Peter said to him (Jesus), “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” John 13:8 RSV
It’s been a difficult summer.
Early in June, while the skies were still clear and cool, when the mountains gleamed in green invitation, I suffered a bout of my old nemesis: pneumonia. As I struggled to recover, I lost my balance and fell—three times. The worst fall was the second one when I was trying to pull weeds in my garden and fell over backwards, ending up with a bloody lump on my head and a swollen, injured knee.
One of my sons said, only half in jest, “Mom, your goal this weekend is not to end up in the emergency room.”
Gone were my happy plans for trips and camping. And gone, too, was another chunk of my independence.
I, who spent nearly 40 years hiking and skiing, now have to walk with a cane and be very careful about where and how I put my feet. I, who once spent summers maintaining a big vegetable garden, now have to stop myself from pulling pesky thistles from the lawn edge. I, who helped others, now have to ask for and accept help, myself. I’m learning to say the hardest words, “Yes, thank you.” Yes, I need help weeding my garden. Yes, I’ll lean on your strength when I go down stairs or step off a curb. Yes, I’ll let the folks in the store help me carry out packages.
I confess that, in my heart of hearts, I thought somehow I would waltz off into eternity without dealing with the problems and limitations of old age, that they would happen to everyone else but me!
Admitting those limitations, receiving the service of others, I find, is downright humbling. I have new understanding of Peter’s response to Jesus’ foot washing at the Last Supper. The one he called Lord and Teacher was about to kneel at his stinky feet with a basin and a towel. It was more humility than Peter could bear.
But it was necessary for him, as it is for us all. Jesus knew that.
Humbling teaches us we’re not in control, we’re not the center of the universe, we need other people and the help God provides through them. Humbling softens our hearts, gives us compassion. We learn what every child of God does, sooner or later:
God does His best work when we come to the end of ourselves.
LORD JESUS: I bow before You. Help me to humble myself, to accept my limitations, to realize “…apart from (you), (I) can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Amen.
First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” August 8, 2021.
Be careful—watch out for attacks from Satan, your great enemy. He prowls around like a hungry, roaring lion, looking for some victim to tear apart. Stand firm when he attacks. Trust the Lord…1 Peter 5:8, 9 The Living Bible
Where were you twenty years ago? Like my parents’ generation and Pearl Harbor, everyone above the age of babyhood can say exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the attacks of 9/11.
Me—I was lacing up my hiking boots, preparing for the best day of the week. Tuesday was my hiking/skiing day; that September morning was sweet as fresh-pressed cider. I flipped on the radio to get the weather forecast, gasped in horror, but somehow continued to pack my backpack, meet my friend in the usual parking lot.
We climbed into the Bridgers with the aspens fluttering gold around us, the sun warm on our faces, but our feet felt as leaden as our hearts. When a solitary jet zoomed over our heads (on the way to West Yellowstone to pick up FEMA officials), we headed back to the trailhead.
I spent the rest of the day as we all did: glued to the television. But the repeated picture of that plane flying into the North Tower, raining death and chaos on the city of my birth, the city where a branch of my father’s family has lived since 1657, became too much for me. I’d been a long time gone from there but it broke my heart.
Now it’s happened again. The same evil forces have taken over Afghanistan. People innocuous as the folks going to work or climbing on airplanes that fateful Tuesday morning are suffering. American allies, women, children, Christians—members of one of the fastest-growing churches in the world. Reports tell of women rounded up and sold into slavery, Christians hiding in cellars and caves, people shot for having a Bible app on their phones.
Again it breaks my heart.
Evil may change location, methods, victims, but it is still evil. The roaring lion Simon Peter saw still prowls, bringing death and chaos to innocent lives.
Peter called the persecuted church of his day to be aware of evil, to stand with God’s people against the enemy of our souls. I hear his call echo across the centuries.
I must speak up for the oppressed people of Afghanistan—people far away but close in spirit. I must pray for them, help them however I can.
As Luther said, I can do no other.
FATHER GOD: Please help, protect, guide Your people in Afghanistan. Give them the strength and wisdom. I am trusting You. Show me how to help. Amen.
To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” September 12, 2021.
I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. …God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone. … Look! I am making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.” Revelations 21:3-5 The Message
I’ve been to many weddings over the years—big ones, small ones, fancy and simple, casual and formal. The best ones are those which radiate a spirit of love, promise and hope, moments of joy so rich and pure you want to gather them in your heart like a treasure and hold them forever.
I saw such a moment on “The Chosen” in Season 1’s episode called “The Wedding Gift” about the wedding at Cana. Here is the familiar tale: running out of wine, Mother Mary’s plea, Jesus’ turning the jars of water into the best wine of all. The show embroiders the bare bones of John’s story (John 2) with fanciful but delightful background. The mother of the groom is Mother Mary’s best friend; the bride’s family is a little snobby and hard to please; the caterers in the middle of the drama become Jesus’ followers.
I loved it first because we see Jesus having fun—something rarely shown elsewhere. He jokes; he laughs; he drinks wine; he plays with the children. Then at the end of the wedding, everyone breaks into a joyous dance, whirling around and around, arms on each other’s shoulders, shouting and laughing in sheer joy. My eyes filled with tears; I’ve known a precious wedding moment like that.
But when I saw the dance again, I realized I was seeing a glimpse of the joy that awaits us in the Kingdom, when we gather with Jesus and everyone we love in the celebration of His final victory over death and evil. The wedding feast of the Lamb! I wept with longing.
“…not only death (will be swept away),” writes John Eldredge in All Things New, “but every other form of sorrow, assault, illness and harm we’ve ever known. You will be completely renewed—body, soul and spirit.” We will live at our best in the earth at her best, in the Eden God intended before the fall.
The joy of that Wedding Feast will be ours forever. That’s our precious promise.
You are invited. Me, too.
All we have to say is, “Yes.”
DEAR JESUS: How can I thank You for Your glorious gift? I bow in awe. Amen.
To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” June 27, 2021.
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree…” John 1:48 NIV
I love “The Chosen,” the television series about the ministry of Jesus and the calling of His first disciples. Not only does it put flesh and bones on those familiar Bible characters but it gives me wonderful moments where their stories intersect my own.
When we meet him, he is a young Jewish architect whose building collapses, taking with it his dream of building beautiful synagogues for God. Broken-hearted, in despair, he sits under the fig tree, all alone, sobbing, “Do not turn Your face from me in the day of my distress! Where are You, God? I did this for You! Do You see me?”
So when Jesus tells Nathanael He saw him under the fig tree, it has deep significance.
“When you were at your lowest moment and you were alone,” Jesus says. “I did not turn away my face from you.”
No wonder Nathanael gasps, “You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!” He knows God saw him, after all. God had a reason…and a Plan.
Then I heard that Whisper in my heart: “Your lowest moment–remember Las Vegas?”
I should never have gone to that convention. I was sick when we got on the plane but I’d prayed and I thought I’d heard the “Go ahead” from God. It was only a cold; I’d get over it.
It wasn’t and I didn’t.
I got sicker and sicker until I ended up in the uncaring emergency room of a strange hospital far from home. After eight hours in shivering cold, I was diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted. I sent my husband back to the convention, thinking they would take care of me.
They didn’t. I was fed an uneatable dinner, ignored all evening. I crawled out, tubes dangling, to remake my own bed when no one made rounds at bedtime.
The night which followed was the longest of my life. Sleepless in snarled sheets, I cried, like Nathanael, “Why, God? I trusted You! I thought You said, ‘Go.’ Where are You?” I never felt so alone.
I got home and recovered. The hospital administrator even called me to apologize. But the experience lay festering like an unhealed scar in my heart. And God knew it.
“Like Nathanael, you weren’t alone,” whispered the Spirit. “I want you to know you are NEVER alone, child…not then, not now. Whatever is happening and however you feel–
I am the God Who sees you.”
He saw Nathanael. He saw me. And He sees you, too.
FATHER GOD: How awesome You are. Amen.
To be published Sunday, May 23, 2021 in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle.”
Jesus said to them, “…She has done a beautiful thing to me. … When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Matthew 26:12, 13
It’s called the Anointing.
All four gospels tell some version of this dramatic story (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-11)—though Luke’s is so different that some scholars think there might have been a second incident.
Just before Passover and Holy Week, Jesus and his disciples are having a special dinner in the village of Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem. A devout woman (named only in John) comes into the room. As Jesus reclines at the table, she washes His feet with her tears and anoints Him with rare and expensive perfume. Someone in the group (named as the disciples, some of the guests or Judas Iscariot) objects. Jesus rebukes them, saying she is honoring Him by preparing His body for His upcoming death.
By identifying her twice (11:2, 12:3), John makes sure we know the woman is Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, the one who famously sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha served (Luke 10:39.) This family was dear to Jesus; He had just raised Mary’s brother Lazarus from death. His eating with them, their desire to honor Him and her deep devotion make perfect sense. (He might even have been staying with the family.)
Mary’s extravagant gesture was not spontaneous. One does not keep a vial of perfume worth a years’ wages sitting around, “just in case.” Of all of them, she knew and prepared for what was coming. From the disciples’ reaction, they didn’t—even though Jesus had told them plainly and often that He would suffer and die. Most likely, they were still clinging to the idea that the Messiah would be a military leader who would save them from the Romans. But Mary had been sitting at Jesus’ feet and paying attention. She knew Him; she loved Him; she believed in Him. Her faith in Him was as strong as her devotion.
That’s what Jesus commended.
We are in the season of Lent, a time in which it’s common to do something or “give up” something. But what if Lent is not so much about behaving better but believing better, about giving God time and space to strengthen our faith? What if we just “sit at His feet” and listen to Him?
As Mary did.
DEAR JESUS: Increase my faith. Help me to know You, love You, believe in You and honor You. Amen.
First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” March 7, 2021.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV
What was your favorite Christmas present? And why?
I’ll bet it was something from your childhood. Mine was.
My friend, Carol, from up the street, had two rubber baby dolls bought at the Worlds’ Fair in New York before the war. Now it was 1946, after the war, and rubber was scarce. I didn’t know that. I just wanted two rubber baby dolls, too, and campaigned for them with all the energy and persistence of my six-year-old heart.
Imagine my joy to see those dolls under the tree Christmas morning, with a dresser full of beautiful clothes sewed by my grandmother. I especially remember little pink coats trimmed with lace and bonnets to match…
My mother told me later she scoured New York City to find them. And I am awed by my grandmother’s work—especially as I recall she never used sewing patterns, but made clothing “from scratch,” as she put it.
It was the time and effort, the love those women invested, that made their gift so special.
When my parents sold my childhood house, I gave the dolls and their clothes to the young daughter of a good friend. They probably wore out and ended up in a landfill somewhere. Sad, but that’s the way of all gifts…
Except the One God gave us at Christmas—the best gift of all, a gift which can’t be lost, stolen or broken, a gift which never wears out or goes out of style. Circumstances can’t change it. Time can’t fade it. The darker the world becomes, the brighter His Gift shines. Through the amazing gift of His Son, God promises us eternal, perfect life, the world as He intended. Eden. Forever. And “God is not a man that He should lie.” (Numbers 23:19)
John the Visionary described it: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. …He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. … Behold! I am making everything new.’” Revelation 21:3-5
God gave us this special Gift for the same reason we give special gifts: love. Love which began in a manger…and ended on a cross.
“And the greatest gift we can give our great God,” writes Ann Voskamp, “is to let His love made us glad.”
FATHER GOD: Let me rejoice in Your wonderful, amazing Gift, now and always! Amen.
First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” December 20, 2020.