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.

our God.

I have always had a close relationship with God.  Growing up, I never knew a time when I didn’t belive, when I didn’t know Jesus.  I started reading my Bible when I was young.  My faith has sustained me through  the hardest times of my life.

However, I always felt like my faith was a private thing.  I didn’t often talk about my prayer life, about my time spent reading my Bible, or in devotions.  People knew I was a Christian, but the everyday mechanics of my faith felt like an intensely private thing to me.  The heart of this was good.  I didn’t want to alienate others, or make others feel intimidated by my relationship with God, or feel like they had to compare their walk with mine.

However, in that privacy, a seed of sin was planted.  A tiny sprout of pride grew, and its roots settled into my heart.  It looked spiritual, and sounded virtuous, so I didn’t recognize it for what it was.  But when I read about Mary finding favor with God, or David being a man after God’s own heart, I smiled inwardly, feeling that I had a place amongst this elite club.  I read my Bible cover to cover every year.  As years passed, and I had read my Bible 10, 11, 12 times, I began to feel as if I had this God stuff figured out.  It’s ironic, because I didn’t share my devotional practices with anyone because I didn’t want to seem to be bragging.  And yet, my heart was as prideful as they come.

As I have written before, last year I intentionally DIDN’T read my Bible through.  I spent the entire year in John.  Reading a verse at a sitting, instead of many chapters.  It was hard.  Incredibly hard, I felt a nagging voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t achieving enough for God.  But, for the first time, I was talking openly about my faith.  I started speaking with a spiritual director.  I started this blog.  I forced myself to say out loud that I have read the Bible all the way though.

And as I let the light in, I see my faith for what it is.  Strong.  Ordinary.  Treasured.  Human.  SO much more dependent on God’s faithfulness to me than mine to Him.

IMG_6647As the year began to draw to a close, I found myself wondering what was next.  Read another book?  Slow or fast?  What was I to do?  And then God answered.  I was meeting with a girl from the youth group, and she was asking me about how to read the Word of God.  We decided to read the Bible this year together.  Meeting every few weeks to talk about it.  Devotion, with fellowship.  Accountability.  Engaging together with scripture, and with God.

This is how our faith is meant to be.  Don’t get me wrong- our God is PERSONAL. You can’t read scripture and not see that (check Psalm 139 for proof).  But our faith is not meant to be private.  God instructs Christians as a community.  In scripture, most of the time when we read the word ‘you’, it is meant to be plural, not singular.  John Dyer explains this concept better than I can..

…Since the Protestant Reformation we’ve tended to emphasize the salvation of the individual and, with inverse proportion, downplayed God’s work in the Church as a community of people.

There are, of course, many reasons for this, but I think that two technologies (i.e. human inventions) have exacerbated the issue: (a) The technology of the book which encourages us to encounter Scripture textually in isolation rather than orally in a group; and (b) The technology of the English language (again, a human creation) which doesn’t have an agreed upon second person plural and therefore discards or hides important biblical data.

The scriptures were originally shared orally, told from parents to children, passed along in community.  Then, the New Testament was written, primarily in letter form… intended to be read aloud in church, and then passed along to other communities of believers.  With invention of the printing press, the Bible was put into the hands of the individual.  A priceless gift, don’t get me wrong, but one that can make us forget that we are to practice our faith in community.

So my resolution this year is to read my Bible.  In community.  In fact, I have begun reading it at the breakfast table, with my two kids right there.  So that they can see their mother read the Word of God.  And I am going to talk about it.  With my teenage friend.  And with others.  I am going to dive deeper into friendships, say the hard and vulnerable things, and try and allow others to really know me.  I am going to continue with Spiritual Direction.  In sum, continue to have a PERSONAL faith, but no longer make it PRIVATE.  It’s scary.  But here I go… IMG_6701

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.