I must confess that I am a Dallas Cowboys fan. Some of you may mock me, others pity me, but deep down many of you sympathize with me because you suffer from the same affliction. Being a fan of the Cowboys is like riding a never ending roller coaster. There are times of great joy and excitement followed by some slow mundane and even boring stretches of time. There are times of fear and eye covering moments as well as moments you just feel sick. If drama and continuous change is what you want, then this is the sports team for you. I do not know the reason, but I am a committed fan despite many who have given up and question my sanity.
As I look back at my relationship with the Cowboys I realize that the most frustrating times were when my expectations of the team did not match with reality. There have been times, such as this past year, that the Cowboys have performed well below what they were capable; however, many times they performed as they should have, but caused me frustration because my expectations were too high and unrealistic. I have learned that in order to continue being a Cowboy’s fan I must remove all expectations and just enjoy the roller coaster ride.
We tend to develop preconceived ideas regarding just about everything, including people, movies, politics, countries, religions, churches, denominations and the list continues on and on. Unfortunately, we are usually making these judgments on misunderstandings or our own biases. When we allow our expectations to guide the way we think and act we are no longer living in reality, but rather our own perceived reality created by our own limited expectations. When we live this way we are walking a tight rope and the wind is beginning to blow. As soon as reality does not match our own preconceived expectations, life may seem out of control.
This is the situation the Disciples find themselves in when Jesus begins to talk about his betrayal and death in John 13:31-14:14. Imagine how excited the Disciples must have been. They had been following Jesus for around three years and had come to the realization that this man was the Messiah. The march into Jerusalem earlier in the week must have reinforced the notion that now was the time. The Messiah was going to take his rightful place as king. As they gathered with Jesus, the Disciples were probably expecting Jesus to lay out his strategy for retaking the city from Roman control and then reclaiming the twelve tribes of Israel as his own. The nation would be strong again, united under God. These were expectations built on tradition and misunderstanding. Reality was going to be much different.
Instead of a master battle plan, Jesus begins talking about his own death and betrayal. There is no doubt the Disciples are confused and concerned. Had they given up three years of their life only to see the end marked with death? Jesus was falling short of their expectations and they were quickly trying to make sense of their unraveling hopes that had been based on Jesus being the Messiah.
Peter bravely states his undying loyalty to Jesus. Peter loved Jesus with passion, but Jesus knew that Peter’s expectations would be destroyed and even the brave and loyal Peter would deny Jesus. Peter was not ready for his Messiah to die and when faced with that reality Peter found his life spinning out of control and his natural thought was self preservation which led to denying the one he loved.
Thomas asks Jesus to clarify where he is going, because Thomas wants to go with him. Thomas is looking for the battle plan and desires to play his part. Jesus’ answer only brings more confusion because the preconceived expectations of the Disciples are being shattered. Thomas’ ideas about Jesus are going to be destroyed and he begins to doubt everything he had believed. Philip pleads with Jesus to offer them some hope and show them that he truly is from God. After all the signs Jesus had performed Philip needed another sign as soon as his expectations started to fade.
I can nearly hear the tone of Jesus’ voice and see his compassionate gaze as he senses the discomfort of the Disciples. Jesus knows the expectations of the Disciples are unraveling and he knows the words he speaks may not bring comfort or strength just yet; however, the words he gives are powerful and will replace the unrealistic expectations of the Disciples with truth that can never be shaken.
Jesus promises he has prepared a place for us. Our future is secure in him. Jesus states he is the way, the truth and the life. Through him we find the way to live our lives for God and enter into a relationship with our Heavenly Father. Jesus also reminds us that he is God and that through him we will be strengthened and enabled to live our lives for God. Jesus’ words replace the shaky ground of our own expectations and give us a firm foundation of truth.
We all need to be cautious of letting our expectations of God cloud our relationship with him. When we feel that God is not following our plan we need to go back to his words of truth. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me” (14:1). “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me” (14:3) “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6). These are words we can hold onto when our expectations of life are crashing around us.
When have your expectations of God been based on tradition or misunderstanding like the Disciples? Have unrealistic expectations of God hurt your relationship with him? In times of confusion and trouble do you turn to the truth God has given us or do you rely on your own understanding? Will you allow God to strip away your expectations and replace them with the truth of his love, hope, and strength?
I usually do not spend much time thinking about feet, but when I do I must confess that the words “No Trespassing” come to mind. I am not sure when or how I developed such an aversion to having someone mess with my feet. During my childhood, my Dad would wrestle with my brother, two sisters, and myself. Perhaps holding us down and tickling our feet left a permanent mark deep within me. Or maybe I cannot shake the thought of the many times one of my three precious girls would come and tickle my feet while I was peacefully resting in the permanent indention of my recliner. The thought of their little eyes peering over the foot rest brings warmth to my heart and yet confirms the reality of how much I dislike people messing with my feet.
I have always assumed that because I do not want someone touching my feet all others felt the same way. I was mistaken. During each of my wife’s pregnancies, I was asked, begged, or coerced, depending on your perspective, into massaging her feet. I must admit this was not easy for me. I understand that she was uncomfortable and miserable, but can I just go get the stereotypical pickles and ice cream at 1 AM? After weighing my options, I decided that a few foot massages were probably deserved under the circumstances brought about by pregnancy. Ultimately, my love for my wife overcame my phobia of feet and made getting out of my comfort zone bearable and even rewarding. I knew that this simple act helped make the pregnancy more endurable for my wife. Even in this simple act of massaging my wife’s feet I realized that there was nothing I would not do for her because of the love I have for her and she has for me.
All of this talk about feet leads us into one of the most powerful acts Jesus performed, and there was not one miracle to be found. John 13:1-17 is the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. This is the first story written by John in the second major part of the Gospel. The first major section of the Gospel focused on the signs Jesus performed which showed that he is the light shining in the darkness. This second section begins to show how he is also the light who will overcome the darkness. Jesus is clearly focused on the cross and the rest of the Gospel of John builds to the culmination of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
These next few chapters of John’s Gospel are powerful and amazing, but the section begins with the simple yet profound act of washing feet. Imagine what the disciples must have been thinking when Jesus, the Messiah, takes off his outer clothes, wraps a towel around his waist and proceeds to reach for their rough, dirty and smelly feet. Feet stained with the dirt from the roads of Jerusalem Jesus and the disciples had recently walked as Jesus entered the city with cries of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is the king of Israel.” Now this king, this Messiah is bowing before them and washing their feet. As Jesus scrubs and cleans the disciples’ feet his hands are stained with the dirt and grime that have built up after the miles of walking. The “King of kings,” “Lord of lords,” humbling himself to take up the work of a common slave. The silence in the room must have been deafening, only broken by the splashing of water. Surely the disciples simply sat in awe of what they were experiencing and witnessing. Jesus, washing each of their feet, even the feet of the one who would commit the ultimate act of betrayal.
When Jesus finishes, he no doubt has the complete attention of the disciples, and he says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (13:14-15). This last week of Jesus’ life was not just about defeating sin and death. Jesus is showing the disciples and us what living a life in Christ is all about. Jesus is demonstrating the true nature what following him is all about; serving. We are called to serve God which means we serve others. Jesus does not simply talk about serving or give some spiritual, mystical definition of what serving means. Jesus physically serves through the washing of feet and ultimately through giving his body to be crucified. If this is the example the Savior of the world gives to use, what does that mean for us?
As Christians we are called to serve as Jesus served. This means we get our hands dirty. Serving as Christ served will take us to places where we are out of our comfort zone. We should not settle for talking about serving or simply applauding when others serve, we need to grab a rag and start washing feet. This may mean going to people overlooked by society and offering them the love of Christ through serving them. One thing is clear, when we serve as Jesus served our hands will get dirty.
Our first thought may be that we can never serve as Christ, but when we open our hearts to the amazing love Christ has shown us through his mighty acts of service we find ourselves compelled to respond. God’s gracious love motivates and strengthens us to live the life of a servant. Are you getting your hands dirty for God?
While going to college at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene Texas, I became very familiar with a stretch of road on Hwy 277. About twenty miles Southwest of Abilene the road changes from the stereotypical straight, flat, and open terrain of West Texas into a curving, undulating and tight stretch of road. Granted the use of the term ‘mountains’ cannot be used here, but when compared to the flat terrain of the surrounding area these hills come as quite a surprise to the unsuspecting driver. No longer will your cruise and lane assist feature in your car keep you on the road. You actually have to grab the wheel and move your foot back and forth from the gas to the break in order to navigate through the hills of the Callahan Divide.
As youth pastor back in my hometown of Sterling City, I drove this stretch of road nearly every week for three years. Obviously, I became very familiar with the curves and undulations of this road. One night as I entered this stretch of road, there was an unexpected guest that joined me; fog. I have driven in fog many times, but this time was different. The visibility was extremely limited, the lights from my vehicle were only marginally better than using nothing at all, and the curves and undulations I had become so familiar with were now hidden; but, no less real. The curves I had learned to manage during normal conditions were now elevated to a much higher degree of risk. The addition of the fog made me acutely aware of the challenges the road always posed.
In order to portray the façade of being manly, I could tell you I just plowed into the fog with little care or worry: however, this would be a blatant lie. I was scared. The fog was so thick I knew I could end up off the road, in the oncoming lane or being rear-ended without even knowing it. No matter what, I was going to face danger. I can remember trying to recall the curves of the road that had been ingrained in my memory through repetition. I began thinking about this stretch of road in a completely different way than normal; I couldn’t just casually navigate through the hills as usual, I needed to focus. The fog was challenge on its own, but the fog also accentuated the danger that was always there.
I can’t help but think that life is similar to this situation. Even in the best of circumstances, life always presents us with challenges and danger just like that stretch of road on Hwy 277. For the most part, we learn to handle the common curves life has for us; however, sometimes the fog hits. In times like these we are reminded of the unpredictability of life and how little control we really have. Life can change just as quickly as the fog roles in and out. Around nine months ago our family encountered a fog of life; cancer. When my Mom was diagnosed with cancer we all experienced the shock and emotional weight that all feel when a family member is diagnosed with cancer. It was amazing how this added emotional weight permeated all aspects of life. The fog of cancer brings into focus how difficult navigating the road of life can be.
Jesus’ disciples must have experienced a powerful fog when Jesus was sealed up in that tomb. Suddenly, their lives were torn apart. Everything they believed to be true and gave them hope for the future was sealed up with Jesus. How would they be able to navigate life without the one who gave them purpose and hope? Those few days must have been so dark for the followers of Jesus. They had to feel completely helpless. While the disciples were still engulfed in the fog life had covered them with, something began to stir within the tomb. As the stone was pushed aside, the radiant glory of the risen Christ began to fill the earth like the sunrays at daybreak. Hope, love, and joy entered into the world in a new and powerful way. The only thing that would help the disciples navigate through the fog had happened. Their lives would not get easier, but now they had a new light to live by.
You will find yourself in the fog of life at some point. Maybe you are there now. I want to encourage you remember the truth of the resurrection. The new life we have in Christ does not mean the fog will never come, but that when it does we have a navigator; one who peels back the fog and allows us to experience hope and joy. The outcome in this life is not certain, but the reality of Christ’s presence is unquestionable.
Right now our family is celebrating the fact that my Mom’s cancer is in complete remission. The road has not been easy and the outcome was not always certain; however, the presence of Christ was always certain. Ultimately, we were able to find hope and joy in the midst of the fog. And if the fog returns we know our navigator has never left us.
In order to make it through the fog filled hills outside of Abilene I had to slow down and rely on what I knew about that stretch of road. I had to focus. If you are in the fog, slow down and focus. Focus on the one who is with you always. The one who is there to rejoice with you and mourn with you. No fog is too thick to blot out the power of our risen Christ.