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…

suffering

When is the last time you really suffered?  Have you ever?

photo 2As pathetic as this sounds, I suffered mightily trying to train for a 5K today.  At about 2.5 miles, I was done.  Walking.   My lungs were burning.  My calves were lead.  I was sucking air like a fish on a dock.  And to be perfectly honest, I was probably flapping and flailing in a similar manner as well.   It wasn’t fun. And yet, it’s something I chose to do. In fact, running (let’s be real here, JOGGING) is something I would even call a hobby.  Suffering, it is not.

achkaTwo weeks ago I got a Facebook message from my Haitian friend Achka.  He was telling me that he was completely out of money.  That he and his family had not eaten for three days.  Stop.  Think on that.  Three days.  When is the last time you skipped a single meal because you didn’t have any money for food, much less went days without eating.  This is suffering.  And yet, not voluntary.  I wired him money for food, and although giving the money may have made my family’s finances a it tighter, the reward was well worth the cost.  Once again, we didn’t suffer because of it.

The cross, that was suffering.  Physical agony.  Emotional anguish.  Torture beforehand.  Staring into the abyss.  And God chose it.  It was voluntary.  At any moment, Jesus could have miracle-d himself off of the cross and immediately been healed.  Comfortable.  Smug.  But, he didn’t.  For your sake.  For mine.  For the sake of grace and the redemption of mankind.

When is the last time you suffered, or even were uncomfortable for the sake of someone else?  How is this part of our Christian journey?  Are we called to suffer?  Are we called to sacrifice our comfort, for the sake of the Gospel?  To what level?  What do we, as Americans, do with this thought?

In My Image

Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.

John 18:28

Oftentimes, we lose the spirit of God in our efforts to follow God.  I think if the Pharisees had stepped back and looked at their behavior, they would have realized how ridiculous it seems to refuse to enter the Roman palace when calling upon the governor to kill a man.  Yet how many times do our actions belie our stated intentions?

They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

John 18:40

barabbus

How often do we try to make God into our image?  Bad things happen when we do.

It was the religious elite that was the driving force behind Jesus’ trial.  They were the ones who could not accept Jesus as he was, who refused to hear the Gospel message.  Why?  Because it didn’t conform to what they were looking for in the Messiah.  They had read the prophecies, and had deduced that the coming King would be a political one.  One that delivered the Jews from Roman rule, one that brought glory and honor and power to the nation of Israel.

The kingdom Jesus came speaking about was not an earthly one, there was no glamour or prestige incorporated in serving this kingdom.  Jesus didn’t speak of politics, or hand out gold stars to those who broke their backs trying to keep the law.  Instead, he forgave adulterers.  His disciples ignored laws on hand washing.  Jesus healed on the Sabbath, with no respect for propriety.  He did not come to enforce the social mores of the day, but instead set forth a whole new series of ideals.  For the Pharisees, who had spent their entire lives adhering to the version of righteousness taught to them, this was a hard pill to swallow.  And to be perfectly honest, as a rule follower myself, I can understand the sentiment.  I don’t think that the Pharisees were evil.  They had spent their entire lives trying to live up to an impossible standard, to fulfill a law designed to be impossible to adhere to.  And now, to be told that their set of values should be turned on its head.  Mercy over justice.  Love over the letter of the law.  To a person raised in the midst of hard truth and hard consequences, this must have seemed preposterous.

It was much easier to call for the release of Barabbas, a person fighting the same battle you are rooting for.  Barabbas had taken part in an uprising, he was trying to overthrow the Roman government.  He was trying to fulfill the role of the Messiah the Jews were looking for.  An earthly king, not a king of heaven.

What do you expect from God?  A comfortable life?  Healthy children?  A job that brings you fulfillment?  These are all good things.  Godly things even.  Yet none of these are promised to us in scripture.  I find myself happy to be a Christ follower as long as my life is unfolding according to my plans.  But when these plans veer off course, I’m angry.  Resentful.  In those moments, I wonder if I as well am calling for Barabbas over Jesus- my plans and dreams over the plan God has for my life…

John 18

photo 5I think I have written on here before, but in 2014, my goal is to read through the Book of John.  Thoroughly.  Just one time through.  Just one book.  Most passages I have read several times. Some I have read over and over.  And then, about a month ago, I slammed into a brick wall.  Just stopped reading.

Why?

Well, let’s call a spade a spade. I am a mom of two, one still a baby. I am a youth minister in the middle of a school year in full swing.  My days are full, and in those moments of solitude I carve out, the siren song of my pillow often sings more seductively than I would like to admit.

But there is something else.  In the back of my mind I knew I was there.  The crucifixion.  The ugliest point of our human condition.  The pain, the violence. The howling of the crowds, the apathy of the masses, the evil of our spiritual elite.  Blood and thorns and darkness.  I didn’t want to go there.  I didn’t want to wade into the midst of it, to see my face in the crowds.  And yet, here I am.

Have you read it?  Not read it in the sense of letting the words pass through your eyes… but really read it?  Immersed yourself in the story?  The prayer in the garden, spring wind whispering through olive trees.  The rattling of armor.  The kiss, the chaos, the trial.  In my mind, there are just a few central characters in this story, and yet in the reading, dozens more surface.  There are so many lessons to be taught, side notes about humanity- our weaknesses and our proclivities.  And through the midst of it all, the thin golden thread of grace.

I am going to be digesting the story a bit in the next few blog posts, but before I do, I challenge you to read it yourself, and see what God brings forth in your mind as you do.