5 Posts from July 2012

The Value of Obedience to God

For a moment, let’s pretend you work for me. We’re not in the pastorate. In fact, you are an executive in a company that is growing rapidly. I’m the owner and I’m interested in expanding overseas. To pull this off, I make plans to travel abroad and stay there until the new branch office gets established. I make all the arrangements to take my family in the move to Europe for six to eight months, and I leave you in charge of the busy stateside organization. I tell you that I will write you regularly and give you direction and instructions. I leave and you stay.

Months pass. A flow of letters from me are mailed from Europe and received by you at the national headquarters. In them I spell out all my expectations. Finally, I return. Soon after my arrival I drive down to the office. I am stunned! Grass and weeds have grown up high. A few windows along the street are broken. I walk into the receptionist’s room and she is doing her nails, chewing gum, and listening to her favorite rock station. I look around and notice the wastebaskets are overflowing, the carpet hasn’t been vacuumed for weeks, the rooms are cluttered and messy, and nobody seems concerned that the owner has returned. I ask about your whereabouts and someone in the crowded lounge area points down the hall and yells, “I think he’s down there.” Disturbed, I move in that direction and bump into you as you are finishing a chess game with our sales manager. I ask you to step into my office (which has been temporarily turned into a television room for watching afternoon soap operas).

“What in the world is going on, man?”

“What do you mean, Chuck?”

“Well, look at this place! Didn’t you get any of my letters?”

“Letters? Oh, yeah—sure, got every one of them. As a matter of fact, Chuck, we have had letter study every Friday night since you left. We have even divided all the personnel into small groups and discussed many of the things you wrote. Some of those things were really interesting. You’ll be pleased to know that a few of us have actually committed to memory some of your sentences and paragraphs. One or two memorized an entire letter! Great stuff in those letters!”

Sound a little familiar?

Jesus, the Lord, goes to the bottom line when He said, in effect, “I left you an example of what you should do—carry out my directions, fulfill my commands, follow my instructions.” That’s obedience. That’s doing what we are told to do.

 —Chuck

The Strength of Serving Others

Jesus said a strong thing to Peter when He spoke these words: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (John 13:8). Our Lord’s rebuke introduces a convicting observation: being a servant is not a sign of inner weakness, but of incredible strength.

There is no way to remove the jab and the twist from Christ’s words to Peter. He said, in effect, “If you do not allow Me to do this, that is it. You’re off the team!” Anybody who lives under the delusion that Christ was rather weak and spineless has overlooked such statements as this one. Being a servant in no way implies there will never be a confrontation or strong words shared with others . . . or tough love expressed.

The Lord may choose to use the reproof of a servant who has earned the right to be heard even more often than that of a type-A aggressive leader. It certainly worked with Peter. We know he got the message when he blurted out, in so many words, “Give me a bath!” No, that wasn’t necessary, only his feet.

After Jesus brought Peter’s overreaction back into balance, He sat down for a time of reflection and instruction among the men. “Do you know what I have done to you?” (John 13:13). What a strange question. Obviously, they knew what He had done. He had washed their feet! But He had much more in mind than the obvious—Jesus always does. He wanted them to think deeply, to learn something very insightful and valuable as an obedient servant. Look at what He told them.

“You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
(John 13:13–14)

He told them (and us) to wash one another’s feet. What an admonition! Now here’s the clincher, “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:15). Let’s read it in a much more popular way: “I gave you an example that you should study about it on Sundays.” No.

Or . . . “I gave you an example that you should form discussion groups and meditate on it.” No.

Or how about . . . “I gave you an example that you should memorize My words and repeat them often.” No.

Jesus said it plainly. “I gave you an example that you should do as I did to you.” He was looking for action, not a sermon outline.

—Chuck

Graciously Receiving and Giving

Being a super high-achiever, I must confess I find it difficult to receive from others. Really difficult. Like you, I’m usually on the giving end, not the receiving. My pride fights hard to stay intact.

This was brought home to me rather forcefully one Christmas season several years ago. A man in our church congregation drove over to our home with his Christmas gift for our family. Not something wrapped up in bright paper with a big ribbon, but a thoughtful gift of love demonstrated by washing all the windows of our home. I was studying that Saturday morning at my office at the church as my wife and our children welcomed him in. He quietly began doing the job. I drove to our home later that morning and immediately noticed his car out front. I wondered if there was perhaps some need (there I was again, thinking like I usually do).

The kids met me at the door with the news that Phil (not his real name) was there and was washing our windows. My immediate response, of course, was surprise. I knew he was a busy husband and father with many more things to do than clean my windows. I went to the patio and saw his smiling face. “Phil what’s going on?” I asked. “Man, I can’t believe this.” Still smiling, he responded, “Chuck, I just wanted to do this for you and your family. Merry Christmas!”

“Hey, Phil, (I’m now a little embarrassed) what do you say you just finish up the patio doors, and we’ll get the rest, okay?”

“Nope. I’d like to go all the way around.”

“Gee, thanks, man . . . but you’ve got lots of other things more important to do. Tell you what, you get all the downstairs, and the kids and I will get the upstairs.”

“No, I’d really like to get up there too.”

“Well, uh—why don’t you get the outside all the way around, and we’ll get the inside?”

Phil paused, looked directly at me, and said, “Chuck! I want to wash all your windows, upstairs and downstairs, inside and outside, every one of them. You are always giving. For a change, I’d like you to receive.”

Suddenly, I realized what a battle I have graciously receiving others’ gifts. I understand Peter’s reluctance to let Jesus wash his feet. Servanthood was hard for Peter, especially when it called for receiving from someone else. Are we pastors really any different?

—Chuck

Being a Servant Is Unannounced

As Jesus prepared to wash His disciples’ feet, He did not say, “Men, I am now going to demonstrate servanthood—watch my humility.”

No way.

That kind of pride-on-parade was the trademark of the Pharisees. If you wondered whether they were humble, all you had to do was hang around them awhile. Sooner or later they would announce it . . . which explains why Jesus came down so hard on them (take a quick look at Matthew 23!).

Unlike those pious frauds, the Messiah slipped away from the table without saying a word. He quietly pulled off His outer tunic, and with towel, pitcher, and pan in hand, He moved silently from one man to the next. Of course, they weren’t sitting as they are portrayed in Leonardo da Vinci’s work The Last Supper. All due respect for that genius, but he missed it when he portrayed the biblical scene through Renaissance eyes. Those men were not sitting in ladderback, dining room chairs all on one side of a long table!

In those days, people reclined at a meal, actually leaning on one elbow as they lay on their side on a small, thin pad or on a larger rug covering the floor. The table was a low, rectangular block of wood upon which the food was placed. And they ate with their hands, not utensils. This position meant that if your feet were not clean, your neighbor was very much aware of it. It would be impossible to ignore a face full of dirty feet.

By the time Jesus reached Peter, I am sure most of the small talk had dwindled. The men now realized their wrong. Guilt had begun to push its way into their hearts. Peter must have drawn his feet up close to him when he shook his head and said, in effect, “No! Not my feet. Never, ever, ever will you wash my feet, from now ‘til eternity!” This reveals a second principle about having a gentle and humble heart: being a servant includes receiving graciously as well as giving graciously.

Peter wasn’t about to be that vulnerable. After all, Jesus was the Master. No way was He going to wash the dirt off Peter’s feet! I ask you, is that humility? You know it’s not.

Being willing to receive usually takes more grace than giving to others. And our reluctance to do so really exposes our pride, doesn’t it?

—Chuck

Proud Hearts and Dirty Feet

The gentle and humble lifestyle of the Savior is nowhere more evident than in the scene recorded in John 13 where He washed the feet of His friends, the disciples. On that occasion He left us some timeless principles regarding serving God . . . principles we dare not ignore.

The setting is first-century Jerusalem. Paved roads were few. In fact, within most cities they were unheard of. The roads and alleys in Jerusalem were more like winding dirt trails, all covered with a thick layer of dust. When the rains came, those paths were liquid slush, several inches of thick mud. It was the custom, therefore, for the host to provide a slave at the door of his home to wash the feet of the dinner guests as they arrived. The servant knelt with a pitcher of water, a pan, and a towel and washed the dirt or mud off the feet of each guest as he prepared to enter the home. Shoes, boots, and sandals were left at the door, a custom still prevalent in Southeast Asia.

If a home could not afford a slave, one of the early-arriving guests would graciously take upon himself the role of the house servant and wash the feet of those who came. What is interesting is that none of the disciples had volunteered for that lowly task . . . so the room was filled with proud hearts and dirty feet. Interestingly, those disciples were willing to fight for a throne, but not a towel. Things haven’t changed a lot since then, have they?

Read slowly and carefully the account of what transpired:

Jesus . . . got up from supper . . . and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” (John 13:3–11)

Meditate on the scene John vividly describes for us. Now, ask yourself: How can we as pastors be more like the Master we follow?

Next week, I’ll share some observations about the example Jesus set for us in serving others.

—Chuck