.  Let’s focus more on the why of the pants, instead of the what.  It leads to a better place.

yoga pants

What does the Lord ask of you?

I have been reading through the Bible in 2015.  A week or two ago, I came across a passage I liked…

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,  and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
Deuteronomy 10:12-13

As I was underlining it, I was thinking- “Great! Cliff’s notes!” And (because I am me, “This would make a great piece of art…”)

What does the Lord require of you?

  • Fear the Lord your God
  • Walk in obedience
  • serve the Lord your God with all your heart and soul
  • Observe the Lord’s commands

What a great list.  Something to aspire to.  Something you can take, put in your pocket (bind to your forehead?) and check yourself against daily.

But as I was sitting with this verse, a voice whispered…  but this is the old covenant…

Let me start off by saying, there is nothing WRONG with this list.  It is scripture!  Words from God!  But, as I was reading this list, I was reading about ME.  What  can do to make myself right with God.  How I can ensure that my walk with God is ‘correct’.  How I can give myself a daily grade that ensures that I am being a good enough Christ follower.

One thing God has been teaching me lately is that my faith is much less about me and my efforts than I think.  Rather, it is so much more about GOD, and what He has done for me.  I have been trying to live out a faith based on the old covenant- my perfection, my efforts.

I think it is so very… human of us to want to be in control of our relationship with God.  Are spiritual practices good?  Of course.  But they do not control how much God loves us.  Whether or not he will bless us.  Instead, God’s blessings are given freely.  And don’t always take the form we believe they should (read: money, happiness, easiness of life).  In fact, God’s blessings can sometimes take the form of thorns in our sides, things that we must endure and grow through.  Things that force us to turn to Him.

So what does God ask of us?

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
1 John 3:23

Belief. Love.  Actions rooted in love and belief are SO much more grace filled than those born out of a sense of obligation or striving.

Can it be this simple?  Can our faith, and faith practices, be built on love and belief instead of guilt and striving?  Do you, like me, find yourself tempted to live out of the Old Covenant?  If so, take a few moments today to pause.  To allow yourself to feel loved, wholly and holy, just as you are.