Archives For Discipleship

The Foot-Washing God

Mark Beuving —  September 11, 2013 — 2 Comments

“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

FootwashingThis passage has fascinated Christians throughout church history. Jesus washing his disciples’ feet has been an enigmatic gesture. We duplicate it from time to time at weddings or in church services. Other times we try to get at the heart of servitude behind it, imitating the spirit of foot-washing.

We all seem to recognize that this is a powerful act that Jesus performed.

Consider what Jesus did here. Foot-washing isn’t what it used to be (nostalgic sigh). At the risk of sounding vain, you could wash my feet without being too repulsed. But I don’t walk consistently long distances over consistently dusty and pack-animal fecesed roads wearing only sandals like everyone in the first century. I can say with confidence that Jesus bent down and washed some nasty feet that day.

And then think about John’s wording. With the realization that “the Father had given all things into his hands,” that “he had come from God,” and that “he was going back to God,” Jesus took the natural next step. He got up, swapped out his clothes for a servant’s towel, and did a servant’s duty.

Jesus wasn’t performing some symbolic gesture to identify himself as the kind of person who serves. No, Jesus actually did what a servant does. He was a servant in that moment. And in that moment, he had the full realization that all power belonged to him. He worked as a servant knowing full well that he came from the universe’s throne and was heading back to it shortly.

And here’s the craziest part of the whole thing for me. Judas was at that dinner party. John carefully explains that this foot-washing scene took place “when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him” (v. 2). Which means that this is a bit different than a husband washing his wife’s feet during a wedding ceremony (are a wife’s feet ever cleaner than on her wedding day?). Jesus (in the moment he knew he had all power) literally became the servant of his most bitter enemy (in the moment Satan was most influencing him).

Dante placed Judas in the worst circle of hell. Jesus washed his feet.

Why did Jesus do this? Here’s his explanation:

“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 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” (vv. 14–16).

Jesus became a servant—actually performing the actually degrading actual work of an actual servant—so that we would learn to do the same. “A servant is not greater than his master.” But how many of us are “greater” than Jesus in this regard? Maybe we would perform a symbolic foot-washing of already clean feet. But no way would we actually do what an actual servant does. No way would we degrade ourselves to help the fully capable churchgoers around us. And NO WAY would we do anything to bless our enemies, especially not a sacrificial act that puts us to shame even as it brings them honor. We’re better than that.

But Jesus wasn’t. And he tells us not to be.

 

Money

The rich young man in Mark 10 approached Jesus with the most important question imaginable: What must I do to inherit eternal life? With so many in our modern world caught up in fleeting pleasures and superficial pursuits, this man’s question is refreshing. This guy knows what’s important in life and he’s looking to the right source to find the answer!

But take a closer look. Perhaps this young man isn’t on the right track after all. He approaches Jesus as the “Good Teacher.” He has a theological question to discuss, and he approaches Jesus as a noted theologian.

Jesus’ first step is to correct the young man’s view of him. Jesus is indeed a teacher, but he is not interested in merely satisfying theological curiosities. Jesus points to his deity (“only God is good”) and in doing so draws attention to his right to make demands of this young man. He lets the man know that he can teach him the truth, but he will also call him to follow. This is more than the rich young man bargained for.

Jesus points out that the answer to the man’s question is simple: “You know the commandments.” What this man needs is not further instruction. He needs to obey. He needs to follow. “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Jesus statement here might seem odd. Is he calling this man to perform a good work and thereby obtain salvation? Of course not. Jesus is cutting directly to the heart. This man is not ready for salvation. One thing is lacking. And it has nothing to do with knowledge. It has everything to do with his allegiance.

Jesus effectively points to this man’s wealth as his god. If you want eternal life, it comes from only one source. So get rid of those things that tie you to the false god, and follow me instead.

The rich young man’s response shows that he was not ready to follow Jesus. He knew he wasn’t ready—that’s why he walked away disheartened and sorrowful. But before we take too harsh a view of this young man, we have to look at the response of Jesus’ disciples.

Jesus explained that it is very difficult for the rich to change their allegiance from their wealth and power to follow instead the humble Jesus. We might be tempted to ask how wealthy a person has to be before he falls into this category. But the disciples understood what Jesus was saying. They were “amazed at his words” and “exceedingly astonished.” They asked Jesus, “Then who can be saved?”

They didn’t ask why the rich couldn’t be saved or which rich people he was referring to. They saw the broad implications: who can be saved? The disciples felt the sting in Jesus’ words.

Our churches are filled with the rich young man. We are all the rich young man. If the one thing this man lacked was an absolute devotion to following a Person rather than intellectual agreement with theological beliefs, then we can all identify with him, regardless of our assets. We all find it impossible to let go our commitment to our goals, commitment to our dreams, commitment to ourselves.

But Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question gives us hope: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

If Jesus were to walk up to you today and tell you, “You lack one thing,” how would he finish that sentence? If Jesus looked beyond your intellectual fascination with Christianity and pointed to that one thing (or those many things) that hold you back from following him—not in intellectual curiosity but in actual obedience—what would he be pointing at? And would you be ready to let go and follow?

 

 

We sometimes view the gospel stories as fairytales. When Jesus called his first disciples, for example, we might picture Jesus floating up to them, with a halo softly glowing over his head, putting his soon-to-be disciples into a religious trance as he says, “Follow me.”

But as Jesus called his disciples, the situations are real and concrete. Peter, James, and John are fishing together—just another day at the office. Levi is sitting at his tax booth collecting (and over-collecting) the tax money his fellow Jews owe to the Roman government. Jesus walked into these everyday situations, feet firmly pressed to the ground, and gave a simple but demanding call: “Follow me.”

Peter, James, and John got a taste of who Jesus was as he directed them into a miraculously burdensome catch of fish. James and John were amazed; Peter actually fell on his knees and confessed his sin on the spot. Jesus offered them a new vocation: they would now fish for people. It seems that Matthew simply saw Jesus walk up to his tax booth and heard Jesus speak two words: “Follow me.” That’s not a lot to go on.

Jesus’ call is incredibly vague in both cases. What would it mean for these fishermen to now fish for men? What would this tax collector be doing when he began following? Remember that the disciples didn’t receive their Great Commission—where Jesus told them to make disciples of all nations—until after he rose from the grave. When Jesus called them, he didn’t give them a job description or a specific task for them to work on other than the vague statement that they would be fishing for people.

This means that following Jesus is more about the Person than the task. These disciples were not rallying behind a movement or a cause. They were intrigued by a Person. They didn’t know with any detail what Jesus was calling them to, but there was something about Jesus that made him worth following, regardless of the specifics. In other words, it seems that these disciples would have followed Jesus no matter what he called them to.

We get frequent reminders in the gospels that the disciples didn’t sign up because they loved Jesus’ mission. They often seem confused when he tells them that he will die and rise again. When Jesus is arrested, they all scatter. Peter is bold enough to follow Jesus to the trial, but his noble quest ends in a threefold denial. Jesus’ game plan could not have been the driving factor for these disciples.

LifeboatBut in the disciples we see men who were willing to follow a Person. Peter, James, and John immediately pulled their boats to the shore for the last time and “left everything and followed him.” Jesus had only to speak two words to Matthew and “leaving everything, he rose and followed him.” Though the disciples were initially confused by Jesus’ mission, when Jesus rose from the dead and told them to bring the gospel into the whole world, they did exactly that, as the book of Acts records.

This leaves us with a question. Are we so intrigued by the Person of Jesus that we would follow him regardless of what he asks us to do? If the story of your calling was listed in the gospels right after Matthew’s, what would it say? If Jesus walked into your place of work and told you to follow, what would you need to set down and leave behind in order to follow? Can you honestly say that you are so committed to Jesus—not as an idea, but as a Person—that you would take up the call to follow? Be honest here: what hesitations would you have in accepting a vague call to follow? What things would you be frightened to give up? And most importantly of all, having heard Jesus’ call to follow, would you take that first step and follow your Master into the unknown?

 

Guilt-Based Evangelism

Mark Beuving —  December 4, 2012 — 1 Comment

PierMy wife and I were sitting on the pier in Pismo Beach when a sweet middle-aged woman slowly approached us. When she got close to us, I could see that her hands were trembling. Her voice was shaky as she gave us a pseudo-greeting: “Do you know Jesus?”

We smiled and said, yes, we do. She explained that her church was putting on some sort of evangelistic deal about Jesus and handed us a flier. We told her that we were only in town for the rest of the day so we wouldn’t be attending.

Then she paused. She seemed to be trying to think of more to say—she sensed her evangelistic task was not done—but nothing came. So we said our awkward goodbyes and she headed down the pier, where she proceeded to talk to a few other ocean-viewers.

I have done the same type of evangelism. I have done it on the same pier, in fact. When I was a college pastor, we used to host street (or pier) evangelism events where we would approach contemplative looking people and try to engage them in a conversation about the gospel.

Ray Comfort Street PreachingThis approach is not my favorite, but the approach really isn’t my concern. I know some very godly people who approach strangers and are sometimes able to engage them in genuine discussions. I don’t want to disparage their ministries in any way.

What concerns me is my attitude. I wasn’t hitting the pier because I was convinced this was the best way to reach people with the gospel. None of this matched my personality or gifting. I am more effective for the gospel through getting to know people and then letting the gospel come out as a part of that person getting to know who I am and what I’m about. And yet I took the salesman approach, not out of conviction, but out of guilt.

As I look back, most of us weren’t a good fit for this type of approach. But we did it because we felt like we would be cowards if we didn’t. You don’t want to look like a coward do you? You don’t want to appear to be ashamed of Jesus, right? So get out there and convert strangers using the physically present equivalent of cold calling. That’s what went through our minds.

But after several years of talking to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door, to say nothing of the regular salespeople I interact with, I’m convinced that the command to make disciples doesn’t need to be fulfilled using only this technique. Generally speaking, people don’t feel like opening up when they’ve been approached by a salesman (for more thoughts on the salesman approach, click here or here).

I have had sudden conversations about deep and controversial things, and I don’t try to avoid those opportunities when they arise. If this is how God is using you to make disciples, then fantastic. But if someone is giving you the impression that you’d better start talking to every stranger you can or else (even if that someone is you), don’t buy it.

Francis Schaeffer was so good at engaging people who would otherwise have been strangers and presenting the gospel to them in a compelling way. But he calls us away from doing this on the basis of guilt:

“As Jesus Christ reminds us, we are to love that individual ‘as ourselves.’ Therefore, to be engaged in personal ‘witness’ as a duty or because our Christian circle exerts a social pressure on us is to miss the whole point. The reason we do it is that the person before us is an image-bearer of God, and he is an individual who is unique in the world.”[1]

Notice that Schaeffer isn’t saying that we can’t share the gospel with someone we don’t know very well. He’s saying that the right time to share is when we truly love the person in front of us.

Of course, we could use that as an excuse. But don’t. Don’t let your lack of love keep you from sharing the gospel. When you find you don’t love someone enough to share, then repent and learn to love that person.

Let’s get beyond the guilt that we feel from others, impose on ourselves, or impose on others. And let’s learn to love. And then let’s boldly share and demonstrate the truth of the gospel in whatever way love leads us to in each moment. That might mean talking to a stranger you’re scared to talk to, but it might not.

 


[1] Francis A Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 2nd Ed. (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1982) 149.

Mentoring Emerging Adults

Chris Hay —  November 27, 2012 — 1 Comment

Here at Eternity Bible College, we are passionate about keeping the local church at the center of what we do. We don’t always do it perfectly, but we keep driving that direction. In light of that, we require every one of our students, including our online students all over the world, to be involved in a local church and have a local church mentor. This mentor is typically an older, wiser person who can guide our students in making decisions, debrief what they are learning, and offer general life counsel.

The importance of this mentoring role cannot be overemphasized. I could spend a lot of time just pointing out the examples of mentoring in Scripture (an equivalent term would be ‘discipleship’) and I may do that in future blog posts. But I want you to consider mentoring in terms of this current culture of young adults, or ‘emerging adults’ as Sharon Daloz Parks calls them in her landmark book Big Questions Worthy Dreams.

9780470903797_cover.inddParks is calling our culture to provide mentoring for emerging adults, the very thing we at Eternity are doing. She makes a significant observation when she states:

“For large numbers of emerging adults, decision-making now occurs through the Internet or at bars, at parties, in cityscapes where emerging adults congregate in typically homogenous, age-determined subcultures. Emerging adults are making major decisions in individual and improvisational ways without the resources of support and stability that a mature and healthy culture could be expected to provide.”

We see this all the time in the high-caliber students that God continues to bring us. They are passionate for God; they are willing to sacrifice much for the sake of advancing the kingdom; but they lack skills in making mature decisions. Thus we want them involved in a local church, which is in fact that ‘mature and healthy culture’ where one can grow, learn, make mistakes, and find mature and godly wisdom.

Now, unfortunately, not all local churches actually do provide a ‘mature and healthy culture’ for emerging adults to grow in. That is often the very reason they seek out their own age groups in bars or on the Internet. Their own age group understands them and accepts them as they are. They tend to listen to their peers and make decisions based on peer counsel. Which is certainly not all bad, for emerging adults often do have amazing wisdom beyond their years. But the input and counsel of the older, wiser man or woman is essential in their proper development.

All too often, the church expects emerging adults to already be mature and grown up, to already have the wisdom of many years of life, and does not offer a safe environment for them to question the things that we ‘older’ believers tend to hold so dear. But emerging adults need to ask hard questions. They need to question existing values, and beliefs, and culture. They need to run their ideas and concerns past older, wiser adults. They need to make decisions with the counsel and wisdom of life experience. And they need to do these things without being judged and criticized. If the church does not provide that stable, safe, accepting environment, then the church will lose this generation. That is a very scary prospect.

So I issue a challenge to local church leaders all over the world: embrace your emerging adults. Mentor them, disciple them, let them ask hard questions, listen to them without fear and without judgment. You could even check out our Resources for Local Church Mentors page on our website for ideas on how to get started. Study the example of Jesus. Make 2 Timothy 2:2 your theme verse. And you might just discover, as you invest in emerging adults, that you are more blessed than they are, and do more growing than they do!