Mutual, I’m sure

Everyone wants a label. A title. We want to be called by a name that defines us. That announces us. That lets everyone else know who and what we are. If someone doesn’t have a label, we immediately want to give them one. A singer. A banker. A president. A streetwalker. An addict. A hero. Once given, we are usually disinclined to offer another label unless that person makes a grievous error or heroic effort. Then the original label is nearly impossible to get back.

While being known for one big thing is not an issue, carrying multiple labels tends to be. It’s confusing. Are you one thing or are you the other? Honestly, we can all be, and should all be, more than just one thing.

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

John 13:14-17 (NIV)

Through his teaching, Jesus gave his disciples all sorts of contradictory labels. Be a teacher, but be a student. Be bold, but be humble. Be a leader, but be a servant. Matthew Henry said that duties are mutual; we must both accept help from our brethren, and afford help to our brethren. 

By disrobing, getting down on his knees, and washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus displayed for all of us the example that a man can be both a leader and a servant. His entire ministry, he was leading people to serve. These things are not exclusive, but as Matthew Henry stated, mutually inclusive. All of these things that may seem contradictory are in reality complimentary.

One cannot teach without a willingness to learn. One cannot be bold without truly knowing what it is to be humble. One cannot lead unless they understand how to follow.

We can call Jesus Lord, and that wouldn’t be wrong. Neither would it be incorrect to call him Savior or Son of God. But we cannot stop there. Jesus doesn’t fit under just one label, but many. He is also a servant to mankind. He is a follower of his Father. And because Jesus did, so that we may follow his example, so should we be called by many things, and possibly the greatest of which being servants.

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.

Matthew 20:26 (NIV)

Read: 2 Chronicles 7-9, John 13:1-17

There is a cloud

On a cold winter night in 1933, a boy was born. It was Christmas Eve. The boy’s parents were poor. Dirt poor. To add to his trials, the boy’s parents were not married when he had been conceived. Soon, siblings followed and they all learned to work on the family farm. But that boy, born on Christmas Eve, had bigger plans for himself.

When the boy got a hold of a catalogue, he would eagerly flip to the menswear section and stare intently at the men dressed in sharp suits. The boy wasn’t destined to keep working on the farm. His imagination was bigger than that. Someday, he would get to wear a suit and tie to work every day.

The boy grew and continued to work on the farm. Circumstances led him to drop out of school before graduation. But he worked. He met a lovely young woman and, after a time of long-distance correspondence, he convinced the girl to marry him. Soon, they welcomed a baby girl into their family. The first of three. They were poor. Dirt poor. But that boy born on Christmas Eve still had bigger plans for himself and his growing family. He still wanted to wear a suit and tie to work every day.

The boy, now a man, had his sights on a certain company, but that company was not hiring. The boy, now a man, didn’t think that should stop him from working for them. So every day, he got up, got dressed and went to work. He earned nothing but the respect of those he helped on the loading docks each day. It wasn’t long before the company decided to start paying the man who wanted to work so badly, he’d do it for nothing. Surely he’d work even harder if he knew he’d be earning a paycheque.

The man born on Christmas Eve worked his way up in the company. Then another company, and then another. By the time he retired, he’d been wearing a suit and tie to work every day for decades. All those days of looking at catalogues daydreaming of the future had finally come to fruition.

In addition to becoming a very influential businessman, the man born on a cold Christmas Eve to poor parents who hadn’t been married when he was conceived, the man who never finished high school, also pastored a church. And then another church and another after that. When the man finally went home to be with Jesus, the building where his own church met was not large enough to contain all of the people whose lives he had touched.

Nothing in the way his life began indicated that a boy born on a farm to poor parents would have had the capacity to affect so many lives in both business and ministry. But that is exactly what my grandfather did. Even when it was no longer fashionable, he still wore a suit and tie to work every day and to preach at church every Sunday.

“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'”

1 Kings 18:43-44 (NIV)

Like a cloud on the horizon the size of a man’s hand, where and how we start has little consequence on how we finish. That small cloud saved a nation from drought and famine. That boy born on Christmas Eve brought countless lives into the kingdom of God through the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and his legacy lives on in every life he touched and every life those lives touch. Even if you are told, there is nothing there, look again. And again. And again. Surely there is a cloud. Maybe you just can’t see it yet.

Read: i Kings 16-18, John 1:29-51

Worth your salt

Read: Numbers 30-31, Mark 9:30-50

Little Manitou Lake in Saskatchewan has a mineral density three-times that of the oceans. Who cares? Well, what this means is that, unless you intentionally put your head under water and breathe in, you can’t drown. The water is so dense, a human being can float with no effort at all. The high mineral—salt—concentration in the lake (and spa where the lake water is piped in) has disinfectant and healing properties. It is only one of three inland bodies of water on the planet that has such properties (the Dead Sea being another). It’s rare. It’s special. It’s worth taking note.

Mark 9-50.jpg

Many of us might read through this little verse and just assume that Jesus wants us to be flavourful, add a little spice to the world around us. That’s what salt is for, after all. And that little part about being at peace with each other, just a nice little add-on. The complexity and weight of this verse is completely lost on us if we don’t understand the cultural connotations of salt at the time Jesus said these words.

  1. Salt was valuable. When you start a new job you settle on what? A salary. Ever wonder where that word originated from? You’d better be worth your salt or you won’t be keeping that job. Some speculate that, because of it’s high value in the Roman empire, that soldiers were often paid in salt. Roads were built because of salt. Trades were made because of salt. Lives were made or lost because of salt.
  2. Salt healed. Like patrons of Little Lake Manitou, the Romans were also aware of the healing properties of salt. Drinking a saltwater solution could reset the digestive system. Soaking an open wound in saline could help prevent swelling and infection.
  3. Salt preserved. While the term pickled didn’t arrive on the scene for centuries, the concept of preserving food with salt was not lost on the Roman empire. Salty olives were as much a part of the Mediterranean diet then as they are now.
  4. Salt was considered holy. Since Leviticus 2:13, salt was a part of Jewish sacrificial offerings. No sacrifice was to be made without it.
  5. Salt declared covenant. In both Jewish and Roman cultures, sharing salt at a table was indicative of covenant or servitude. For the Romans, to eat salt from the table of another put you in their service. For the Jews, to share bread with salt was a sign of covenant between those who share the meal.

When we take into account the historical significance of salt, this verse is so much more than a little platitude for us to remember. Whether in food or water, the presence of salt is undeniable. Imagine a society without salt. Imagine your life without salt? It’s impossible. As trivial as those little granules may seem, they are an essential part of our lives.

Now take that idea and apply it to believers.

Everything that salt was to society when Jesus walked this planet, we should still be to our culture today. Believers should add value, no matter where we are. We should bring healing. We should preserve those things that are good and helpful and nourishing to every life. We should be set apart as holy. And we should share a covenant not only with God, but with each other. Our lives should be set apart for service to the Father and to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Suddenly this verse isn’t so little and that last bit about being at peace with each other means a little more.

Are you worth your salt?

From your heart

Read: Exodus 11-12, Matthew 18:21-35

Have you ever had to ask forgiveness? Wait. That’s a silly question. We all have. And if you haven’t, I guarantee that you probably should. We’ve all done things to offend someone. We will all do things that will offend someone. When that happens, we all want to be forgiven. No one wants the weight of wrongdoing hanging over their heads—at least I hope not.

Not only do we all need forgiveness, but we’ve already received forgiveness. In the moment that we receive Jesus into our lives as Lord and Saviour, God forgives us. But what does that really mean?

FORGIVE: To pardon; to remit, as an offense or debt; to overlook an offense, and treat the offender as not guilty. The original and proper phrase is to forgive the offense, to send it away, to reject it, that is not to impute it, [put it to] the offender.

It is our sin that separates us from God, but when we ask Him to forgive us, He separates our sin from us. It is no longer ours. It has been sent away. Rejected. And because of that, we are expected to do the same for others. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a story to help us understand how this works.

A king wanted to settle accounts with his servants. There was a man who owed him a great deal of money and was not able to pay. When the man begged to be permitted to leave, the king forgave the man his debt and sent him on his way.

When that same man who had begged forgiveness was approached by another man who owed him, rather than extend a small amount of the mercy he had been granted, he had the man thrown into prison until the debt could be paid.

When the king heard this, the man was brought before him, called wicked, and was turned over to the jailers to be tortured until his original debt was paid in full.

Matthew 18:35

Words are cheap and easy. Anyone can say that they forgive someone. The hard part is acting like it, but that’s where the forgiveness really is. The best place to start to learn to forgive is to learn to act like you’ve been forgiven.

The wicked servant in Jesus’ story never took to heart the gravity of what he’d been given. If he had, it would have been easy to offer just a small portion of that to another person. When we learn to truly accept just how much we been forgiven of, we can learn to take that grace and extend it to others.

It is not until both your words and your actions line up that you can truly learn to forgive from your heart.

Be brave

Read: Genesis 23-24, Matthew 8

How many times in your life have you packed up and walked away from everything to start something completely new without knowing all of the details? Probably never. The vast majority of us will never really step too far out of our comfort zone. We do what we know and avoid what we don’t. But what if we’re missing out?

God made a big promise to Abraham. He knew and trusted that God would make it come to pass. His wife, though well beyond her child-bearing years, gave birth to a son. Through that son, God promised that Abraham would become the father of many nations. Now, that son needed a wife in order to fulfill this promise.

After swearing an oath to his master, Abraham’s servant went in search of a wife for Isaac. He had very specific instructions and probably doubted the point in making the trip altogether. But his master trusted the Lord, so he would also trust the Lord. All that trust paid off and the servant found the girl he was looking for on the first try. He proposed by proxy and the girl accepted.

So they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”

“I will go,” she said.

Genesis 24:58 (NIV)

Many may think that only the truly desperate would accept such an offer. The servant made it known that the family she’d marry into was very wealthy. But Rebekah’s family was wealthy in their own right. She was also a very beautiful woman, so it’s not like she wouldn’t have had suitors. Instead of staying at home and marrying the boy next door, Rebekah, in a matter of hours, made the choice to leave behind all that she knew and tie herself to the unknown. Aside from the lure of wealthy in-laws she had no way of knowing what her life would become.

It can be a scary place to be, this unknown. Rebekah seemed to take it in stride. But how prepared are we to go? When a man told Jesus he wanted to join up with him, but he had to bury his father first, Jesus told him to let the dead bury the dead (Matthew 8:22). There truly is no time like the present.

Had Rebekah remained where she was, I’m sure she would have found a nice man to marry. She could have stayed comfortable and wealthy among her own people. She could have had a good life. But, when she accepted the proposal from the servant, what she didn’t know was that she had also become part of a far greater promise.

I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

Genesis 17:6-7 (NIV)

Rebekah, by trusting in the servant’s word, brought herself under the covenant God made with her father-in-law. She, through her husband Isaac, would become the mother of many nations, part of an everlasting covenant.

Most of us want to know the end before we even begin. We need all the details so we can make a list and weigh the pros and cons. That’s not how this works. God asks that we trust Him. And if we truly trust Him, we don’t need to know the end because He is the end.

Revelation 22:13

When we refuse to move before we have all the information, we rob ourselves of the blessing God has in store for us. Like Rebekah, we need to be brave, take the first step, and trust that our God knows what He’s doing.

Love each other

What does it mean to love each other? Is it warm, fuzzy feelings? Is it passion? A mutual respect? When we think about Jesus’ command for us to love each other, what is the context we put it in?

So now I am giving you a new commandment. Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

John 13:34-35 (NLT)

Yesterday, we looked at how Jesus switched positions with his disciples. He intentionally placed himself in the position of a lowly servant rather than Lord and Master. He washed the feet of those who had faithfully followed him. He served them.

Then he told them to love each other as he loved them.

How willing are you to wash the feet of the person who sits next to you in church? I have smelled the feet of some who sit beside me in church. I’m not sure I’d want to go so far as to wash them.

I don’t expect the church to suddenly install a foot-washing station for those who want to take these words literally. But I do expect us to think a little more about how we serve each other. Jesus said that our love for one another, how we serve each other as he served his followers, will prove to the world that we are his disciples. For the most part, I only see church people at church on Sunday. I don’t know much about what goes on in their daily lives or if they’d need help doing it.

However, I do think that we should know more about what goes on in the daily lives of the people we attend church with. We should know how they can be served and then we should strive to serve each other with the same love that Jesus displayed.

Sometimes a little dirty work can go a long way—it can go far enough to prove to the world that we are Jesus’ disciples.

Daily Bible reading: 2 Chronicles 10-12, John 13:18-38

Servant

Last weekend, we had a work day at the church. The men were lured in under the guise of a breakfast meeting and, after pancakes and sausage, were immediately put to work doing an assortment of tasks around the building. Most of these men are leaders in the church. Our head usher spent much of the morning hauling branches and trees into the back of a truck to be taken to the dump. Our sound man/bass player/greeter was put to work building lockers in the basement. A board member mowed and trimmed the lawn. And our pastor was armed with a chainsaw cutting down the last of the trees damaged in a winter ice storm.

For our church, this is normal. When there’s work to be done, the leadership team is first to arrive—no matter what that work is.

At the end of the day, when everyone was tired, sweating, and hungry again, I was set to leave and someone pointed out that one of my tires was rather low. The pastor was cleaning off his tools with an air compressor. I thought I’d see if he had the right piece so I could put air in my tire. Rather than hand me the piece so I could do it myself (which I was completely prepared to do), he got down on his artificial knees and did it himself.

For me, having my pastor do that extra small task of putting air in my dirty tire, was akin to Jesus getting down on his knees to wash the feet of his disciples.

We often look at the story in John 13 as Jesus humbling himself to bless his followers. He did do that, but that wasn’t all he did. The moment Jesus got down on his knees, he not only blessed, but he empowered his disciples.

In Jesus’ day, the caste system was alive and well. Servants served and lords lorded. Lines were defined and no one dared to cross them. But in order for God’s plan to work, Jesus had to put himself in the lowest position possible. The job of washing the feet of guests went to the lowliest servant in the house.

You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because it is true. And since I, the Lord and teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. You know these things—now do them! That is the path of blessing.

John 13:13-17 (NLT)

By taking the position of the lowest servant in the house, Jesus not only showed great humility, but he put his disciples in a position greater than his own. Had Jesus remained sitting and allowed someone else to wash his feet, his followers would have always seen him as Lord and Teacher and never servant. But because they saw him as a servant, they could suddenly see themselves as master. Jesus was preparing them to hear his next words.

The truth is, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.

John 14:12 (NLT)

A servant could never do greater things than the master. In order for the disciples to do greater things than Jesus, Jesus had to become the servant, and they the master. Jesus not only humbled himself, but he empowered his followers.

When my pastor got down on his knees to put air in my tire, he was following the example Jesus put forth. What would seem to be a menial task that someone of a lower position should be doing showed me that my pastor—a man deserving of great honour and respect—is willing to humble himself and put those who serve under him in a greater position. By emulating Jesus’ humility, he empowers his volunteers to do greater things.

It is great to be a master. But it is better to be a servant.

Daily Bible reading: 2 Chronicles 7-9, John 13:1-17