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’m currently reading 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.

Jesus, looking for an example of how his disciples should serve and love each other, chose the same act, but 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.

A Kingdom of Gentleness and Respect


With another history post coming up, I set out this week to write about this blog’s approach to history and politics, knowing that with these topics, the hardest part can be how to say what you want to say.  Imitating David in Psalm 3, I write to testify that “salvation belongs to the LORD,[1] to some an inherently political statement, in a way that obeys God in approach and tone.  What does that mean?  1 Peter 4:15-16 says:  “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”  This means it is not as simple as just yelling the right story from the rooftops, or in my case, from an unfiltered blog.  “Gentleness and respect” matter.

Last time, I wrote that “Jesus isn’t on the ballot this fall, but flawed candidates of many types will be.  Some more like David, and some more like Absalom.”  David, even as God’s appointed king of Israel, knew that not every problem was in his power to solve.  However, David was at peace with his limits in an imperfect world, knowing that his salvation came from God alone.  But Absalom hated David’s inability, or unwillingness, to solve all his problems.  Absalom harbored angry resentment against David for years before violently overthrowing him.  During this rebellion, David was calm and able to sleep because the kingdom of God was real to him, even when it didn’t look like it.  Then he wrote Psalm 3 to let us know about it.

This conflict between David and Absalom echoes in broad narratives or stories told throughout history: 1) we can and should perfect ourselves, or 2) we are dependent on God to save us.[2]

In the 1 Peter quote above, he says that we defend our eternal hope with “gentleness and respect.,” meaning that those who trust God’s salvation should use not only their words, but also their attitudes and very lives.  The story must be real to us to be convincing to others, and those who hope in God’s kingdom should show obedience to that kingdom.  Easier said than done.

Fortunately, when we truly believe, experience, and stand for God’s salvation, our brokenness and failure is part of the testimony.  When we know God’s salvation is the only solution, we can approach people with different worldviews with our common need for salvation, in “gentleness and respect,” instead of fighting over solutions we know are imperfect.  David was able to sleep at night even when chased out of Jerusalem by his own son, because he had “a good conscience,” showing gentleness and respect toward Absalom.  The kingdom of God was real in his heart, and he believed God would prevail no matter what.  Circumstances could not shake his faith, and God ultimately delivered and restored him.

If, on the other hand, our brokenness and God’s solution for it is not part of our story, we may be left defending an imperfect political solution to those who demand perfection.  In David’s case, he may have insisted that God was unjust in allowing Absalom to succeed.  After all, he could argue, he was a humble king after God’s own heart, while Absalom was bitter and unreasonable.  If David had done this, it may have ironically helped Absalom’s case for tyranny.  In addition, David would not have been able to find peace and sleep at night until Absalom was overthrown.  However, if the starting point is that weakness is common to all of mankind, then the imperfection of the system is both part of the “reason for the hope” and a reason for even the unbeliever to resist tyranny.  In this case, imperfection is not hypocrisy, but a condition common to mankind.

Declaring “salvation belongs to the LORD” with actions, along with words, gives evidence that worldly utopia is not the answer.  But when words or actions fall short, we can still point to the One who is perfect since we aren’t trying to prove worldly utopia is possible.  The two lessons from Absalom’s rebellion are reconciled in a life lived with “gentleness and respect.”  Because God does not rely on political systems to work His salvation, tyranny is just another “temporary and provincial authority” subject to the greater authority of God.  We can have a clear conscience based on the sacrifice of Christ and not on worldly success.

A life lived in hope for the eternal kingdom of God is one lived in love for those left behind by every imperfect system of this world, but also one that testifies that all systems, including our own individual wills, are not perfectible by human effort.  Peter wrote that those who hope in God will be slandered, but also that those who live humble lives based on hope in God and not themselves will ultimately be proved right.  Until then, by their example as they follow Christ, they can show the futility of tyranny.  By God’s grace, His people will inherit a real utopia by learning to love those who hope in a false one with gentleness and respect.

Our failure is part of our testimony as we drive toward morning, but “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6:33


This post is part of a lead-in to the next “History Bits” post planned for April 9th, and hopefully I can get one more in tomorrow out of the four I had planned…


[1] Psalm 3:8
[2] There’s also a third common story: “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” (1 Corinthians 15:32) Today, we focus on the other two.

King David Didn’t Let Politics Keep Him Up at Night


The U.S. midterm elections are later this year, and some are already considering turning off their social media feeds until its over.  Jesus is not on any ballot for the elections, but this does not mean His people are without hope and comfort.  It also doesn’t mean Christians should ignore it all.  Last fall, I wrote a twopart series partly about not over-reacting to the threats of worldly kingdoms because “He who sits in the heavens laughs.” (Psalm 2:4) When recently reading Psalm 3, which is “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son,” I saw that this Psalm may not have come after Psalm 2 by accident and may also comfort us in the face of political bad news.

Absalom’s Rebellion
The story of King David in the Bible is a very condensed version of his life but does not shy away from David’s serious failures and flaws.  The story of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba is not swept under the rug, and eventually, Absalom’s rebellion against his father David was justified in his mind by those flaws.  Absalom harbored resentment for years after David’s lack of punishment for Absalom’s brother Amnon, who raped his sister Tamar.  One can imagine Absalom thinking about his father: “You’re the king of Israel, so why didn’t you protect Tamar, or at least punish Amnon?  If my sister and I don’t get justice, you don’t deserve to be king!”

David, on the other hand, was quite aware of the limits of being king.  In Psalm 131:1, David wrote:

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
            my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
            too great and too marvelous for me.

Even while writing as divinely selected king of Israel, David knew many things were “too great and too marvelous” even for him.  Instead, David focused his heart on the God-given task before him, which did not include achieving perfection in this world.  That task belonged elsewhere.  Later, Psalm 131 was included in the Psalms of Ascent[1], which served as a liturgy for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for three annual festivals.  In those Psalms are reminders of God’s provision for things the world can’t provide, including salvation for our souls and a way to perfect righteousness.  The pilgrims did not go to Jerusalem to worship the earthly king, but to encounter God, and including Psalm 131 in that liturgy would always be a reminder that our worldly aims should always be rooted in humility.

When Absalom raised several hundred supporters and entered Jerusalem to violently overthrow his father David, “a messenger came to David, saying, ‘The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.’ Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, ‘Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.’”  (2 Samuel 15:13-14)

David’s Response
After surrendering the throne and fleeing, David wrote Psalm 3, “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son,” which says in full:

“O LORD, how many are my foes!
            Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
            “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
            my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
            and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;
            I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
            who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O LORD!
            Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
            you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the LORD;
            your blessing be on your people! Selah”

Knowing the background of this Psalm and its placement after Psalm 2 make it far more interesting.  David had suffered a massive political defeat, being humiliated and tossed out of Jerusalem by his own son.  Instead of despairing, he turned to God for his salvation because he knew even the king of Israel could not save the people.  He was only a temporary and provincial authority.  Even though God had promised David the throne, God was able to save David, and Israel, without David on the throne.  With the murderous and vengeful Absalom on the throne, was God defeated?  No, instead we have this Psalm as a reminder of God’s presence and provision of salvation in spite of whatever situation we find ourselves in.

David, having cultivated over years an awareness of his own limitations as king of Israel, and the limitless power of God, “lay down and slept,” then “woke again, for the LORD sustained me.”  Surrounded by foes and removed from his throne, David slept soundly!  In contrast, Absalom is shown as one who broods upon every imperfection, plotting ways to force justice as he sees it on others, even if he must dishonor God.  You could say he is driven by the “utopian impulse,” belief in a government that can solve all of our problems and shouldn’t rest until it does.

Democracy and Tyranny
Jesus isn’t on the ballot this fall, but flawed candidates of many types will be.  Some more like David, and some more like Absalom.  A lesson from Psalm 3 is that we should be able to sleep at night in good conscience because no matter the world looks like, God says “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6) even when king David was on the run for his life.  The success of God’s plan does not rely on our political success. But a second lesson from the story of Absalom is that a ruler driven by achieving worldly perfection can be the worst kind, even if they seem to have good intentions.

Absalom’s story reminds me of this quote from C.S. Lewis:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under of robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber barons cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some points be satiated; but those who torment us for their own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to heaven yet at the same time likely to make a Hell of earth.”[2]

How do we reconcile the two lessons?

Coming This Week
This week, I’m hoping to squeeze in a short series of posts on narratives, history, and (gasp!) politics.  I’m very much figuring this out myself every day and learning how to engage without following my own utopian impulse to cut off Malchus’ ear[3] but I also know that waiting for a perfect answer guarantees failure.  This blog is part of that process for me.  This week’s posts will lead up to the next “History Bits” post I have planned for April 9th and give some background on that series.

Hope you’ll join me and let me know what you think.


[1] I’m currently writing about those Psalms in a series, which began here.
[2] From “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.” C.S. Lewis. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics.  (1970).  P. 292.
[3] See John 18:10

Jesus is Patient and Kind Even When I am Not


Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus does not envy or boast; Jesus is not arrogant or rude. Jesus does not insist on His own way; He is not irritable or resentful; He does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Knowing the love Jesus has for us is an encouraging thought. This paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 was suggested in a devotional I read last year[1] for John 13:34 – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”  James Montgomery Boice said that we are not to “love” in any way we see fit, but as Jesus loved, which the above describes.

Based on John 13:34, Boice says we should be able to substitute “I” in place of “Jesus” and see what He commands us to be.  When I re-read the first paragraph with myself in mind, I see how much I fall short, but His love for me remains an encouragement.  He will be patient and kind with me.

Pray that we may get ever closer to living the love of Jesus.


[1] From “August 30.” James Montgomery Boice and Marion Clark. Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment.  (2017).

When You’re Stuck in Second Gear – Blessed are the Meek #4


Everybody struggles with maintaining hope in tough times, and also with knowing and doing God’s will when what we feel is right seems irrelevant.  Today I’m going to cover a story of how the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah struggled to understand an idea God gave him to share hope with future generations, including us.  The story also loosely follows the outline of the first three Beatitudes and therefore fits in the “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” series.

If misunderstood, the first two Beatitudes alone can leave us in a place where we’re a mess and the world is a terrible place and there’s nothing we can do about any of it.  It can be a place of depression and despair.  Like in the theme song from the TV show Friends[1], we feel like “It hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year.”  Where does it end?  But God promises that there is work for each of us to do: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) The third Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek” promises a way forward – for every person in their own way to do whatever He has prepared for them.

The Gearbox of the Beatitudes
As I wrote in the first post on “Blessed are those who mourn” I believe the Beatitudes are an intentional sequence, and here I’ll describe better what I mean.  The Beatitudes are not a chronological path we move through as we mature.  We don’t learn to be fully poor in spirit before we can get any better at mourning or being meek.  The picture is more like gears in a machine that all need to work together for the machine to function in each specific situation.  Weakness in one place affects the entire machine and Jesus was explaining specific parts of becoming more like Him.  God, as our maker, knows how we function, the reasons behind when we fail to function, and the solution.  With the Beatitudes, Jesus encourages us to use the machine for what it was made for – loving God and neighbor in all times and circumstances.  First, being poor in spirit means that we have emptied ourselves of all illusions that our plans are better than God’s.  Second, mourning the state of ourselves and our world means we are emotionally engaged.  That we care.  In the third Beatitude, being meek is where we begin to engage our will, submitting it to God as our benevolent Lord.  If we don’t, “it’s like you’re always stuck in second gear” from the Friends theme song.

The story today (from Jeremiah 32) finds Jeremiah stuck.  The Jews had him imprisoned for speaking the words of their own God, and while he was there, God told him that he should buy a field.  Not only was Jeremiah in prison, but the field he was asked to buy was in enemy territory.  The Babylonians had already conquered much of Judah and were besieging Jerusalem.  Surrounded by despair, we can easily imagine Jeremiah asking: what good will it do?  He might think cutting off Nebuchadnezzar’s ear would be a better idea[2].

Jeremiah Inspects the Gears
As readers of the book of Jeremiah, we are doubly blessed to know that he did buy the field, but also that he recorded his prayer to God as he tried to overcome his reservations.  The prayer is in chapter 32, verses 17-25, and loosely reviews the first two Beatitudes, while he is having trouble engaging the third gear of meekness.  His mind and emotions are engaged, but his will hesitates.

First, Jeremiah reviews the power, character, and history of God to remind him to rely on His Spirit, not on the poverty of his own spirit in verses 17 to 23:

“‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.  You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the LORD of hosts, great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds. You have shown signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and to this day in Israel and among all mankind, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day.  You brought your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders, with a strong hand and outstretched arm, and with great terror.  And you gave them this land, which you swore to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey.  And they entered and took possession of it.

Second, Jeremiah mourns the consequences of Judah’s disobedience starting in the middle of verse 23 through verse 24:

But they did not obey your voice or walk in your law. They did nothing of all you commanded them to do. Therefore you have made all this disaster come upon them.  Behold, the siege mounds have come up to the city to take it, and because of sword and famine and pestilence the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it. What you spoke has come to pass, and behold, you see it.

Yet the prayer closes with Jeremiah doubting the significance of his own obedience in verse 25:

Yet you, O Lord GOD, have said to me, “Buy the field for money and get witnesses”—though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.

In a book where the main theme is (temporary and partial) judgment on God’s people who had turned away from Him, there are also moments of (eternal) hope.  Jeremiah bought the field – to show God’s people that their exile would be temporary, and their eternal hope was secure. As the Beatitude says, the meek “shall inherit the earth“!   But there are also two notes of hope for us living centuries later: 1) that doubt is not something only “weak” Christians feel.  Jeremiah felt it too.  And 2) that encouragement matters, even if we see it as a meaningless drop in a turbulent ocean.  If God calls us to do it, it is meaningful.  For a lot of people “It hasn’t been their day, their week, their month, or even their year.”  As I write, the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t quite over and many are struggling to return to “normal,” which isn’t what it used to be.  To quote an old friend of mine in a recent Facebook post: “Encouragement. Everyone needs it, and we hardly ever share it. Don’t wait. Spread the love!”

If you still find yourself stuck, hesitant to shine God’s light in the darkness, go before God and follow the pattern of Jeremiah’s prayer – remember the power of His Spirit when yours is weak and the significance of obedience even in small things.  You might find not only yourself getting out of second gear, but also helping someone else move beyond a rut they’ve found themselves in.

Let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:25


This post continues a series on the Beatitudes. To start at the beginning, click here.


[1] “I’ll Be There For You” by The Rembrandts (audio here)
[2] See the post “He Who Sits in the Heavens Laughs (Part 2)” for more on the growth in the Apostle Peter from cutting off Malchus’ ear to teaching “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” (1 Peter 2:1)

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