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

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.

Paraclete

I don’t know about you all, but I have a powerful need for encouragement.  Perhaps it’s because success at my job isn’t easily measurable.  Perhaps it’s because my love language is words of encouragement.  Perhaps its because I am simply human.  All I know is that I need to hear that I am loved, that I am valued, and that I am doing well on a regular basis.

Which is unfortunate.

Because this world isn’t exactly engineered to do that.  We live in a society of cynics.  People who employ sarcasm as a weapon.  These days, we are all critics.  Voicing our opinions on Facebook, on yelp reviews, in countless ways.  When I read my book, my default mode is to examine what I didn’t like about it, instead of what I did. The same goes for restaurants, TV shows, etc.  Will I notice when it begins to creep into the way I view my life?  My faith?  My children?

Here is the truth.  I do not know a single human being in my circle who is not in desperate need of affirmation.  Whether we realize it or not, our souls yearn to be blessed.  We all need to be told that we are seen.  That we are loved.  That we are important.  And it doesn’t take much to do that.  But here is the problem… in order to truly be able to bless others, we must know what it is to be blessed.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.
John 14:16-17

According to GotQuestions.org, “The Greek word translated “Comforter” or “Counselor” (as found in John 14:16, 26;15:26; and 16:7) is parakletos. This form of the word is unquestionably passive and properly means “one called to the side of another,” with the secondary notion of counseling or supporting him. This Counselor, or Paraclete, is God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. He is a personal being who indwells every believer.”  In other words, we have a full time encourager, who lives with us and constantly is whispering words of truth and affirmation into our lives.

How do we attune our ears to hear the Holy Spirit?  I believe the easiest first step is learning what is NOT his voice…

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10

If you are hearing a message that makes you feel less:  less loved, less free, less beautiful or wonderful, I am willing to bet it is not the voice of God.  When we encounter God, we always want to be higher.  Even when we feel convicted, it is a conviction out of a need to be closer to God, not a feeling of condemnation or shame.

Who are you to God?  The Bible is full of answers.

You are:
Dearly Loved
Bought with a Price
Redeemed
Forgiven
Perfect
Whole
Created to be You on Purpose
There is a Plan for your life
It is a Good one
You are a Bride
You are Beautiful
You are Unique
You are Seen
You are Known
You are Not Alone
A Son or a Daughter
A Brother or a Sister
Restored
Important.

Take some time today and read over the list.  Reflect upon something that sticks out to you.  (Or add something to my list!) Realize that this is the TRUTH about you.  Hold it in your mind as you go about your day.

You.
Are.
Loved.

the Garden

photo (9)

Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.
John 18:2

A lot of times I get the feeling that I am an expert on Jesus.  After all, I have been a lifelong Christian.  I have read the Gospels.  I can spout couplets from the Sermon on the Mount, and I have heard the teachings of Jesus discussed in countless sermons, books, Sunday school lessons, small group conversations.

But all I know of Jesus is what is printed in the Bible.  The disciples knew the real man.  Spent countless hours with him.  Judas knew to find Jesus in the garden, because Jesus was there so often.  It was their ‘place.’

photo (8)Where is your place with God?  

Do you have a ‘holy chair’, a regular meeting place where you go to be in God’s presence?  While that piece of furniture or corner of your house may not be holy in itself, the moments created there are.  I think that there is a great value to ritual.  Research has shown that our recall ability is improved when we are in a similar context as we were when the memory was made.  But  I would make the argument that we can condition our minds to focus as well.  Returning to the same spot, brewing the same mug of hot tea, murmuring the same prayer, all these can serve as markers for our minds, prompts to put us in a mental space to encounter the Holy.

Who do you meet with on a regular basis?

If you know me, this is a drum that I beat often.  Perhaps it is because I work at a church, and so Sunday mornings are often work days for me, but I really feel that my small groups are where I grow in my faith the most.  Sitting with a group of trusted people and wrestling with the Word together.  Talking through the real life struggles of being a wife and a mother and a worker and a Christian.  Admitting when we don’t know things, and working together to find God’s truth.  I think Jesus met regularly with his disciples because this is how we grow.  So who do you meet with?

psalm 46

Psalm 46

 God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Once again,  I find myself captivated by Selah.  I read this Psalm last week as part of our church’s sermon series, and it has really stuck with me.  This psalm paints such a picture of tumult, of mountains tottering, seas roaring, nations at war, chaos everywhere.  And yet, in the midst of it, God is our fortress.  When I hear the news lately, I find myself just wanting to turn it back off. There is so much hate, strife, death, upheaval, disaster and pain in our world today.  I want to find a safe place for me and my little family and just run away from it all.  But this is not the way of believers.  Instead, we are called to make our haven in the midst of the storms.  Why?  Because God is our fortress.  He is our present help in times of trouble.  He is with us wherever we go.

Each stanza in this Psalm paints a bleak picture, one of chaos, fear, insecurity.  One characterized by stress and unrest.  And yet in each stanza, God reminds us that he is present.  That he is our refuge, our source of strength.  How often in the midst of the chaos do you feel God’s presence?  For me, not much.  It is only in retrospect that I can see his sustenance, his provision for me.  In the middle of it, I am too afraid, moving too fast, too distracted to even look for God.  But even still… he is there.

I think that God put the Selahs in this Psalm in very strategic places.  Right in the midst of the teeming chaos, the frenetic pace, the sky is falling emotions, God inserts a simple selah.  Stop.  Think on this.  God is telling us he is here, that he is protecting us, but we have to stop and stand in trust in order to feel His presence. In verse 10, he even says it flat out.  BE STILL, and know that I am God.  I am in control.  Not you.  I am a fortress.  You are safe within my walls.  Be still and trust me.  Be still and remember.  Stop.  And think on my faithfulness.  Stop your striving and remember that I am the one who sustains you.  I hold your tomorrows in my hand.

When is the last time you stopped?

When were you last still?