Unsettled.

I’ve been off lately. Unsettled. Between COVID-19, multiple health issues in our extended family, and my oldest daughter’s fast approaching wedding, I have not felt as grounded as a sometimes do. Unfortunately, my emotions tend to come out sideways and in ways that I do not intend. Consistent with my personality style, when I am feeling off-center, I tend to resort to anger–toward myself, others, and the universe. I am usually too constrained for it to come out as rage. Rather, it comes out as irritation, resentment, audible sighs, or a critical spirit. My friend and pastor had the courage to point this out to me recently and it has been eye opening.

Maybe you’ve felt unsettled too. The idea that we are living in the midst of a pandemic is unsettling. Perhaps like me, the churning waters within and without lead to anger. Maybe for you, it comes out as fear, flattery, or withdrawal. Pay attention to those emotional responses. They are great teachers if we will listen.

Running parallel to my unsettledness has been a desire to understand what it looks like to love well in the midst of chaos. Specifically, what does it look like to love up, down, in, and out? I haven’t come to any firm conclusions, but I do have a lot of questions. How do I understand what it looks like to love God and experience God’s love for me when I feel unsteady? How can I use this time to grow in self-knowledge and self-compassion? What passions arise within me and how well do they align with who I want to be? How do I grow in grace toward others when we are encouraged to keep our distance or when we observe them behaving in obviously self-centered ways? How do I understand my role as a global citizen and a steward of creation? How can I foster truth, goodness, and beauty when so much seems broken?

Again, I don’t have clear answers, but these are the sorts of things I think about. Maybe you are too. It is good and important for us to consider how to be beacons of light when so much seems dark.

John 13:22

The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.-John 13:22

Jesus had just told the twelve that one of them would betray him.  There does not seem to be any indication from the text that any of them suspected Judas. They were twelve friends who had lived life together for a few years. They had no reason to be suspicious.  When Jesus announced the betrayal, they were incredulous, filled with confusion, anxiety, and anger.  They looked at one another, hoping to see the answer in the eyes of their friends.

Like the disciples, we have a hard time envisioning our friends betraying us.  We assume the best of our friends, which is a good thing.  Yet in reality, sometimes those closest to us—those we imagine to be the godliest—engage in unimaginable sins.  A beloved pastor is accused of sexual misconduct and we think “That could never be true; I know him.”  A child is accused of bullying a smaller child, and we say “My child would never do that.  He is a good kid.”  A woman whom you know to honest and good is arrested for embezzlement and you think “The police must have received false information. She’s the most honest person I know.” In reality, every one of us is capable of shocking sin and betrayal.  Wise people trust, but not uncritically.  We must be shrewd to the remaining vestiges of sin, even in those whom we hold in high esteem.

Prayer
Jesus, you are our trust and hope.  We humans are fallible, broken, and sinful.  Help us to never minimize our sin, nor believe that we are somehow incapable of treason against you or others.  Help us to see others honestly yet grant us supernatural grace in the midst of trials, just as you have done with us so many times. Amen.

John 13:21

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”-John 13:21

What does it mean that Jesus was “troubled in his spirit”? I think it means that Jesus was stirred up, upset, wrestling, or visibly bothered. When we think about the characteristics of Jesus, most of us would never think to describe him as “troubled.” We imagine him as serene, peaceful, or even disengaged.  When we base our understanding of Jesus on those assumptions, we come to believe that in order to be like him, we need to be emotionless–or only allow the positive emotions–happiness, joy, contentment, or humor.  We view “negative” emotions, such as anger, fear, or sadness, as less godly.  But Jesus was troubled because he was human.

He was facing death. His friend had betrayed him to the Sanhedrin and soon, they would come to arrest him, try him, and deliver him to a brutal crucifixion.  If he wasn’t “troubled in spirit,” he would be inhuman.

It is profoundly human to feel deep sadness over loss, anger about injustice, anxiety in the face of threat, or mirth when you hear a dumb joke. If you want to learn from Jesus, do not whitewash his emotional life because if you do, you erase his humanity.

Prayer
Jesus, help us to know that to be created in your image is to be emotional.  Thank you for revealing your emotional life, so that we might know that our emotions make us more like you.  Help us to be honest with our emotions so that we will become fully alive. Amen.

John 13:20

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me the one who sent me.”-John 13:20

Jesus had been preparing these men for spiritual battle, ministry, and service.  He would soon commission them to carry his message of the Kingdom into the world.  He had spent so much time teaching them, because he wanted them to see and understand his revolutionary message.  He wanted to ensure that when they shared the message, they would represent it accurately.

He also wanted them to understand that anyone could receive his message of grace and would be welcomed into the Kingdom of God.  When you accept Jesus, you are accepted into his family. No exceptions.

We often worry that we are the wrong kind of Christian.  Sure, we love Jesus, but if we do not fit the “normal Christian” mold, we question whether we belong.  Jesus came to shatter the mold of performance-based religion, yet so often we keep trying to hammer people back into it.

Prayer
Jesus, to receive you is to receive the Father.  Help us to understand the reality that anyone who accepts you cannot be separated from your family.  Thank you for welcoming all who would come to you. Amen.

John 13:19

“I am telling you this now, before it takes place that you may believe that I am he.”-John 13:19

Jesus never questioned his identity or purpose. He came to usher in his Kingdom, which was unlike anything people had ever seen or imagined.  He taught his followers what it meant to live Kingdom lives and die kingdom deaths.  Ultimately, he willingly went to the cross where he bore the sins of the world.

We should not be surprised that Jesus knew the story line.  He knew his betrayer was in the wings, not only because he was God incarnate, but because he knew the scriptures.  Even though he understood what was coming, he was also planting seeds of faith for his followers, so that in the midst of the coming chaos and confusion, they would remember what he said and trust the redemptive process.  Confusion still happens in our lives, but Jesus knows the road ahead. Like the disciples, he asks us to remember and follow.

Prayer
Jesus, you regularly reminded your followers who you are and that all Scripture tells your story. When the way forward seems unsure, we often feel doubt. Forgive our doubts and help us to trust and remember. Amen.

John 13:18

“I am speaking to all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the scripture will be fulfilled, ‘he who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’”-John 13:18

Jesus circled back to Judas.  In verse 11 he had indicated that one of his friends would betray him.  Judas.  Jesus knew that he would be betrayed because it had been foretold in scripture.  Do you ever wonder if he knew when he chose Judas that he would be the betrayer?  The betrayal was part of God’s unfolding story.  Jesus referenced Psalm 41:9, which reads “Even my closest friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” Jesus had trusted Judas. They lived life together, yet he was betrayed by him.

In the next verse of Psalm 41, the psalmist wrote, “but you, O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them!”  The psalmist did not write this from a place of petty vindictiveness, but from a recognition that justice would prevail.  God will deal with sin.

Have you ever felt betrayed, cast off by another, lied about, or ignored?  Perhaps a more important question is how often have you been the betrayer?  Jesus came to deal with ever betrayer, rebel, and renegade, paying for their sins on the cross, but like us, they need to accept his free gift.

Prayer
Jesus, your friend Judas’s betrayal led to the cross. What a punch in the gut that must have been.  Yet, you willingly stuck to the plan. Forgive us for the ways in which we continually betray you, our friend. Thank you for your persevering grace. Amen.

John 13:17

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”-John 13:17

My best friend in college would often say, “I thought about it,” his typical response when pressed to share whether he had asked somebody on a date.  After telling me about a potential love interest, I would say, “You should ask her out.” Inevitably, his response would come: “I thought about it.”

As we have been discussing, Jesus came as Lord, but also teacher.  He did not come to merely download “Jesus 101” into their brains, he came to show them how to live.

In the past decade or two, the Internet has allowed a resurgent interest in theology with women and men reading Calvin, Spurgeon, and even Augustine. They fill their heads with quotes and strongly held convictions. I speak as an insider.  Yet too often, we amateur theologians fail to put into practice what we have learned. What happens when there are large heads on weak bodies? We topple over.  Jesus was essentially saying to those of us who want to follow him, “Okay great, you know my message, but do not just keep it in your head.  Live a life of love.”  Serve one another out of the abundance of your heart.

Prayer
Jesus, strengthen my hands, my feet, my back, and my heart for the battle you have called me to enter.  I am prone to archiving theological knowledge that goes nowhere. Make me one who lives out what I believe, in your Spirit. Amen.

John 13:16

“Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”-John 13:16

Jesus had been instructing his disciples in the way of the cross, which is the way of service.  They had been watching him and listening to him, yet they also held on to a tiny hope that he would leave the way of the cross, reveal his power, and ultimately seek glory in an earthly kingdom.

They saw him as Lord (see Jn. 13:13), which in their thinking gave him every right to rule with power, but he didn’t, at least not in any way they expected.  When he said, “A servant is not greater than his master,” he was telling them, “You all agree that I am your Lord and master.  If that is true, do you imagine that your lives will be exempt from service?  No. I want you to live the same way.”  They were to be his messengers, carrying the good news of the Kingdom of God into the world.  The message he wanted them to share was one of the Kingdom of the cross, which is built upon loving service, not control.

Over time, his message gets twisted.  So much of modern Evangelicalism, at least to the West, has abandoned the way of the cross, preferring the way of glory.  Some Christians talk about how God will bless them with wealth and possessions if they just believe rightly, or speak the right words, but God’s kingdom is filled with other-centered servants, not self-centered consumers.

Prayer
Jesus, In our self-centeredness, we seek after our own comfort, recognition, and glory, yet you have called us to something greater.  You have asked us to be messengers of love and service. Forgive our self-centered ways and lead us back to the way of the cross. Amen.

John 13:15

“For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”-John 13:15

In modern times, we are losing touch with the notion of apprenticing, believing that we can learn all we need from Google, YouTube, and a six-month internship.  Current educational systems are designed to teach facts to large groups, but are less able to instruct people in how to really live.

Not surprisingly, the didactic approach has infiltrated our churches too.  Sanctuaries are structured much like classrooms with chairs facing forward toward the podium where a leader instructs the group.  Many places even use PowerPoint.  The implicit assumption is that mere exposure to the spoken word will work in our hearts, leading to Christian behavior. To be honest, I suspect that it rarely does.  Orthodoxy (right thinking) does not necessarily, or even typically lead to orthopraxy (right action).

Jesus was no modern day preacher; he apprenticed his followers, living, loving, and serving in real life.  He did preach to large crowds, but he dedicated considerable effort to apprenticing a small band of women and men who spent their daily lives with him.  When he said, “I am your example.  You should do just as I have done to you,” he was talking about much more than just washing feet.

Prayer
Jesus, you tell us that you are our model for how to live.  You did not come only to talk at people, but by your example, to show us how to love.  Help us to know not only what you taught and did, but to actually model our lives to follow your example as closely as we can, by the power of your indwelling spirit. Amen.

John 13:14

“If I then, your lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”-John 13:14

Those of us who live in the West in the 21st Century have no context for foot washing.  If we get stuck in wooden literalism, we will believe Jesus actually requires foot washing, but we always have to pay attention to his symbolism.

In the first century in Galilee, the process of washing feet was a necessary, but less than glamorous, chore.  The dust from the road would cake peoples’ feet, getting into the cracks and crevices.  Foot washing was a job for servants, so when Jesus washed their feet, he willingly took up a distasteful chore that was well below his status.  He became a servant, and he asks us to do the same.

In order to serve with the heart of Christ, we must know who we are.  We are those in whom Christ dwells; God’s beloved.  When we believe in our purity in Christ, we will not be afraid to get “other people’s dirt” on us.  We also must know that every person we serve is a divine image bearer and that alone confers dignity.  To love another is to love Christ.

Prayer
Jesus, you humbly, willingly, and lovingly washed your disciples’ feet, which was one more example of your servant heart.  You have called us to the same way of love.  Open my eyes to see the beauty of your imprint in every face I see and to know the lengths you went to in order to set them free. Amen.