My help only comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
I thought that when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet he was giving them an example of how to serve others. That was part of it, but for some there was more. Peter didn’t want his feet washed. He saw himself as one who looked after Jesus. He was the guy who bragged he was willing to take up arms and fight to protect the honour of the Son of God. After all, didn’t Jesus himself re-name him and gave him the identity of “Rock?” That sounds pretty solid and trustworthy.
When Jesus told him it was necessary to submit to the foot-washing thing it was the beginning of the week of stripping away all of Peter’s confidence.
A song keeps playing in my head — “Killing Me with Mercy” by Misty Edwards. It’s about Peter’s undoing.
What are You doing Lord, kneeling in front of me?
I feel indignant Lord, that You’d ever wash my feet
I’ll never let You see the dark and dirty
It’s just too much for me
I know who You are, and I know where I have been
It offends me Lord, that Your knees are bent
I’d rather You be strong and make me pay
But this is too much for me.
It was as if Jesus was saying to Peter, “Let’s get this straight. You are not here to meet my needs. I don’t need you to tell me how to do things. I don’t need you to defend me. I don’t need you to clean up my image. You need me, because without me you can do nothing. Nothing.”
The events that followed proved that. Peter’s courage, the character quality he took pride in, failed miserably when he denied Christ. He was stripped and broken. Without a shred of self-confidence he ran and wept struck with the horror of his own neediness.
For those wishing to press on in this journey to know Christ there comes a time of stripping away everything we have come to rely on in ourselves. This often comes after experiences of feeling close to God and seeing him work through us, sometimes in astounding ways. Peter and the boys had seen miraculous healing and demons fleeing when Jesus sent them out on their own. They were doing the stuff! Even Judas did the stuff. They were with Jesus when he rode into Jerusalem to a spontaneous riot of approval -and you can bet they soaked up the “friends of” benefits. It was just after that when Jesus challenged their pride.
I’ve watched people go through this process. It’s where I have been for the past few weeks. I won’t lie. It hurts very deeply. The very thing we think makes us of value in the kingdom, the reason God chose us for his team, the potential he himself has identified in us, is proven to be too fragile to serve him adequately.
Misty’s song again:
I’m a fragile stone
I’m a vow that’s broken
I’m a rock that’s crumbled at Your feet.
Judas was also devastated when he realized what he had done when he betrayed Jesus. He ran away and allowed his pride to kill him. Pride says, “I should have been able to do this! I am too ashamed to go on because I do not believe there is anyone to turn to. There is no hope.”
Peter, on the other hand, humbled as he was, did not finish himself off, although I bet the thought crossed his mind. Instead he waited and when he met the resurrected Christ on the shore cooking fish over a charcoal fire, just like the one that horrible night, things had changed. He knew he could not love God adequately. He knew he deserved rejection. Jesus’ offer of love was even more uncomfortable than it was the night of the foot-washing.
And that’s when Jesus could use him. He still wanted him. When Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost he spoke with a boldness that was not his own. He spoke with the boldness of the One who knelt down and washed his stinky feet.
But You still want me
You say my love is real, though my love is weak
You still believe, the vows I make, I break, I make, I break
You still want me
You’re killing me with mercy, I can’t breath
You’re wrecking me with Your kindness, I can’t receive
What am I supposed to do with a God so humble?
It’s breaking me
I’ll just believe
And let You love me.
Misty Edwards, Killing Me With Mercy, from Little Bird album, Forerunner Music
“All the paths of the Lord are loving and faithful” Psalm 25:10 I have pondered this verse lately, and have found that it feeds my spirit. All does not mean “all – except the paths I am walking in now,” or “nearly all – except this especially difficult and painful path.” All must mean all. So, your path with its unexplained sorrow or turmoil, and mine with its sharp flints and briers – and both our paths, with their unexplained perplexity, their sheer mystery – they are His paths, on which he will show himself loving and faithful. Nothing else; nothing less.”
- Amy Carmichael
O my God, shine Your light and truth
to help me see clearly,
To lead me to Your holy mountain,
to Your home.
Then I will go to God’s altar with nothing to hide.
I will go to God, my rapture;
I will sing praises to You and play my strings,
unloading my cares, unleashing my joys, to You, God, my God.
O my soul, why are you so overwrought?
Why are you so disturbed?
Why can’t I just hope in God? Despite all my emotions, I will hope in God again.
I will believe and praise the One
who saves me and is my life,
My Savior and my God.
(Psalm 43:3-5 The Voice)
Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
and I was all torn up inside.
I was so foolish and ignorant—
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.
A humble wise man said that if God is bringing you to a time of removing old habits and ways of thinking, please die quietly.
God has been working on a major character flaw I was oblivious to until others finally became so frustrated with me they had to stop being subtle.
I did not respond kindly. I have not been dying quietly. I’ve been torn up inside and lashing out like a senseless illogical wounded animal. It feels like submitting to surgery without anesthetic, this putting to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within me. It involves removing a coping mechanism that has helped me survive some pretty horrendous memories and letting go of it makes me feel very alone and weak and vulnerable. It has been firmly entrenched behind thick walls for a long time – a stronghold. Today my heart literally aches and my spirit is on wobbly legs. In myself I have no ability to cope with this kind of pain. None at all.
But God is still faithful and still good. When I read these verses this morning I was reminded that He is the strength of my heart. My thoughts need to be on the realities of heaven where Christ, the Lover of my soul, sits by my Father who wants only to raise me up to be who He sees me to be.
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.
So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. (Colossians 3)
Here’s the thing. Jesus’ love makes me want to be a better person. I know he loves me just the way I am, but he also loves me too much to leave me this way. So… here we go.
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
These are such lovely words, often printed on encouragement cards and posters. But they are in a context that is seldom quoted.
I tried for years to read the Bible straight through, but I couldn’t. I always got stuck with Jeremiah’s words. I could relate entirely too much. Some people can pull themselves out of feeling godly sorrow by clapping to happy songs or waving banners or doing something equally distracting, but it feels a bit like the tail wagging the dog to me.
Sometimes it takes more courage to walk into powerful emotions than to walk into a line of guns and bayonets. It’s easier to pretend they don’t exist, to run away, to shove the shame that comes with having them into yet another closet.
The next part:
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.
For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.
Discipline feels horrible. And when voices other than a kind parent’s jump in to administer it, it is easy to feel utterly rejected, cast off, condemned.
Many people don’t know what it is like to have had loving correction. They may have been ignored until something they didn’t know was wrong caused them to have great trouble making friends or going to school or keeping a job. They may have been beaten physically or verbally. They may have been shamed or received the silent treatment. They may never have known understanding or compassion. They may never have received forgiveness; it could seem like a much-regretted incident would be brought up like a trump card indefinitely. They may never have received acknowledgement of attempts at change.
For people who have never received enriching, encouraging parental discipline the process of submitting to the ministry of a loving God so that they might have a heart change is utterly, utterly terrifying. It takes trust, and for those who have had trust betrayed by authority figures in the past it is a tough, tough step to take. They’ll do anything to avoid it, including hurting people who want to help.
The Bible says whom the Lord loves he disciplines. The result is the gift of godly sorrow that leads to change. Ungodly sorrow results in shame that cripples with lies about how God really feels about us. Big difference.
Change (repentance) hurts, and pretending it doesn’t is cowardly. Repentance means dropping defenses, and no one likes feeling defenseless. Don’t ask someone the Lord is doing a deep work in to fake feeling cheerful to remove your own discomfort. Let them sit alone, face buried in the dust and learn they can trust the compassionate Father.and giver of life to be their portion. Drop your own stick and walk away. It doesn’t help and in fact, increases defensiveness and slows down the process.
And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.“
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all…
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (Hebrews 12:5-8, 11-13)
Take a picture of me jumping!
We wondered what our wee granddaughter was talking about when she asked a question about “skin people.” Her story books were full of talking fur or feather people, she explained, so she wanted her mommy to know she was talking about other kinds of people who look like us.
“They’re called humans, Honey,” her mommy answered.
The next day, within the hearing of other shoppers she asked, “What are those humans doing over there?”
More than one head turned.
I realized that many children’s stories meant to teach a moral lesson use personified critters –clever foxes, wise owls, sneaky snakes, innocent baby bears. It’s easier for authors to frame a story when you are in control of the rules in the fictional world simple characters live in. It works. Kids love it, and there are fewer stupid human tricks for us to explain.
Lately, she’s been asking me to tell her stories about me or her mommy or my friends. At nearly six-years old she has become a student of skin people nature, which can be pretty baffling at times.
Since we were discussing birthday plans I told her this true story about my friend and a birthday cake. There were two people who loved to play jokes on each other. One year “Dolly” decided to play a big trick on her friend, “Burt.” She hired a baker to decorate a cake made up of doggie biscuits frosted together (because he had already played a joke with doggie biscuits on her). From the outside, the birthday cake looked fantastic. Then she dropped it off at Burt’s house. He wasn’t home, so his wife took it gratefully and said she would give it to him later.
After a few days she had not heard anything from him and wondered if his feelings were hurt, so she phoned him.
“The cake was amazing,” he said. “Wow. Thank you so much!”
“It tasted good then?”
“Marvelous!” he gushed. He paused and then said, “I’m sorry, Dolly. I have to I have to tell you what happened. I was tired when I got home so we put it in the freezer and thought we would bring it out when we had company. But last night my wife suddenly remembered she promised to supply the cake for a birthday party for a person at the Old Folks Home. It was too late to order one and yours was beautiful so she brought it down to them this morning.
“Oh No! Did they give the dog biscuit cake to the old person, Nana?” granddaughter asked.
“Well, Dolly called the baker and asked him if he had a cake in the shop she could have and he did. So she hurried over there and bought the cake and rushed to the nursing home with it. She ran into the kitchen and asked the cook if Burt’s cake was there because she wanted to trade it for a fresher cake, but the cook said the cake was already in the dining room for the party. Dolly ran to the dining room.
“Don’t cut that cake!” she yelled.
“Why not?” everyone asked.
Just then Dolly’s friend Burt came in the room and everyone laughed and laughed because they were all playing a joke back on her. Burt knew the cake had dog biscuits inside and he told everybody he was playing joke on Dolly. He already had another one there for the party.
“Why was it funny?” my granddaughter asked.
“Why did she make a cake of dog biscuits? That would taste yucky. That could hurt his feelings.”
“How did Burt know there were dog biscuits inside? Why did he tell his friend he was giving it to the old person? Wasn’t that a lie?”
“Why did the lady forget to order the cake? Didn’t she write it on a calendar?”
“What bakery did Dolly go to?”
Well, I thought it was funny. My next story will start with “Once upon a time there were three bears…”
Skin people communication is so complicated. Friends who understand each other can share practical jokes and laugh at the re-telling for years. Let-your-yea-be-yea-and-your-nay-be-nay people will ask, “Why would you give me a dog biscuit cake? Why would you dishonour me this way?”
Nothing is more shaming than being told your attempts at communication with people you care about have been interpreted in the opposite way you intended – especially if they wait for years to tell you that they have only been smiling politely and they have found you offensive all this time.
Sometimes in our attempts to make connection too much is assumed. It’s like we have only a partial picture of this skin person and they are much more complicated than we think because unlike illustrations of fur and feather people in story books they keep bouncing out of the frame.
The moral of the story: Never assume you understand skin people. Never assume skin people understand you.
Do you know what I mean?
Creativity can be messy. The hardest part about the kids growing up and moving away was that I had no one to blame for the mess anymore. (Although one of them makes serious historically authentic bows and arrows and swords and even the most amazing costumes for his little boy, and I’ve seen the aftermath on his kitchen table. The other two are perpetual home renovators. Now that’s messy.) I have ideas for refinishing furniture, sewing, painting (in several media) cooking, writing, photography, song-writing. I pick up materials when they are on sale or available at the thrift shop. I’m kind of addicted to potential.
I really want to make leggings for the grandbaby out of recycled sweaters – wait, the baby is talking in full sentences now. Oh dear.
I finally finished a quilt this week that has been awaiting binding for several months. I took one square apart and reassembled it more than once, but now it’s done.
I’ve got a pretty good song jotted down on manuscript paper sitting on the piano – well, except for the harmony in the bridge for the accompaniment. I wrote the lyrics for that one four years ago. When the notes are all penciled in I need to enter it into the computer. I hope I can remember how. Every updated version of the music program seems to require a complete brain overhaul.
There’s a pile of potential in a trunk under my sewing table, and unframed canvases leaning on the wall. I really should entitle my recipe collection on Pinterest, “As If.”
My friend asked if I intend to live long enough to finish all these projects. Yes. As a matter of fact I do. I figure if you stop planning for the future you might as well not have one. Besides, I’ve made investments in all this raw material.
Some projects take a long time. Some of my favourite things have remained in an unfinished state for longer than I care to admit, but eventually, like the quilt, they are ready to throw on the bed in the guest room or hang on a wall. Sometimes I set things aside when I don’t like the way they are going. I’m not giving up on them, just taking time to re-think them. If you were to look in the storage bin in my closet at something under ponderment it might look like a confused mess. But in my mind I see a dozen different ways it could go. I just need to find the right one for those materials and colours. It’s a process.
Sometimes we look at people who are in process and wonder why they are taking up room in our lives. Nothing ever seems to change. They’re a mess. OK, truth is, so am I. But God sees our potential and he’s not giving up on us. He’s invested too much – and he has all the time in the world.