Being a Master at Washing Feet

English author Samuel Johnson said, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”  I recently read The Residence, a book of real stories about White House staff over the years.  In a chapter on how staff often go unnoticed comes this humiliating negative example:

President [Lyndon] Johnson often undressed in front of staffers and was famous for rattling off orders while he was sitting on the toilet.  Once, reporter Frank Cormier was shocked to see Air Force One Steward Sergeant and Valet Paul Glynn kneel before the president while they were in midair and wash his feet – all the more so because Johnson never once acknowledged Glynn.

“Talking all the while, Johnson paid no heed except to cross his legs in the opposite direction when it was time for Glynn to attend to the other foot,” Cormier observed.[1]

When looking for an example of a servant being humiliated, author Kate Andersen Brower chose the washing of feet.  Worse than having someone undressing in front of you and worse than being bossed around from a toilet.

Photo by Felicia Montenegro on Unsplash

Jesus, looking for an example of how his disciples should serve and love each other, chose the same act, but from a different perspective and with a different attitude:

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” – John 13:3-5

Jesus does not need anything from us, we cannot provide anything He cannot provide for Himself, but He showed us how much He cares by washing His disciples’ feet.  He was willing to experience humiliation for His people, and He asks us to care in the same way:

“For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 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 13:15-16

“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

Ask Him to give us compassion for those with dirty feet, and to give us the strength to serve as He did.  Because He has washed our dirty feet again and again.

[1] Brower, Kate Andersen.  The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House.  (2015).  P. 88.

Words of Life and Death

Rummaging in the basement for a book recently, I found a book I wasn’t looking for: Encouragement: The Key to Caring by Dr. Larry Crabb and Dr. Dan Allender.  It was a good find.  They authors define encouragement as “the kind of expression that helps someone want to be a better Christian, even when life is rough.”[1]  This is the kind of expression recommended in Hebrews 10:23-25 – “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  (emphasis mine)

However, if we don’t believe our words matter – that they have real power – we might think such encouragement is pointless.  Making a case for the power of our words, the authors cite these Proverbs:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” – Prov. 18:21
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” – Prov. 12:25
A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” – Prov. 15:4
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” – Prov. 16:24
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” – Prov. 25:11[2]

In these Proverbs, words have the power of life and death.  Power to lift or break a spirit.  They have real power to influence others for good, or for bad.  They can influence our health, bodily and spiritually.  Our words are one of the hardest things for us to control – especially online – and unless we realize their power, we’re too likely to take them lightly.  James wrote that taming our tongues may be our biggest challenge, and if we can tame it, we can tame our whole body.  (James 3:2-3)

Therefore, pray for more encouraging, more powerful words today, and that God would cleanse our hearts, the spring from which our words come[3], so we may praise Him and provide “sweetness to the soul and health to the body” of those around us.

It won’t happen all at once, and all will stumble, but as the saying goes:

Yard by yard, life is hard!
Inch by inch, life’s a cinch!

Photo by Kevin Luke on Unsplash

[1] Crabb, Larry and Dan Allender.  Encouragement: The Key to Caring (1984).  P. 10.
[2] Ibid.  P. 19.  See also Proverbs 25:20 and James 3:5-6.
[3] James 3:11

Zap! The Best Action Figures for Christmas

Dear fellow travelers,

A hot Christmas gift when I was a kid were G.I. Joe toys.  These “Real American Heroes” were a line of action figures, vehicles and other accessories that fought against the evil Cobra organization which was trying to take over the world (of course).  In 1982, they were even hotter, after Hasbro added “Swivel Arm Battle Grip” to the design to differentiate G.I. Joe from the also-popular Star Wars figures.

Zap looks much better in action than in the box.

The swivel in the middle of the figure’s bicep allowed 360-degree rotation.  The swivel isn’t a shoulder, elbow, or hand, but without it, bazooka soldier (Code Name: Zap) can’t pose as modeled on the package pictured here.  I had “Zap” and tried it for myself.  It took some experimentation, but eventually the way the shoulder, swivel, and elbow were made worked together and Zap looked like Zap should look.

Why so much detail about action figures in a Christian blog?  Because the Christian church is described in the Bible as the body of Christ, and in 1 Corinthians 12:14-16, the apostle Paul assures us that, without every single member of the church participating, the body of Christ is incomplete:

For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.

Like Zap without “Swivel Arm Battle Grip,” the church will not perform as God intended unless all parts of the body participate, but sometimes it’s not clear to each of us what part of the body of Christ we are.  To some of us, others may clearly look like a shoulder, elbow, or hand, but we don’t know our part.  To some of us, others may look like the “hands and feet of Jesus” (to use a common phrase), but people don’t say the same about us.  Remember that Paul says “that would not make it any less a part of the body.”

Today, let’s return to one of this blog’s key verses, Hebrews 10:24, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”  When we don’t clearly know the specifics of our part, maybe we are the “Swivel Arm Battle Grip” – the innovative, new part with a weird name that helps the other parts fit together and work as God intended.  But also, when we do know our part, is the objective any different?

Participating in the Psalms IV: Thanksgiving Edition

Often the writers of the Psalms aren’t just trying to teach us about God, but they are trying to share their experience of Him.  As in Psalm 96 and 100, included in earlier posts, Psalm 136 opens with encouragement, or even instructions, to join the Psalmist in thanksgiving:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
     for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
     for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
     for his steadfast love endures forever” – Psalm 136:1-3

All 26 verses of this Psalm end with the phrase “for his steadfast love endures forever,” following something about God that is worthy of praise and thanksgiving.  This constant repetition is a reminder that it is “his steadfast love” for His people that drives His acts of creation, His works in history, and ultimately His death on the cross.  His works are all done by a person, for a people.  What God really desires is relationship with us. We are not alone in the universe.

Giving thanks only makes sense if someone exists to thank, who is good, and has the power to provide what we are thankful for.  If creation is a mere accident, if wicked acts are never corrected and righteous acts are never rewarded, and if mankind can only hope in themselves, there is no reason to give thanks to someone, or something, else.  Many religions seem to acknowledge this, giving personality and reverence to created things – trees, the sun, the harvest, and so on – but in Christ we can know the Person who is behind it all, and who actually is a Person that loves us.

Therefore, today give thanks to the Lord who is good, and is above any god or lord of this world.  As we celebrate Thanksgiving today in the United States, be thankful above all else that Someone exists to thank, that He is good, and that He has the power, and love, needed to care for His people.  Now and forever.


Earlier posts on Participating in the Psalms are here, here, and here.

Thanksgiving is Good and Fitting

Since 1942, the United States have celebrated a holiday for Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of every November.  For Christians the holiday is a time to remember the source of their blessings, regardless of how large or small those blessings seem.  In Ecclesiastes 5:18-19, the Preacher recommends celebrating and enjoying our material things, and recognizing God as the Giver of them all, including the work needed to produce and prepare them:

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.

However, as the Preacher wrote, even those with good jobs and plentiful possessions may find it difficult to truly enjoy them.  It is “good and fitting”, but it is also “the gift of God” to find joy in the now instead of chasing things we don’t already have.  It does not come naturally.

For many, time and events make each Thanksgiving different.  The company around the table may have changed.  The meal may be different.  The means of providing the meal may be different.  The familiarity of tradition may have been shaken by the pandemic and other circumstances.  Much has changed, and much will change.

Therefore, focus on the Giver behind the gifts you have, and seek contentment with thankfulness that He has provided everything you need. For now, and in eternity.  You are in good company.