Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Welcome to the Foot Washing

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."   John 13:1-8

Would you let Jesus wash your feet?  Peter wasn't going to let him until Jesus put things in perspective by saying, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."  

The whole story is one that needs to be explained to us even in our day.  We know that the washing of feet was a customary thing done when traveling guests came to a home.  Foot traffic along the trails and paths kept the dirt and sand loosened up and a lot of it got on the feet wherever people walked.  Usually the lowliest servant was given the job of washing the feet of arriving guests.  That makes our story even more interesting when we read about Jesus removing his outer clothing, wrapping a towel around his waist, preparing a basin of water, and starting to wash the feet of his disciples. 

It's no wonder Peter didn't understand.  On the surface, we might not either. It is so difficult to see the King of Kings and Lord of Lords stooping to the lowly task of washing feet, when in reality, they should be washing his.

The real lesson Jesus wanted them to learn was the lesson of serving and helping others. Remember in Philippians, Paul says when Jesus came into the world, he took on himself the form of a servant.  In the story of Jesus and his disciples, he is teaching his followers a part of their ministry will be in the area of serving.  This was not done just to get the disciples to be nice to each other, but in the larger picture, the concept of serving others should reach beyond the earthly ministry of Jesus and into the lives of all who would wear his name, even today. 

What can you do today, to help someone? It may be some huge task where you can help, or something as small as a phone call of encouragement.  Because of our varied God-given talents, there is always something we can do to be a servant to those we are commanded to love. 


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Storms May Come

If you lost your house and all your belongings in a tornado last night, would you post a sign like this in your pile of rubble? 

My hat is off to the folks that made and displayed the sign.  It's one that causes us all to examine our priorities, check on our trust in God, and above all, praise him through the storm. 

Our thoughts and prayers today are for all those affected by the storms in Arkansas.  The news reports have shown us today, what the darkness of night kept hidden until sunrise. Lives were lost, other lives sustained injuries, and the citizens of our nation begin the efforts to show our concern and love. 

As I write this, I am learning of more tornadoes in Alabama and Mississippi, and we pray for those people, too.  These terrible storms are bringing havoc and destruction where people live and work.  Yes, most are determined to rebuild and not let the storms win. 

So today, I'm asking each of our readers to spend some special time in prayer for the many lives that have been touched by devastating storms.  Be ready to offer assistance where needed, if that is something within your ability.  Learn from those dear Christians that teach us the storms in our lives, whatever they be, provide us with the opportunity to continue praising our Father. 

God bless us all. 


Monday, April 28, 2014

Here is Freedom

I read a story today about a man who had been convicted of a crime and assessed a 50-year prison sentence.  The man did his best to describe his arrival at the prison, and admitted in his worst fears, the darkness, the stench, the filth, and above all, the loneliness, was worse than he had been expecting.  His prison cell was 6 feet by 9 feet.  The cell walls and floor, along with the bunk upon which he was to sleep, were covered with the filth of previous prisoners.  The cell was so unbearably hot he stripped off his clothes but still continued to sweat profusely.   His meals were brought to his cell and as he described it, very few meals were edible.  This was to be his home, his life, for 50 years.  Now, during his first day behind bars, he expressed the worst part was the loneliness. 

The story I read did not mention this man's crime.  I have no idea what he had done to be incarcerated in the place he described.  Obviously this story came from the days prior to prison reform, but for that moment in time, only in the cell for a few hours, he was miserable and could do nothing about it. 

I tell you this story just to remind you about Jesus' mission including "proclaiming release to the prisoners."  Could this prisoner find such release?  We can only assume his crime was major, since he was given a 50-year sentence.  Nothing was said in the story about time served, nothing about parole, it only mentioned he was to be incarcerated for 50 years. 

Perhaps there were some in Jesus' day that were imprisoned when they had done nothing wrong.  Could it be those sentenced by mistake were the ones he was talking about?  More than anything else, he was talking about you and me. 

It's true, Jesus was announcing his mission of releasing prisoners while thinking of us!  We may have committed no crime, faced no jury, nor found ourselves behind prison bars, yet Jesus was referring to us.  

We fit into the story when we find ourselves imprisoned by our sins. We may still be walking the streets, functioning in society, yet still prisoners experiencing the loneliness, the pressure, the guilt, and the inability to change our circumstances.  Sin has its way of being such an overwhelming power over us we possess no hope for freedom. 

When Jesus died and took the penalty for our sins, he was fulfilling his mission statement of freeing us from sin's captivity.  Problems arise when we fail to see the "prison" in which we abide.  Take just a moment of self-evaluation and if you are honest with yourself, you will probably recognize something that keeps you enslaved.  We may not all be drunkards, bank robbers, drug pushers, or brawlers, but most of us can see things that hold us captive and keep us from enjoying freedom in Jesus. He frees the alcoholic and the legalist, the prostitute and the gossip. Name any sin.....Jesus can free you from it. 

This is where the good news of the gospel reaches to our individual needs.  By his grace and love for us we can know we have been forgiven, we can experience the presence of the Spirit within us, and we can know the release from the sin which has us spiritually incarcerated. 

That's why Paul told the Corinthians, as well as you and me, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."


Friday, April 25, 2014

Vows to God

Take a couple minutes and read Psalm 56. It's only 13 verses long but it contains some principles by which our lives will be enriched. This is a Psalm written by David during a time when he was in fear because he was being captured by the Philistines. 

David cries out to God, "Be merciful to me."  He was under attack. There were men in hot pursuit and their success in making the capture was imminent. We can put ourselves in David's shoes and understand his fear.

Notice several items David teaches us as his cry to God reveals fear. 

1.  From verses 3 and 4, "When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?"  See the transition being made during David's prayer?  He confesses his fear which triggers his trust in God. He goes from saying, "I am afraid, so I will trust in God;" to " I trust in God, so I am not afraid." David finds strength and confidence in knowing mortal men can do nothing to him.

David knows he is dealing with those who twist his words and use them to cause him harm. He knows men are conspiring for his death.  His prayer is for God to deal with these enemies. His confidence is that the enemies will turn away because David is calling for God's help.  Here is some good advice for us. When faced with the evil which men can do to us, or attempt against us, it's God that can bring positive results from the negative actions and words of others.  David know this is God, who is on his side. He knows this is God, whose words he praises. God is his help, his strength, so what can men do to him?

2.  From verses 12 and 13, "I am under vows to you, O God; I will present my thank offerings to you. For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life."  Repeat over and over the first part of verse 12. "I am under vows to you, O God." The events in which we find ourselves making wrong decisions would have right outcomes if we paused just long enough to base our decisions on that statement David made. It should be our statement, too. "I am under vows to you, O God." That places David and us in a position to offer thankful praise.
David knew God as his deliverer, because God had delivered him from death.  We, too, know of God's deliverance and his promises to be with us every step of our journey.  David knew it was God who kept him from stumbling, and when we realize that, our spiritual stumbles and failures will be turned into victories.

David praises God because he allows David to "walk before God in the light of life." It works that way for us, too.  We who are under vows to God, share with David in the confidence that God walks with us.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Take another look

Last week I read one of the blogs that comes my way, and became interested in the writing of Robert Capon, who, before his death in 2013, was a well known Episcopalian minister.  See what you think about the next two paragraphs.

"I think good preachers should be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough to tiptoe up on dozing congregations, steal their bottles of religion pills…and flush them all down the drain. The church, by and large, has drugged itself into thinking that proper human behavior is the key to its relationship with God. What preachers need to do is force it to go cold turkey with nothing but the word of the cross–and then be brave enough to stick around while [the congregation] goes through the inevitable withdrawal symptoms.

"But preachers can’t be that naughty or brave unless they’re free from their own need for the dope of acceptance. And they won't be free of their need until they can trust the God who has already accepted them, in advance and dead as door-nails, in Jesus. Ergo, the absolute indispensability of trust in Jesus’ passion. Unless the faith of preachers is in that alone-and not in any other person, ecclesiastical institution, theological system, moral prescription, or master recipe for human loveliness–they will be of very little use in the pulpit."

When I first read those paragraphs, my immediate thought was, "That is a different take on things."  The more I thought about it and read it several times, my thoughts changed to "Amen!"

From Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus:,by the same author, here is more of his writings.

"What role have I left for religion? None. And I have left none because the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ leaves none. Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion.

"Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshiping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle to the Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever finally succeed (see the Epistle to the Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection. For Christians, therefore, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up, and forgotten. The church is not in the religion business. It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade. The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly." It is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace."

Perhaps our outreach should have the same emphasis. --RonB