Thursday, April 13, 2017

Day 88 – Proximity

Read: John 13:31-38

Proximity control is a technique many teachers use to manage the behavior of their students. The concept is rather simple: as a student becomes more disruptive or deviates from the assigned task, the teacher moves nearer to that student. The closer the proximity, the greater the likelihood the student will stop the unwanted behavior. Proximity control works as long as the teacher stays nearby.
Religion is sometimes used as a form of spiritual proximity control. As long as religious institutions, symbols and friends are nearby; we tend to toe the ethical line, but as the distance from these reminders increases, so can our awareness of God. But God is not satisfied with proximity nor does proximity to God mollify the deepest longing of our hearts. The human heart was designed for more than proximity; it was designed for intimacy.
Some seek intimacy through irreligious means: sex, wealth, security, power, fame. Perhaps the disciple who most reflected this approach was Judas. His financial greed, coupled with his disappointment in Jesus' failure to seize power, revealed his irreligious motives.  Others, like Peter, seek intimacy through religion, attempting to put themselves in proximity to God by going to church and doing religious things. Peter had correct theology, right answers, and was zealous (see Matthew. 14:29; 16:16 and John 18:10). It is easy to assume that God prefers the religious over the irreligious efforts, but while religion can make us aware of our proximity to God, it doesn't necessarily guarantee intimacy with Him. Proximity to God is not a substitute for intimacy with Him.
One of the most striking features of John 13 is the juxtaposition of love and betrayal, glory and treachery. These opposites are never as far apart as we think. The difference between them may be the difference between proximity and intimacy. Both Judas and Peter, perhaps the two disciples in closest proximity to Jesus, left the upper room and betrayed Him. Judas, for 30 pieces of silver, and Peter to save face. 
While Judas and Peter offer examples of the failures of proximity, both religious and irreligious, there was another disciple present in the upper room who demonstrated the power of intimacy: “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’” (13:23-24, NKJV, italics mine).
Over the past 90 days, we have journeyed together with the Gospel writer John to this critical moment, the moment that I believe defines "the disciple Jesus loved." Which disciple was that? Was it Peter with his bold proclamations of faith, or Andrew with his consistent witness? Perhaps it was Nathanael or Thomas and their questioning spirits, or Judas and his frugality? No, it was none of these. Please don't misunderstand. Jesus loved all of these men. But "the Disciple Jesus loved" was the disciple who drew near enough to rest his head on Jesus' chest.
I've thought a lot about this. I've asked myself, "When was the last time I rested my head on a man's chest?" As a man, I find that to be an awkward question. After all, men don't typically rest their heads on other men's chests. What would it take for me to assume such a posture? Trust, humility, love, surrender, freedom, and security are just a few of the words that come to mind.
While John doesn't specifically name this disciple, we know that the Gospel writer is talking about himself. We also know that John's intimate relationship with Jesus led him to be the only disciple to follow Jesus all the way to the cross physically. The intimacy of their relationship also led Jesus to entrust the care of His mother to John.
What about you? Have you confused proximity to Christ for intimacy with Him? Have you allowed religious rituals and correct theology to replace your need to draw near to Jesus, to lay your head on His chest? If you are more like Peter than John, perhaps you should read Peter's warning very carefully: "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Even though Peter's denial happened years earlier, it was surely on his mind as he wrote these words. Words that echoed the warning Jesus gave just hours before Peter's denial, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). Peter thought that his proximity to Jesus was sufficient to protect him. It was not, and he bore the scars to prove it.
The disciple Jesus loves encourages us to seek real intimacy with God through Jesus. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8). Rest your head on His chest. Draw near enough to Him that you can rest your head on His chest. Be still and hear the rhythm of His heart.
Jesus,

May I never be satisfied with proximity when You have invited me into an intimate relationship. Forgive me for my religious and irreligious attempts to find that intimacy. Like John, I want to draw near to You, to hear Your voice and feel the beat of Your heart. Thank You for making intimacy possible. Thank You for the price You paid so that I might be able to know You and draw near to You.


Amen

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Day 87 – Judas’s Feet

Read: John 13:1-30

One of the great ironies captured in John's Gospel is Judas's participation in the events that took place in the Upper Room.  John doesn't mention that any of the disciples, other than Peter, refused or even resisted Jesus as He knelt to wash their feet.  Perhaps Peter was the first person Jesus approached. Maybe their exchange defused any resistance the others might have had.  Maybe the disciples were all too shocked to say anything. Whatever the reason, there is no evidence that anyone other than Peter argued with Jesus, not even Judas, whose feet were certainly among those Jesus washed that evening.  That had to be difficult for both men.  Judas, knowing what he was about to do; Jesus, knowing that not only was Judas going to betray Him but that he was willing to sit and allow his feet to be washed by the Man he was about to betray. Why didn't Judas resist Jesus' attempt? He had not failed to voice opposition when Mary knelt to wash Jesus' feet (John 12:4-8).
Maybe Judas saw the act of foot washing as the final straw. Maybe it was all Judas needed to finalize his decision to betray Him.  After all, a real Messiah would never bow down to perform such a lowly task. Perhaps Judas reasoned that if Jesus was stupid enough to wash his feet, He apparently couldn't know what was in his heart, and if He didn't know what was in his heart, He couldn't be who He claimed to be.
Of course, Jesus did know, and after washing all 24 feet, Jesus revealed that He would soon be betrayed. The revelation stirred the group, who tasked John with asking Jesus about the identity of His betrayer.  Jesus chose to quietly expose Judas to John by discreetly handing him a piece of bread. John tells us that as soon as Judas took the bread from Jesus, "Satan entered into him" (John 13:27).  What had only moments before served as a foreshadowing and symbol of Jesus' broken body, was now the very thing used to expose the one whose betrayal would result in Jesus' body being broken.
Judas, with his feet cleansed by Jesus' hands, with his belly full of the bread that symbolized Jesus' broken body, with his mouth moist with the wine representing Jesus' blood, left to betray the Savior of the world.  John punctuates his account of these events with the simple sentence, "And it was night." John's phrase is more than a reference to the time of day.  It takes us back to John's prolog where he told us that Jesus came to bring light into our darkness.  John warned us, however, that some preferred darkness. Some still do.
Jesus,

Because Your hands have washed my feet, may my feet walk in Your ways.
Because my hunger has been satisfied by You, the Bread of Life,
may I use the strength of my body to serve You.
Because my deepest thirst has been quenched by Your blood,
may my mouth speak forth Your praise for all of my days.


Amen

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Day 86 – The Other Foot

Read: John 13:1-9

I have spent my entire adult life in a career in which I am privileged to help other people. Responding to the needs and crises of others is a big part of what I do, and I love doing it. So in 2003 when the proverbial shoe was on the other foot, I struggled to accept the kind of help I had found so much joy in offering others. My mom’s unexpected illness and death, my wife’s prolonged bed rest with our fourth child, that child’s premature birth, and another child’s diagnosis with a chronic disease all left our family reeling and desperate for help. Because we have been blessed to be a part of loving, Christ-like congregations, there was never a shortage of individuals willing, wanting and even demanding to help us. But even as they joyfully and willingly served my family, I couldn't help feeling bad about the help they were offering.
That may be the way the disciples felt as Jesus knelt to wash their feet. It was certainly how Peter felt. His unwillingness to allow Jesus to wash his feet was a protest against the very humility Jesus said is essential to enter His Kingdom.  Peter rightfully acknowledged that Jesus should not be the one washing feet.  The idea that the God of the universe, the One who formed the stars and holds the planets in place, whose hands had made the mountains and carved out the depths of the oceans, that this very God would kneel before twelve men and wash their dirty feet is scandalous! It was Peter and the rest of the disciples who should have been washing Jesus’ feet.  I suspect that Peter knew that if he allowed Jesus to wash his feet, the tables would be turned, signifying a radically different world order. A world in which power is not derived by being served, but by serving.
And there was the problem I faced in 2003. I had come to accept Jesus' invitation to serve others, not as a sign of humble submission, but as a sign of power. If I was the one holding the towel, then I was the one in charge. To be on the receiving end was a sign of weakness and need. Like Peter, my unwillingness to be served was evidence of pride. And pride, even if it is found in helping others, will separate you from God. "If I do not wash your feet," Jesus told Peter, "you can have no part of me." Peter replied, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head" (John 13:8-9).
Wanting nothing more than to be with Jesus, Peter relented and allowed Jesus to wash his feet. I am glad to tell you that I made the same painful choice and it has made all the difference, not only in how I receive help but in how I offer it to others.
Do you have trouble accepting help from other people? Have you ever thought that perhaps, like Peter, that could be evidence of a pride that is separating you from God? Are you quicker to pick up the towel than you are to roll up your pants? Perhaps it’s time to set the water basin down and allow Jesus to teach you a lesson in humility.
Humble Jesus,

Forgive me for allowing my service to others to become a source of pride.
Wash away the filth of my pride and teach me to receive from
You the mercy that will keep me Your humble servant.


Amen

Monday, April 10, 2017

Day 85 – The Mind of Jesus

Read: John 13:1-3

The beginning of chapter 13 offers important insights into the mind of Jesus. Insights that help us understand why He was willing to wash the disciples' feet and, more importantly, to lay down His life. Insights that may also reveal why the rest of us often struggle to serve the needs of others selflessly.
John tells us that Jesus knew:

  • That His hour had come (13:1)
  • That the Father had given all things into His hands (13:3)
  • That He had come from God (13:3)
  • That He was going back to God (13:3)
It all comes down to personal security. Jesus was the only completely secure human being ever to live.  He was secure in His Father’s provision and timing. He was secure in His own position. And He was secure in His ultimate destiny. 
With security comes the freedom to be humble. An entirely secure person has nothing to prove and no one to impress, but it's difficult for an insecure person to be humble.  Insecure people are so concerned with their own standing and position that they cannot risk humility and the acts of service it might require.
Jesus could kneel and wash the disciples' feet and endure the shame and humiliation of the cross because He knew who He was, Who had sent Him, and where He was going. Humility is the faith to believe that God has not forgotten you.  It is the faith to say, "I know I am God's and He is mine."  Without faith in God's love, it is not just difficult; it is impossible to be humble.  Without humility, we can never stoop to the level of service Jesus modeled and called us to practice. That is why the writer of Hebrews tells us that "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6).
Do you know who you are? More importantly, do you know Whose you are? Are you living with the confidence that God has given you everything you need to live in complete obedience to Him? Do you struggle with personal insecurities? Maybe you are compensating by working hard to convince others that you are strong enough, smart enough, resourceful enough, but in your effort to prove yourself, you’ve failed to take up the towel and basin.
Father,

Give me the faith to be completely secure in You.
 Forgive my insecurities and fears and the doubt they reveal.
Give me the humility of Christ
 and the confidence of knowing You even as He knows You.


Amen

Friday, April 7, 2017

Day 82 – Divine Oversight

JOHN CHAPTER 13

Read: John 13:1-5

The disciples had planned for what they didn't know would be their last meal with Jesus. The room was secured, the food was prepared, the disciples had gathered, everything was perfect -- well, almost everything. As they entered the room and began the meal, the disciples would have immediately recognized one small yet significant oversight. No one had secured the household servant to wash the feet of those entering the room. The streets of Jerusalem were dusty and sandal-clad feet were dirty. This was going to be a problem.
The menial task of washing feet was customarily the responsibility of the lowest, non-Jewish servant in the house.  Having borrowed the room for their Passover celebration, the disciples might have overlooked this minor, but important, detail. Finding no servant available had likely cast a cloud over the gathering.  Who had forgotten to secure the servant? Which one of them would perform this lowly task?  The evening progressed, the meal was served, and still no one volunteered to do what was certainly beneath even the least among them. The disciples were all too willing to jockey for positions of power (see Mark 10:37 and Matthew 20:21), but were reluctant to stoop to such an ignoble position as “chief foot washer.” 
After supper, Jesus seized the awkward moment and began to do what everyone knew should have been done, but no one was willing to do themselves.  By doing so, Jesus offered a convincing demonstration of one of the defining distinctions of His Kingdom. The image of Jesus washing the disciples' feet is the picture of what it means to be a servant leader. And all this because someone dropped the ball!
Our “oversights” often serve as opportunities for God to teach us better ways to live. I wonder if in our rush to fix, cover, recover, blame, and dodge, we are missing the point?  God uses our faux pas and failures to demonstrate and teach us about His grace and sufficiency. For it is in our weakness that His strength is made perfect. It is in our foolishness that His wisdom is made known. It is through our failures that we discover the sufficiency of His grace (1 Corinthians 1:25 and 3:19; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Sure, someone should have scheduled a foot-washer for the Passover celebration, but think about what we would have missed if they had. Maybe God is doing the same kind of work in your own mistakes and mishaps.
Jesus,

Thank You for redeeming my mistakes, oversights, and missteps.
Thank You that Your strength is made perfect in my weakness.
Help me to lay aside the pride that tempts me to cover up, blame and dodge my failures, and in so doing, miss the redemption You have already planned for me.


Amen

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Day 81 – The Crowd

Read: John 12:12-19 & 37-43

Have you ever been swept away by the emotions of a crowd? If you've attended a major sporting event, perhaps you have. Even if you weren't a fan when you entered the stadium, by the time you left you were shouting and cheering like everyone else. It happens at sporting events, concerts, protests, and political rallies. It is called the "herd mentality," and it has the power to influence us to do what everyone else is doing. But being in a crowd can also have the opposite effect, keeping us from doing what we assume someone else has already done. For example, a crowd of people stands around watching a man die of a heart attack, each person thinking someone else has already called 911. Sociologists call this the "crowd effect." Crowds have the power to move us to action or immobilize us entirely. There is power in a crowd.
Understanding this power leads me to an important question as it pertains to the Christian practice of corporate worship. Do I believe what I believe because I actually believe it, or because I have been swept up in the emotion of a particular crowd? Am I worshipping what is true or simply what has been predetermined by the crowd in which I find myself?
After leaving the party given in His honor, Jesus received a hero's welcome in Jerusalem, where He found a huge crowd waiting for Him. But why had this crowd gathered? Did their presence mean they had finally accepted Jesus as the Messiah or did they have other motives? No doubt, as in any crowd, there were all kinds of people with various motives gathered there on that day. John reported that some people were there because they "believed in him," (John 12:42) while others only "loved the glory that comes from man" (John 12:43). We would be wise to remember that those same motivations drive the crowds we find in our churches today.
Here are at least four things to consider about the “crowd” and its effect on you and your faith:
First: What you believe and how you behave tends to reflect the crowd to which you belong. This principle is why your mama always told you to choose your friends carefully. But it's about more than those with whom you decide to hang out. The family and culture into which you were born, the schools you attended, and even the media you consume, all have an effect on you and what you believe. No one is exempt from the impact of their culture and family.
Second:  You will most likely choose to belong to the crowd that best reflects what you’ve already determined to believe. We are all on the lookout for evidence to support what we believe. Beliefs are much easier to maintain in a community that shares those beliefs. Our crowd becomes a filter for anything that doesn't fit what we've already decided to be true. That filter can also be a blindfold, however. Bill Bishop, in his book, The Big Sort, says,
Like-minded … groups squelch dissent, grow more extreme in their thinking, and ignore evidence that their positions are wrong. As a result, we now live in a giant feedback loop, hearing our own thoughts about what's right and wrong bounced back to us by the television shows we watch, the newspapers and books we read, the blogs we visit online, the sermons we hear, and the neighborhood we live in.[1]
But truth is not subject to the determination of any crowd. Democracy is great, but a majority VOTE doesn't determine truth. Something is either true or is not true, regardless of who or how many people believe it. The claims of Christianity are rooted in historical facts that are either true or not, despite what our "crowd" happens to believe about those claims.
Third: Just because the crowd is growing does not mean truth is flowing. Jesus entered Jerusalem for Passover accompanied by a crowd of people who had recently seen Lazarus raised from the dead. But He and His posse were entering a city that may have swollen to over a million people preparing to celebrate the Passover. There were certainly people in the crowd with misconceptions about Jesus. Many people saw Him as a military savior who had come to overthrow their Roman oppressors.  This unmet expectation may explain why, just a few days later when Jesus was on trial before Pilate, that same crowd turned on Him. Many who had shouted, "Hosanna," would soon be shouting, "Crucify Him!" In fact, it was only a small remnant in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday who were actually worshipping Jesus.
Fourth: The emotion of the crowd cannot substitute for the devotion of your heart. I love Christian concerts, conferences, and full worship services, but they are no substitute for time alone with God. It is in our solitude, away from the noise and influence of the crowd, where the actual condition of our heart is revealed. Through the prophet Isaiah, God said, "These people come near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, their worship is based on merely human rules they have been taught" (Isaiah 29:13).

As you take time alone with God today, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your worship based on your deeply held beliefs and convictions or simply untested family or cultural tradition?
  • If everyone in your congregation were just like you, what would your next corporate worship experience be like?
  • Is your heart near to God, or just your mouth?

Dear Jesus,

My fickle heart is easily swayed. Given the crowd I'm with and the power of their influence over me, I may praise You one day and deny You the next.  You, however, are unchanging, ever constant, and always true. Give me faith based on Your Word and the courage to stand on that faith in the face of any crowd.

Amen




[1] Bill Bishop, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart (Boston: Mariner Books, 2009), 39.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Day 80 – The Language of Love

Read: John 12:1-8, Mark 14:3-9 & Luke 10:38-42

In his book The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman describes five ways he believes people communicate love. For some, it is physical touch, or gifts, or quality time. For others, it is acts of service or words of affirmation. Chapman teaches that if you can speak someone's love language, you can connect with them on a deeper level and express and receive love in a more satisfying way. Simple concept, but a challenging reality when you consider the constant need to translate from one love language to another. John 12 gives us a picture of three people who, in their own language and with varying degrees of sincerity, attempt to express love for God. 
First, there is Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary, who expressed her love through acts of service. On this occasion, Jesus was passing through town, and Lazarus and his family were throwing a party in His honor. To be more specific, Martha was throwing a party. Verse 2 tells us that it was Martha who was serving while Lazarus was reclining. Typical man. But it wasn’t just Lazarus avoiding the kitchen. We also read that Mary was preoccupied with other things as well. If this is the same occasion described in Luke 10:38-42, Martha had had her fill of doing all the work while Mary sat around at Jesus’ feet.
Second, there is Judas. That's right, Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would later betray Jesus. It's true that Judas was a thief and that his noble-sounding sentiment was a lie, but no one knew that at the time. So if we take Judas at his word, he was arguing that the money from the sale of the nard should have been used as a gift for the poor, which is, in effect, a gift given to express love for God. We know from Mark 14:4 that Judas wasn't the only disciple who felt this way.
Finally, we have Mary. Her extravagant expression of love was hard to miss and easy to criticize. That's how it goes with extravagant love. When we play it safe, when our love is subtle, we do not run the risk of being noticed or criticized. But Mary's love was unmeasured. Unlike Judas and the other disciple, Mary did not take the time to count the cost of worship. Mary did not hold back or cut corners. Jesus was worth any price. Her love was unrestrained. Cleaning someone's feet was the job of the lowest household servant, and so Mary, taking on that role, let down her hair (itself a scandalous act) and cleaned her Savior's feet. Finally, Mary's love was unselfish. I don't just mean it was generous. She clearly had no concern for herself or what anyone else thought about her or her act of love. When you are consumed with love for God, you become strangely unaware of the thoughts and critiques of others.
Now to all of you who express love for others and God through acts of service or gift giving, please do not hear me say that these are lesser ways of expressing love. There was nothing wrong with the fact that Martha worshiped Jesus through acts of service. There would have been nothing wrong with Judas and the other disciples expressing love for God by caring for the poor.  But in both of these examples we see beyond the external expressions of love into the hearts of the worshipper, and what we see is that their hearts are not satisfied in Jesus alone. That is why Martha and Judas were both quick to criticize Mary. When our love for God is more about the show than a true reflection of our hearts, we tend to be restrained, cautious and self-centered -- all the things that Mary's love was not.
This remarkable scene and these three unique characters have much to teach us about loving Jesus. Judas raised an important issue with his faux concern for the poor, but Mary shows us that when it comes to loving God, we should never allow the important to replace the essential. Martha's commitment to service is admirable, but Mary shows us that there is no place for anxiety in our relationship with God.
Jesus said it best when He responded to Martha’s concerns by saying, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her,” (Luke 10:41-42). What is the “one” thing that is needed? Mary showed us.  It is love, true love, regardless of what language you speak.
Dear Jesus,

I struggle to know how best to express my love for You.
Like Martha, I'm worried
about many things and often fail to consider the only thing that matters,
the only thing that will even endure. Help me to trade my anxiety for peace
as I fall at Your feet in worship.
Like Judas, my intentions are often clouded by selfish desires. I allow the important to crowd out the essential and misrepresent my selfishness as an act of worship.
Help me to pour out my wealth and dignity and to remain empty at Your feet.
Teach me to love You as You have loved.

Amen