Thinking Through Scripture

"but the word of the Lord remains forever"

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #26. Washing Feet and Digging Deeper

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Washing Feet:

So, if you’ve been reading these reflections up to this point, it may be starting to sound like a broken record, but when reading the Gospel of John you must look for meanings beneath the surface. There are things that physically literally happen, but there are also hints and clues towards deeper layers of meaning which the reader is supposed to pursue. Jesus literally got on His hands and knees, literally took water and a towel, and literally washed 24 feet. This took time and effort. It was done with care. It was an act of service that He wanted His disciples to experience and imitate.

I’ve seen a preacher scrub vomit out of the church carpet where a little girl got sick. I’ve seen Christians open up their home on Thanksgiving to the homeless for a warm family meal. I’ve seen disciples giving rides to the elderly, repainting widow’s houses, raking leaves, changing light bulbs, fixing appliances, repairing cars, holding hands, praying, and literally washing those who could not wash themselves. I’ve seen the message of foot-washing lived out in the daily life of the church. While it’s possible to emphasize the failings and misconduct of the church, it’s essential to remember the good. The kind. The servants. The foot-washers (1 Timothy 5:10).

That message and challenge must be seen in John 13. It must be lived out. But at the same time, is it possible that there is more going on here also? Is it possible that there is more than just a message of service? More than a literal foot washing? Perhaps a message about a different kind of washing that Jesus provides?

Symbolic Language and Foot-Washing:

Read closely this exchange between Jesus and Peter:

“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean’” (John 13:6-11).

There are a few clues alerting the careful reader that something deeper is happening here. Notice first, when Jesus says, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” What does this mean? There is something missed in the moment, that will be recognized when looking backwards. You know the expression, “Hindsight is always 20/20”? Sometimes removing yourself by time from an event can help you see the event much more clearly. After the cross perhaps the disciples will look back on the foot-washing and see it in a whole new way.

John sometimes lets the reader know about events that were not fully understood until some later point in time. Remember Jesus cleansing the temple? In this action Jesus profoundly links His body to the temple, but it’s a connection that no one seems to understand. Even the disciples. However John, the narrator, lets the reader know, “when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22). Only by looking backwards were they able to understand and believe.

So when Jesus tells Peter “afterwards you will understand”, the reader should begin looking for something that might be missed during the foot-washing, but that will come to light later.

A Share with Jesus:

The second phrase we should notice is, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” The word “share” means “a part” of something bigger. It is used of parts of clothing, parts of the body, parts of a land, etc. In order to have a part, or a share, with Jesus, He must wash you. Peter, always one to go overboard (once literally), then jumps to the conclusion that the foot-washing is not enough! He tells Jesus to wash his hands and head also! He definitely wants be have a share with Jesus. But Jesus reassures him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”

Do you believe that? Literally? If you wash only your feet, will you be completely clean? Try that for a few weeks and see how the rest of you smells. Physically, literally, it won’t work. The tone is changing here from literal water and washing, to something else. Some sort of washing that makes you completely clean and gives you a part with Jesus.

Hearing this, and thinking physically (as is common in John) Peter misunderstands and demands more than the washing Jesus provides, but is told that what Jesus does is sufficient to make you completely clean. Just sit back and let Jesus lead. Let Him administer the washing. See what He does. At the end, rest assured, you will be completely clean.

Not All of You are Clean?

Notice third, the phrase, “but not all of you [are clean].” This is about Judas (verse 11). This is the dead giveaway that we are no longer talking about literal foot-washing. Jesus didn’t skip Judas’ feet, or do a sloppy job, or use dirty water. Judas’ feet were as clean as everyone else’s. But His heart wasn’t. Jesus masterfully transforms the conversation into a discussion about cleansing of sin, of impurity, a washing that gives you a share with Him. Judas received a washing, but walked away without ever really being clean.

Water is almost always used symbolically in the Gospel of John (see Reflection #19). It is seemingly linked with baptism (John 3:5, 22-23), eternal life (John 4:14), the Holy Spirit (John 3:5, 7:37-39), sight (John 9:7), and the blood of Jesus (John 19:34). I think the foot-washing is no different. The text hints towards a deeper and symbolic washing provided by Jesus; a washing that makes one completely clean and gives you a share with Jesus. Perhaps while reading this, it’s appropriate not only to ask ourselves questions about humility and service to others, but also about baptism, the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, and eternal life. Have you been washed by Jesus?


52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #25. Washing Judas’ Feet

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Judas Was There…

The story of Jesus washing His disciple’s feet is a magnificent look into Jesus’ whole worldview. It is a tremendous picture of what His ministry was all about. It’s a glimpse of the humility and love that ultimate takes Him to the cross. It’s a call and challenge to each of His disciples to lay down pride, status, and social hierarchies and submissively and humbly love. Love with kindness. Love with service. Love with action. “Love one another, even as I have love you” (John 13:34).

But even more than that, it is a call to love and serve all. Even the sinful. The greedy. The unlovable. Those who have mistreated you. Or will mistreat you. Love even your enemies. Love and expect nothing in return. Serve without repayment. Be kind no matter what. That’s what the cross is all about: Giving up everything for sinful humanity. Most of whom will not really care. Most of whom will not return that sacrificial love. Foot-washing and the cross closely mirror each other.

That’s why Jesus washed Judas’ feet. He was living out His own radical teaching. Read and really meditate on these words:

“I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27-36).

Judas was there. Judas had his feet washed just like everybody else. He wasn’t skipped. He wasn’t rejected. Even though he would not respond with kindness. It would not soften his heart. He wouldn’t change his ways. Jesus still loved and served him. Because that’s what Jesus does. That who Jesus is. And that’s our challenge to imitate.

Washing Judas’ Feet:

The more I read the John 13 the more I see that Judas’ feet are actually a focal point of the whole story. Notice how it begins: “During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon to betray Him, Jesus…got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:2-5). The whole story begins by focusing everyone’s attention on the unclean heart of Judas.

Now, notice how this story ends: “When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, that one of you will betray Me…After the morsel, Satan then entered into [Judas]…So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night” (John 13:21-30).

Immediately following the foot-washing, that’s when Judas leaves the meal to go betray Jesus. It is one of his very last interactions with Jesus. It’s sandwiched between Satan putting the sin into Judas’ heart, then Satan actually entering fully into him. But not only is Judas at the beginning and end of the story, he’s right in the middle of it.

When Jesus is washing their feet, Peter shouts, “Never shall You wash my feet!” (John 13:8). Jesus’ response is remarkable: “‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me…He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you’” (John 13:8-10). Right in the middle, Jesus makes a brief comment about Judas, then continues washing their feet.

Judas is at the beginning, middle, and end of the foot-washing narrative. That probably means we should reflect on him as we read.

Judas Betrayed Jesus with Clean Feet:

Jesus’ kind act of service did nothing to stop Judas. It did not change his heart or mind. In fact, things escalated from there almost immediately. It’s wonderful to believe that kindness can change people. Because it can. It has and does. But not always. Judas’ feet were cleansed, but his heart wasn’t. Judas betrayed Jesus with clean feet and a filthy heart.

Earlier in John, this reality is foreshadowed in another foot-washing scene. Mary washes Jesus’ feet with an expensive perfume, but Judas objects, saying that she should have sold the perfume to provide for the poor. Then John gives the reader a little insider information: “He said this not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it” (John 12:3-6). These two foot-washing scenes fill in a lot of details about Judas, and none of them are good.

While reading John 13 it’s important to notice the comparison taking place. On the one hand you have Judas.  He has been following Jesus for years now. Has seen incredible things. Has seen the hungry fed, the blind given sight, the lame healed, and the poor blessed. He has seen the signs, but has rejected their significance. He may like Jesus, but he loves money more. And he serves himself above all. On the other hand you have Jesus, the polar opposite. He was humble, selfless, and generous. He freely took upon Himself the job of a slave. He cared more about His disciples’ feet than His own pride, or status, or self-importance. Money, power, or fame didn’t motivate Jesus. Self-giving love. That’s what Jesus was. That’s what Judas rejected. And that’s what we are all challenged to embody.

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #24. Let God Wash Your Feet.

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How to See God:

As we noted in Reflection #23, the Gospel of John teaches an Incarnation Christology, meaning that Jesus existed as God prior to becoming human flesh. The Logos was with God and was God and created all things with God. So anything you see Jesus doing is teaching you about God. One of the problems we sometimes run into is that we have concepts of who God is and we try to fit Jesus into those concepts. I think a better approach, is to forget everything you thought you knew about God. Then look at Jesus. Learn God from Jesus and fit everything else into that.

“No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).

This passage is saying that we haven’t seen God, so if you want to get to know Him, if you want to see Him, look at Jesus. He has “explained”, or literally exegeted Him. This is why, when Philip tells Jesus, “Show us the Father, and it is enough.” Jesus responds by saying, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me…Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.” (John 14:8-11). Or, consider the unfathomable claim, “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30).

If your view of God is inconsistent with the life and teachings of Jesus, then change your view of God. If you read passages that depict God differently than Jesus, then change the way you read those passages. A remarkable aspect of early Christianity is that Jesus entirely changed the way the church viewed God and the way they read the Old Testament. Paul says Christians can now read with “unveiled faces” (2 Corinthians 3:14-16). Luke says that Jesus opened His disciples’ minds to “understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45, 27). John, after Jesus cleansed the temple and quoted Psalm 69:9, says it wasn’t until after the resurrection that “His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22).

So when you see Jesus doing something, you’re learning about God. You’re watching God. When Jesus washes feet, you’re learning that God washes feet.

Why Wash Feet?

In 1st century Palestine foot-washing had a very practical and beneficial purpose. In fact, it still does in many parts of the world. It’s both an ancient and modern blessing. All the way back in Genesis 18, Abraham had 3 visitors (one of whom is the Lord) and made sure they got rest, food, and foot-washings (Genesis 18:4-5). Walking on old dusty roads in worn-down sandals, unable to hop in a car, sit in a cushioned seat, or wear cotton socks and Sonoma shoes (that’s my brand!), there was little more pleasurable or comforting than to arrive at your destination, have a young female servant come over, remove your sandals, take a bowl of clean water and a towel, and rub your feet clean.

Why wash feet? Because it was a kindness of real practical value. What about today? It can still be a kindness of real and practical value. But it is also a very powerful symbol. A symbol that reinforces the mindset of servitude that we are to have towards one another. When the Pope washes feet at a juvenile detention center outside of Rome, it illustrates something important. In the same way that a sermon (hopefully) encourages you to take a message and go apply it, foot-washing can be a call to go out and find ways to serve.

But when reading the passage, there are two very important reasons that stand out as to why Jesus did this. The whole passage begins by saying “Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1).  Jesus washed His disciples feet, quite simply, because He loved them. We know He loved “the beloved disciple.” But He also loved Thomas, and Andrew, and Philip. He loved Peter who this same chapter He predicts will deny Him (John 13:38). He loved Judas who, as we will observe in more depth in the next reflection, would get up immediately following the foot-washing and betray Him. Jesus loved them, every unworthy one of them, and served them.

The second reason is stated right after the foot-washing, when Jesus is explaining Himself. “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:14-15). The disciples are going to have some important roles in the church. People will know them. They will have authority and respect. They need to remember what it is all about. Ministry is not, ever, about becoming famous, getting praise, or feeling important.  It is about foot-washing. It is about kindness and service and following the example of Jesus.

Let God Wash Your Feet:

Putting all of this together, remember that seeing Jesus is how we see God. Jesus’ love led Him to humbly take on the role of a servant, usually a low ranking servant, usually a female servant, and benevolently wash the feet of His disciples. That’s the kind of God who loves us. That’s the kind of God we serve. As we imitate Jesus, and follow His example, we’re showing that God to the world.

When Jesus started to wash Peter’s feet, Peter protested, “Never shall You wash My feet!” (John 13:8). Peter had a social hierarchical structure in mind. The Lord shall never be a servant to me! This may have been humility on Peter’s part. But it was misguided. So often we want to reject an offer of kindness. We feel uncomfortable. Unworthy. But that’s the wrong response. Accept people’s kindness, and then give it to others. Instead of rejecting or negating kindness, multiply it! Accept the love of God given to you, and give it to others also! Let God wash your feet, then go wash somebody else’s.

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #23. Incarnation and Foot washing

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Sacrificial Love:

Nobody likes a demotion. No player likes to lose their starting status. People don’t generally like to go backwards. To make less money. To get less than they deserve. To work hard for nothing. But sometimes people do. They may be underappreciated. They may work hard and be under-performing. Or maybe, they chose to do less, make less, or “be” less at some job, because their priorities are changing.

I know of people who have willingly taken demotions, taken less pay, taken fewer responsibilities, and worked fewer hours so that they could do more of what they care about: Spend time with their family, travel, read, or just simply enjoy life more. They stop living to work, and begin working to live.

So why mention all of that? Because taking a “demotion” is something virtually nobody wants. Unless they want something else more. If you are going to willingly get less than you deserve, there better be a good reason. It better be for something important. Jesus willingly took less than He deserved. In a way that none of us will ever be able to understand or grasp, He took less than He deserved.  But He didn’t do it for nothing. There was something very important to Him that motivated Him to take less than He deserved…


Love motivated Jesus. A level and depth of love that the world has never seen before. After washing the disciple’s feet, Jesus says, “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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). This “new commandment” is to love just as Jesus loved. An active, sacrificial, service-oriented love. A love that can change the world.

Incarnation VS Exaltation:

“Christology” is a theological term which describes a field of study focused on the origin, nature, and personhood of Jesus. Christology addresses topics like the Hypostatic Union (the nature of the union of Jesus’ humanity and divinity), Aryanism, Adoptionism, etc. In New Testament scholarship various books are described as having a “High Christology” if Jesus is pictured as divine and equal to God (like John), or as having a “Low Christology” if Jesus is pictured as merely human (Mark and Luke are often said to have a “low Christology.” Richard Hays’ books Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels and Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness present an excellent case that all four Gospels picture Jesus as divine and the embodiment of the God of Israel).

Adoptionism is a form of “Exaltation Christology” which advocates that Jesus was born simply as a man, but was “adopted” to become divine (usually at His baptism or resurrection). He was “Exalted” to divinity. This is the idea of promotion. Jesus was faithful to God and was promoted because of it. The Gospel of John does not teach an “Exaltation Christology.” John teaches quite the opposite, an “Incarnation Christology.” This is the idea that Jesus was already divine, “the Word was with God and was God” (John 1:1), but came to earth to become human. He became incarnate, enfleshed, “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). This would be a demotion: A willing, self-sacrificial, demotion.

Jesus’ life was about willful demotions for the sake of love. The incarnation itself is a complete act of self-giving love.  The cross is the most vivid, heart-wrenching, and powerful picture of self-giving love that has ever been seen. But in-between those two events were 33 years of life. A life spent in selflessness, kindness, service, and sacrifice. Paul, while possibly quoting an early Christian hymn, writes about the incarnation, life, and death of Jesus in this way: “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Demoted to Slavery:

As Jesus was preparing to depart from His disciples, as He was preparing for his impending execution on the Roman cross, He gave them a unique and beautiful display of a willful demotion. He got down on his hands and knees, took a rag, took upon Himself the job of a slave, and with their feet in His hands, began to wash. Jesus washed their feet. The Word who was with God and was God, washed their feet. God washed man’s feet. Dirty man. Sinful man. Man who would soon abandon Him. Man who would soon deny Him. Man who would soon betray Him. God loving took the dirty foot of Judas, a traitor and thief, a son of perdition, and scrubbed it clean.

Jesus is God. Jesus is Lord and Teacher and Master. Yet He was not above becoming the slave who washed men’s feet. Just like the signs of Jesus are meant to teach important and valuable lessons, so is this. When He finished washing their feet, He asked, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 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” (John 13:12-15).

That concluding challenge of Jesus sounds a lot like what He says later in this chapter: “you love one another; just as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Love, serve, and wash one another, because Jesus loves, serves, and washes us. Jesus, as Lord and Teacher, was not above any task. Nothing was too demeaning. Nothing was too lowly or dirty for Him. So, what jobs are beneath you? What are you unwilling to do because, “that’s not my responsibility.” Are you willing to take a demotion? If you ever feel too proud, too educated, too wealthy, too important, too clean, too smart, too busy, to get on your hands and knees and wash a dirty foot, clean a dirty floor, or work on some lowly unglorifying task, perhaps we need to remember the love, service, and humility of Jesus. Remember the incarnation and the cross. Remember the dirty feet in-between.

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #22. The Raising of Lazarus (Part 2)

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Scriptural Tension Regarding Death:

Tension often exists within our souls when a loved one dies. Particularly, when the deceased is a Christian. We know that better things await. We have hope. We have reason not to “grieve as the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain…having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Philippians 1:21-23). Clearly, death produces something valuable and something better for the Christian. Through this hope, we can find some comfort in our misery. We know death isn’t the end, so we shouldn’t act like it is. But it doesn’t remove the misery and that’s where the tension lies. For us, and in Scripture, hope and misery walk hand in hand.

It’s hard to be positive about death. Because we know that death is an attack on God-given life. Death is a terrible and dreadful enemy that seems to always win. The majority of Scripture does not paint death in any sort of positive light. God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies” (Ezekiel 18:32). Death only entered the world by sin, and when sin is eradicated through the death of Jesus, the necessary result is eternal life. Jesus’ death was a victory over sin. He took sin to the grave, so it’s no wonder He came back on the other side. Sin causes death, so when sin is destroyed, life wins! Every death is a reminder of this sinful, painful, fallen world. But we hope for something better. The death of sin and the victory of life walk hand in hand.

Paul writes of death as an enemy doomed for destruction; “the last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). At the final resurrection, when our bodies are raised to eternal glory, then we can fully appreciate the saying, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). When a weakened army is defeated and captured, that moment is usually filled with taunts and ridicule. Paul pictures Christians taunting death when we are victorious over it: “Where is your victory now, death?

Even those passages that seem to picture death as a “precious” are often misread or misunderstood. Psalm 116:15 says, “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.” This passage has been quoted time and again to comfort those who have lost loved ones. And it can. But really, the way it is often used makes it hard to square with God taking no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies. It makes it hard to square with the whole rest of the psalm which is about God saving someone from death. In Psalm 116, death is the enemy to be escaped and God is praised when that happens. What this passage seems to be saying is not that death is “precious” like it’s some cherished and loved event, but that death is “precious” like a “precious stone.” Meaning an extraordinarily costly or expensive stone. It could be translated “costly in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.” Death matters to God. It is costly and expensive. That’s why he saved the psalmist from it. That’s why He is destroying death through the resurrection!

Death was not part of God’s original plan and it’s not part of His eternal plan. The grand blessing of Scripture is not that we get to die. But that death is destroyed forever! Death loses and life wins. Death itself will be cast into the lake of fire with all of God’s enemies (Revelation 20:14). Death dies and goes to hell. But, strangely enough, there can still be glory in death.

Glory in Death:

The glory of God. That’s what the raising of Lazarus is all about. Lazarus’ sickness was “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (John 11:4). So when Jesus tells them to open the tomb and Mary protests (because her brother’s rotting dead body stinks with the aroma of death), He responds, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40). Verse 4 and verse 40 bookend the raising of Lazarus with “glory” and the sickness, death, and resurrection are all illustrating the glory of God.

Interestingly, in John, the word “glory” is often associated with death. When speaking about His own death, Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). When telling Peter about his future death by crucifixion, the text says, “Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God” (John 21:19). That is such a strange connection. Death is not how I usually think of “glory.” It’s a terrible invasion on God’s good creation.

But there are a few ways that death does produce glory. When a martyr dies faithfully for the cause of Christ, that death produces glory. It is something to be held in glory and revered because a person has followed Christ, who through suffering and death was “crowned with glory and honor” (Hebrews 2:9). Suffering with Christ is regularly pictured as a glorious moment producing joy and blessing (Matthew 5:11-12; Acts 5:41; Philippians 1:29; 3:10; 1 Peter 4:12-16). Death is the endgame of carrying the cross. It’s the finish line. And there is glory there.

But the glory that is seen in the death of Lazarus is not just that he got sick, died, and his body began to rot and stink. But what happened next.  Death didn’t win. Lazarus was raised back to life, and death was seen as a failure. Death was plundered by the power of Jesus. And that was glorious. Even more glory, however, is seen in the resurrection of Jesus. Lazarus died, then came back to life. Jesus died, and rather than coming back to His old life, He pushed all the way through death to the eternal glory of life on the other side. He experienced all that death could accomplish, and walked away more powerful than ever. Never to die again. Always carrying around that victory.

Jesus Wept:

Death is not the end. Death does not win. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t hurt.  It doesn’t mean we should just accept death as natural or somehow “God’s will.” Death is an affront to the will of God. It is the destination where sin has led us. It is a theft of God-given life and it steals our friends, family, and ultimately each one of us.  It lingers over every relationship because we know it will not last. This is why “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). And others saw the depth of His love in that moment. But through this despair and sorrow, Jesus produced glory (John 11:40). Death ends in glory and while for now “you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy.” Have faith. Have hope. Never give up. The victory is coming.

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #21. The Raising of Lazarus (Part 1)

Light and Life:

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men” (John 1:4). Those words are significant. They change everything. We just saw in the healing of the blind man what it means that Jesus is the Light. Now, with Lazarus lying dead in a tomb, surrounded by loved ones, the emotional Jesus will show what it means that He is life.  John 1:4 is supported and explained by two of Jesus’ foundational “I Am” statements: “I Am the Light of the world” (John 9:5) and Jesus’ statement to Martha (Lazarus’ sister), “I Am the resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25).

The healing of the blind man is the illustration of a puzzle, in which Jesus explains: “those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). In much the same way, the raising of Lazarus illustrates the puzzle that “he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26). With Jesus, life and death are not mutually exclusive. Life both exists in death, and life eliminates death.

Remember when the disciples asked Jesus about the blind man, saying, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus’ answer is that his blindness is not the result of sin, but “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Similarly, when Lazarus contracts a deadly illness, Jesus explains, “This sickness does not lead to death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of Man may be glorified by it” (John 11:4). John 9 and John 11 are climactic in proving that Jesus is what the Gospel of John says He is. He is the Light and the Life. Jesus will again say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The raising of Lazarus proves what it means that in Jesus is life.

Sick unto Death?

But think about that phrase for a moment. Jesus says, “This sickness does not lead to death” (John 11:4). What a remarkable thing to say for a sickness that within a few days leads to death. This sickness did lead to death. In fact, if you read carefully, you’ll see that it results in two deaths. Lazarus died from the sickness. But then this “sign” is ultimately what leads to Jesus’ death also. In John 11:8 the disciples are concerned because Jesus wants to go to Judea to see Lazarus.  And what happens when Jesus goes to Judea? “Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him…The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him” (John 8:59; 10:31). His disciples say, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” (John 11:8). Judea is getting pretty dangerous for Jesus. In fact, after raising Lazarus, the chief priests meet together and decide that Jesus has to die, “So from that day on  they planned to kill Him” (John 11:53).

Right after that decision, we are told “Now the Passover of the Jews was near” (John 11:55). This is the final Passover in which the Lamb of God will be killed to take away the sins of the world. Passover and Judea have developed a foreboding presence in the narrative. When Lazarus got sick, he died. This led Jesus back to hostile Judea. Where He would die. Jesus was willing to sacrifice His own life for His friend, Lazarus. Sacrificing His life for His friend? Sounds familiar. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Lazarus’ sickness did lead to his death, and indirectly to the death of Jesus. So why does Jesus say, “This sickness does not lead to death”? Because with Jesus, death leads to life. Death never has the final say. The final result of the sickness is not death, but something glorious. The glory of God will be seen (John 11:4, 40). Jesus will prove emphatically that He is the resurrection and the life. He will prove the statement “in Him is life” (John 1:4).

Death Loses and Life Wins:

Jesus will do this, yes, by raising Lazarus. But that resurrection is a sign. It is pointing to something else. Jesus will not only raise Lazarus, but in a few days, He will be resurrected as well. The raising of Lazarus is a climactic sign that points to the singular moment that changed all human history: the resurrection of Jesus. When Lazarus is raised, he comes hopping out of the tomb still wrapped in his burial clothes. This may symbolize that while Lazarus was raised, he was not raised to immortality. He is still wrapped in death. Death is still in his future. Death is still in his nature. But when Jesus is raised, the wrappings were off, they were lying on the grounded with his face-cloth rolled up by itself (John 20:5-7). Death was removed, cast off, and laid aside forever more.

This moment not only shows that Jesus holds the power of life for Lazarus and Himself, but it also vindicates the claims made in John 5:28-29: “an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs, will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” This is the moment that Martha spoke of. After Lazarus died, Jesus told her, “your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). She heard this as a generic word of comfort that someday, there will be a resurrection at the end of time. A nice thought, but not overly comforting when she misses her brother right now. She says, perhaps despairingly, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:23). While that’s not exactly what Jesus meant, she’s not wrong. Jesus will raise Lazarus from the tomb, He will be raised Himself, and then all who are in the tombs, all who have ever died will be raised to life again.

In Jesus is life. And this is what it looks like. Sorrow turned to joy. Death loses and Jesus wins. Life wins. Life is eternal. Life wins both spiritually and physically. Death cannot destroy spiritual life and physical life will destroy death. Through Jesus, life is more powerful than death. “These things have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

Church Heretics: An Interesting Way Jesus Changed Paul

Paul can be pretty feisty when dealing with heretics. Honestly, Paul seems like a pretty feisty guy in general. But last night a thought occurred to me. Paul’s feisty personality can be an interesting example of the transformative power of Jesus. Here’s what I mean: Paul dealt with heretics a lot throughout his life, but somewhere in there a major shift took place. Paul dealt with heretics before he met Jesus and after he met Jesus. With Jesus comes a significant change in his thinking and actions toward those who pervert the faith.

Prior to Jesus, Paul describes himself as “a persecutor of the church” (Philippians 3:6). His zeal led him to the conclusion that those who “apostatized” and worshiped Jesus were dishonoring God, blaspheming, and needed to be violently pursued. A “zealot” was one whose religious convictions leads to violence and murder. They would kill for the faith. To be zealous often had violent consequences, and there is a long tradition of this in Judaism (see Phinehas who “was zealous for His God,” Numbers 25:6-13).

A fascinating account of this tradition of violent zeal is seen in Mattathias (1 Maccabees) when Greek officials attempt to force the Jews to blaspheme and offer pagan sacrifices. Mattathias was offered gold and silver and gifts for him and his sons if he would use his influence to help the Greeks Hellenize the Jews (1 Maccabees 2:17-18). Mattathias refused. To put it mildly. When the Greek officials threatened and tried to force the Jews to sacrifice, a willing Jewish man came forward. He was going to give in. Now read this next paragraph carefully:

“When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him upon the altar. At the same time he killed the king’s officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he burned with zeal for the law, as Phinehas did against Zimri the son of Salu. Then Mattathias cried out in the city with a loud voice, ‘Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come with me!’” (1 Maccabees 2:24-27).

Paul is one who would have followed Mattathias. He would have been right with Phinehas. Paul saw Christianity as a perversion that needed to be snuffed out. He would be blessed as a righteous hero, a zealous devotee of Yahweh. This is what Paul means when he writes, “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church” (Philippians 3:6). That’s why he was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1) and why he says, “being zealous for God…I persecuted this Way to the death , binding and putting both men and women in prison” (Acts 22:3-4). Paul laments, “I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it…being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Galatians 1:13-14).

Paul loved God. This is one way he showed it.

But that all changed one fateful day. Paul’s zeal would be transformed. His whole life would be transformed by an encounter with the risen Lord. Jesus changed everything. We know the story. Paul had this experience with Jesus, he became a believer, and he took the faith to places no one had imagined.

But he still had to deal with those blasted heretics. Previously, he viewed “the Way” as a heretical movement. Now, in many ways, things are reversed. The persecutor has become the persecuted. Those who are dishonoring God are those who reject His Messiah. They are now the “blasphemers.” Paul now deals with idolatrous pagans who reject Yahweh, Jews in the synagogues who reject the Messiah, and false teachers within Christianity itself. Paul has to fight false teachers who sneak in and try to undermine his ministry. They try to distort his gospel. Paul is under constant attack, verbally and physically. Paul now deals with those who want to persecute him.

The transformative power of Jesus is seen in how Paul now responds to the “heretics.” Does his zeal lead him to violence and persecution? Does he tell his churches to arm themselves against their persecutors? Does he try to force conversions? Like Phinehas does he grab a spear? Like Mattathias does he prepare for battle? Not at all.

Paul is just as zealous as ever. Even more so. But his zeal has been transformed. He’s zealous enough to die rather than kill. After Jesus, he chooses to receive persecution rather than inflict it. After Jesus, he tries to save his enemies rather than harm them. To Paul, love has become a more powerful motivator than fear and death. He makes himself a slave to all (1 Corinthians 9:19). He encourages his churches to “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse…Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:14-21).

Paul is starting to sound a lot like Jesus. Now, don’t get me wrong. Paul is still a feisty guy. Read Galatians. He may call a curse upon those who change his gospel and harm his churches (Galatians 1:8-9). He may even make a few jaw dropping statements (read Galatians 5:12, yikes!). One of the oddest moments in his ministry was when God momentarily struck one of his opponents blind in a showdown of supernatural power (Acts 13:6-12). But his overall approach has been drastically transformed. Instead of violence, he calls for repentance. When it’s time for discipline, he calls for correction, or rebuke, or tragically even expulsion from the community (for the purpose of restoration to the community). But never persecution. Never violence. Never death.

Jesus changes things. Jesus changes people. He does so in many ways. This is just one way (of many) that Paul seems to have been transformed by Jesus. He’s the same guy. He still deals with heretics. But he seems to love at an impossibly new level. It is one thing to care so much that you’ll kill for your faith. It is something else entirely when you care so much you will sacrificially die for it. I hope Jesus makes that kind of change in every one of us.

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #20. Healing the Blind Man (Part 5).

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Jesus has always been a divisive figure. People responded to Him with worship and praise or hatred and murder, and everything in-between. John writes, “a division occurred in the crowd because of Him” (John 7:43) and “A division occurred again among the Jews because of these words [of Jesus]” (John 10:19). This happened regularly. When Jesus comes around, expect things to get uncomfortable. That’s exactly what happens when He meets the man born blind.

This man was a well-known beggar. He had parents and neighbors and a life. People had seen him every day. He only survived on the scraps that he could get from others. It’s amazing he reached adulthood. But Jesus changed everything. Jesus spat on the ground, made some mud, sent him to a pool, and he was healed. He came back seeing. When this happened, people talked: his parents, his neighbors, the whole community. This miracle did not go unnoticed.

Division among his Neighbors:

But not everybody was convinced. The neighbors couldn’t agree that this was actually the same man they all once knew.  Some were saying, “‘Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?’ Others were saying, ‘This is he,’ still others were saying, ‘No, but he is like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the one’” (John 9:8-9). It was such an amazing transformation that this man experienced, that many argued about whether or not it was even the same person. Perhaps reading this should cause us to ask ourselves a few questions. When we go from blindness to sight after contacting the Light of the World, can people see this change in us? Does it amaze people who used to know you that you are really the same person you used to be? Jesus made this man almost unrecognizable. Jesus changed not only his eyesight, but his whole life and reputation. What change transpired in you when you came to Jesus?

Division among the Pharisees:

The man is then brought to the Pharisees. They need to make a judgment on the issue. Remember from the last post, the primary Sabbath issue is not healing the man, but that Jesus mixed liquid and dirt to make clay: “It was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes” (John 9:14).  So when he tells them what happened, the Pharisees respond in different ways, “some of the Pharisees were saying, ‘This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.’ But others were saying, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And there was a division among them” (John 9:16; cf. John 7:43; 10:19). Notice the two types of people. Some thought, “He sinned by making the clay, He cannot be from God.” Others through, “He healed a blind guy, He cannot be a sinner.” Some missed the forest for the trees. Some were focused more on the mud than the man. Some saw the Sabbath and not the sign.

Division in his Family:

Just like the neighbors, the Pharisees wanted to verify that this actually was the same man who had been born blind. So they get his parents. As we read we find out that his parents knew three things: 1. He was their son. 2. He was healed by Jesus. 3. Confessing Jesus will have dire consequences. It will get them kicked out of the synagogue. So while they admit that he is their son who was born blind. They refuse to admit he was healed by Jesus. They try to remove themselves from the situation and put the attention back on their son by saying, “ask our son, he is old enough to answer for himself.” They seem to be fine with putting their own son in a difficult spot, but not themselves. “His parents said this because there were afraid of the Jews” (John 9:22).  Fear kept them from confession.

A Man Comes to Faith:

Jealousy, hatred, and fear are all determining factors when people react to Jesus. An incredible thing about this whole conflict though, is that Jesus wasn’t even around for it. He rubbed clay on the man’s eyes, and that’s the last we’ve seen of Him. Since then, the man washed, was healed, was doubted by his neighbors, accused by the Pharisees, and betrayed by His parents. He doesn’t even know what Jesus looks like. He doesn’t have all the answers to the controversy, but he says, “one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). He knows a sign took place and it changed His life. He comes to believe Jesus is a prophet (John 9:17). But the story doesn’t end there.

The Pharisees claim discipleship to Moses rather than Jesus (John 9:28). If they really were disciples of Moses, by the way, they would know Moses wrote of Jesus (John 5:46). But the blind man is quite rational in his response: God wouldn’t hear Jesus if He were a sinner, but God heard Him and did something amazing through Him. Something that has never happened before. That’s what this blind man knew.

The Pharisees respond in disgust. They expel him from the synagogue and arrogantly hurl the accusation: “You were born entirely in sins, and you are teaching us?” They couldn’t answer him. But they could silence him. Neither his neighbors nor his parents came to his aid. But Jesus did. Jesus found him (remember he still doesn’t know who Jesus is or what He looks like) and asked: “‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘Who is He Lord, that I may believe in Him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.’ And he said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped Him” (John 9:35-39).

This is the perfect example of what John has been trying to get His readers to do. To “come and see” who Jesus truly is. There are many opinions about Him. Some think He has a demon. Some think He is a blasphemer. Some think He is a sinner who breaks the Sabbath. Some think He is a prophet (John 4:19; 6:14; 9:17), the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36), the Savior of the world (John 4:42), and the Lord and God (John 20:28). How do we know which view is correct? Watch the signs, hear the testimonies, be honest, and believe. This blind man may not have known much, but he knew, “though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #19. Healing the Blind Man (Part 4).

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If you have been reading up to this point, hopefully you realize that signs are meant to point to something. They are not simply miracles or historical events. They are lessons with spiritual application. This sign of healing this blind man is no different. Jesus wants to teach a lesson in this sign. I think the primary lesson is that Jesus, as the light of the world, brings vision and color and clarity to a world of darkness. Those who are blind, will now be able to see because of Jesus. Those who “see” will only realize how blind they truly are.

A ton can be learned by looking at the actual way that Jesus performed the signs. Take a moment and read Ezekiel 4. Ezekiel gets bricks, inscribes cities, lays siege to it, builds an iron wall, lies on his left side 390 days then his right side 40 days, then he makes bread and cooks it over cow dung. Why is he doing all of this? It’s a sign. It illustrates something. It is supposed to be out of the ordinary. That’s exactly the type of thing Jesus is doing when He heals the blind man.

Making the Clay:

The way Jesus performed the sign is interesting on a number of levels. For one thing, He made clay. He didn’t just use His hands to touch the guy’s eyes; He spat, kneaded dirt, made clay, and rubbed it on the man’s eyes. He didn’t have to do it this way. This seems to  have been an intentional act to separate the honest seekers from the hard-hearted accusers. Why? Watering the ground and making clay was forbidden on Sabbath. Certainly the intention of the Law of Moses was not to forbid spitting or healing on the Sabbath, but things had become so precisely defined that even making a small amount of clay was forbidden by Sabbath tradition.

Just like in John 5. Healing the man at the pool of Bethesda did not violate the Sabbath, but when Jesus told him to “take up your bed and walk” (John 5:8), He was just inciting people. Carrying your bed was forbidden on the Sabbath just like making clay was forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus is purposefully stirring up controversy. Notice the way the story is told, “Now it was Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes” (John 9:14).

This is where you find out what people’s hearts are really like. Will you care more about spitting on the Sabbath, or that a man born blind is now healed?  Some people think, “it doesn’t matter that the man was healed, we know Jesus can’t be from God because He just broke the Sabbath. He’s a sinner!” Others think, “it doesn’t matter that He just broke the Sabbath, He just did something that’s never been done before, He healed a man born blind! He’s clearly not a sinner!” Jesus gives people something to argue over to see who will really, honestly, care about the sign.

Healing from a Distance:

It is also interesting that this is another example of Jesus healing from a distance. Just like He saw Nathaniel from a distance (John 1:47-49) and healed the royal official’s son from a distance (John 4:51-54), Jesus also heals this man from a distance. Time, space, and distance have no power over Jesus. He was nowhere around when the blind man was healed. In fact, he didn’t even know where Jesus was (John 9:12). How could he? He was still blind when he was last with Jesus. By the time he got to the pool, washed, and could see, Jesus was already gone. He had no idea what Jesus looked like until John 9:37 when Jesus revels Himself as the Son of Man, saying, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” This is an illustration of Jesus’ power over time, distance, and creation. He can make mud and water from a distant pool have healing power.

Washing with Water:

Also of note is that it took “washing” for the man to see. “Washing” and “Water” both seem to have symbolic meaning in the Gospel of John. One must be born of “water and Spirit” to enter the kingdom of Heaven (John 3:5). Jesus offers “living water” that leads to eternal life (John 4:10-14). Jesus cries out, “‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, “From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.”’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive” (John 7:37-39). Jesus tells Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (John 13:8). John 13:11 makes it clear He is talking about more than just cleaning dirty feet (even afterward his feet were washed, Judas was still “unclean”). At His death when His side is pierced, “blood and water” poured out (John 19:34). When this man washed his eyes with water, He regained His “sight”. “Sight,” like light and darkness/day and night, also has strong symbolism in the Gospel of John (John 9:4-5, 39-41). Perhaps the “washing” has a deeper level of meaning also. Perhaps, like His references to the Lord’s Supper (John 6:53-58), He gives glimpses of baptism in symbolic language also.

Pool of Siloam, Sent:

The symbolism is even more apparent when you realize he washed in “the pool of Siloam (which is translated, Sent)” (John 9:7). What an interesting name. The idea of being “sent” is a major theme in the Gospel of John (John 1:6; 3:17; 5:36; 6:29; 7:29; 17:8, 18; 20:21, and many more passages). This whole story is introduced by Jesus saying, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me” (John 9:3). Jesus is the One sent by God. The blind man, without seeing Jesus, goes to wash at the place “Sent”, and comes back seeing. Perhaps the pool called “Sent” represents the One who was “Sent.” Perhaps we must follow the example of this blind man if we are to receive sight from the Light of the World. We must go to the One Sent, we wash in water, and we receive sight. Jesus came so that those “who do not see may see.” Perhaps this is a similar picture to being “born again with water and Spirit” which is essential to “seeing the kingdom of God” (John 3:3-5). That’s what this blind man did. And it worked out pretty well for Him.

Thinking about my 10 Years as a Full-Time Preacher

It was May 2008. That’s when I began preaching fulltime for the Morton Street church of Christ in Denison, TX. I had just graduated from Bear Valley in February. In those few months in-between, I worked building railroad switch points and I married the lovely Lauren Bookout. But now it’s May 2018. 10 years later. I’m now living in Monroe, LA, still married to the somehow even lovelier Lauren Bookout, father of Oliver and next monthish I’ll get to meet son #2, Levi. A bit has changed in my life over the last 10 years, but one thing has remained consistent: I can’t imagine doing anything other than preaching.

I have never wanted to switch careers (probably because I don’t really have any other skills to fall back on and building railroads was pretty “eh”), and I’ve never dreaded getting up for work the next day. Preaching is awesome. This post is intended more for preachers, ministers, or anyone who may be interested in getting into that field.  Here are 10 things you should know about ministry in the church.

10. You can’t make the church grow: This is true and frustrating and true and heart-breaking and true and humbling and true. It’s just true. And you should know it from the get-go. There are two really important reasons why you should remember this. 1. If the church grows, awesome! You need to know it wasn’t you. 2. If the church doesn’t grow, that’s tough. You need to know it wasn’t you.

No one person can make the church grow. That’s not how the church works. When a church grows, there are generally several/numerous/many people involved in that process.  When a church dies and shrinks, there are several/numerous/many people involved in that process.  Besides, if Scripture is to be believed, humans can’t really make stuff grow anyway. I can plant a seed, I can put it in a sunny spot, I can make sure it’s well watered, I can work hard on providing a healthy atmosphere, but growth does not come from me: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6).

Remember God’s words to the discouraged Zerubbabel: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). You can control how hard you work. You can control if you are divisive or friendly. You can control how much you prepare, engage, visit, support, and care. You cannot control growth. You just work hard and let God do His thing.

9. You’ll never be perfect: There are many people who are scared away from full-time ministry because they don’t believe they are “good” enough. Not necessarily talented enough, but “good” enough. They believe they are too weak and sinful. Sure, some of these folks may be right, but I believe many have an unrealistic view of “the minister.” No minister is perfect. Every single minister struggles with sin. Every. Single. One.

Hypocrisy is not committing sin, while saying that people shouldn’t sin. Hypocrisy is excusing or overlooking your own sin, while condemning others for the same things. You will sin. You will do a poor job sometimes. But the church is not held up by the perfect preacher. The church is held up by the mercy and love of God for all Christians who struggle to do what is right and strive to be pleasing to Him. That’s the preacher as much as the elder and deacon and parent and widow and new Christian and long-time stalwart of the faith. Plus, Christians are usually better at forgiveness than the world. They at least know Jesus wants us to forgive. You’ll mess up, but people will encourage you through it.

8. I’m a way better minister when I work with others. There are things I love about ministry and there are things that I struggle with. Some folks love visiting hospitals and making phone calls and checking up on people. I guess this makes me sound awful and uncaring, but those are my struggles as a preacher. I love study and teaching and preaching. I love making spiritual connections and growing and trying to encourage growth in others. But I struggle walking into a hospital room. I don’t know what to say. I feel unhelpful and awkward and out of my comfort zone.

But you know what? Whether I’m comfortable or not, visiting is important. This is why I say, work with others. I’m a much better visitor when I go with an elder. Or a member. I go visiting every week with one of our elders. When I preached in Texas, I would do the same thing. I have visited with my wife, my sister-in-law, my friends and peers in the church, elders, former ministers, and new members. It’s an awesome help to me, but it’s also encouraging for them.

Visiting is just my personal illustration, but this applies to most any area of ministry. Work with others on sermon ideas. Bounce illustrations off of people. Ask for help visiting, teaching a class, or writing. You are part of a whole church, use the resources at your disposal.

7. Use sources wisely: Study on your own. Exegete the best you can. Read the Bible and read it again. Read whole books of the Bible at once. Study and be honest and trust yourself. BUT, you are not the only Christian. You are not the only thinker. Again, you are part of a whole church, use the resources at your disposal. Consult others on your conclusions. Read books written by wise Christians who have also studied. Further your education. Follow good blogs. Listen to sermons. Email preachers who don’t live near you. Get coffee with preachers who do live near you. Find sources and use them wisely.

Do not use bad sources. Your illustrations or preaching points better not be coming from some random meme, or article that popped up on your facebook page. Peer review is an important process. Multiple attestation, criterion of dissimilarity, criterion of embarrassment are not only helpful tools in ascertaining history, but also checking your sources. Do others agree with this source? Are my sources biased? Are there people who don’t agree with me, yet admit this source is accurate? Confirmation bias is both pleasurable and extremely dangerous. Think critically. Check yourself and your sources before you say (or post) anything publicly.

6. Grow: If you are supported to work with the church, you have an obligation, a moral responsibility to grow. You have time to study that others do not. And that’s an amazing opportunity. You have the benefit of time to practice Christian disciplines that others do not. If you do not have that time, then you are probably using your time poorly. Study things you have not studied before. Learn interesting things. Pray. Try to learn original languages. Challenge yourself. Set goals. Go to lectureships, get on iTunes/Youtube and listen to lectures. Pray. Practice things you are not good at. Get ideas from others, think about them, pray about them, use them. Memorize Scripture. Read scholarly books that are hard to understand at first. Learn early church history. Pray. Pray for hours. Fast. If you’ve never fasted, start. Meditate, if you don’t have time, change your schedule. If possible, further your education. Go to the BETTER Conference, go to Polishing the Pulpit, get involved in a church camp. Write more. Read more. Pray.

5. Godly elders are the best thing in the world: I could not imagine working with a congregation that does not have elders. I seriously just couldn’t imagine that burden. I certainly don’t want to imagine working with a congregation with bad, ungodly, or uncaring elders. So I won’t. Instead, I’ll talk about good elders. I have always been privileged to work with godly elders who trust me, support me, and are as active as I am. They are my shepherds. They defend the truth, they defend me, and they visit with me and for me. They know the sheep. They know the Shepherd. They encourage me, facilitate my growth, and give me suggestions based on their years of wisdom and experience. They are kind to my wife, love my son, and are good to my family. They don’t treat me as bosses or managers, but as fellow workers in the kingdom. Get to know your elders. Learn from these good men. Ask for advice. Be honest. And be fed as a sheep, just like the rest of the congregation.

4. Be picky, but remember no church is perfect: When I say be picky, I’m particularly talking about where you choose to do ministry. If there is even a hint that my wife will be mistreated, or burdened with unnecessary responsibilities, or does not want to go, we will not go. If I cannot spend quality time with my family and be a godly husband and father because I’m too busy with other church duties, there is no way my family will go there. Some churches are awesome. They understand that a minister must be a faithful servant of Jesus first, and that includes being a present, godly father and husband. Some churches are oblivious. Be very picky about where you work.

At the same time, remember that no church is perfect. That church that says they are interested in you is not perfect. No church will always do the right thing or always treat you perfectly well. No church is absolutely right on every single doctrinal question you can think up (and you probably aren’t either). No church is without sin. No church always makes the right move, does so quickly, and never suffers a setback. No elder is perfect, no preacher is perfect, no song leader is perfect.  People will say dumb stuff during prayers or while giving announcements. People will say rude things after sermons. People will sin. You have to be honest about what you are willing to work with. But you also have to love flawed people, recognize your own flaws, and strive to serve Jesus together. No church is perfect, but many are very good. There’s is no better work environment that a loving group of God’s flawed people. If you have that, you are blessed.

3. Let stuff go: Remember that “no church is perfect” point? Yea, you have to deal with that. Your ministry can’t halt every time your idea is rejected, someone is rude after a sermon, or someone gets mad at you. Not only let other people’s flaws go, let your own go. If you make a mistake, do better next time. I have 300ish other people out there listening to me every week. Every one of them has their own experiences and knowledge base. Everyone of them has their own lives, concerns, health struggles, fears, heart-breaks, disappointments, idiosyncrasies, etc. If you use a word in the pulpit and 98% of are fine with it, but 2% aren’t, you may hear about it. That’s fine. Let it go, choose a different word next time. You may accidentally neglect or forget an event in one person’s life because you are working with other people or other things. That’s not good. But do better next time.

You cannot have an ego. Sometimes people who know way less about the Bible and about ministry and about what’s going on in the church will criticize you. Their criticism may be right, or it may be unfounded, based on ignorance, or just flat dumb. That will happen if you are in ministry. That’s fine. Let it go. The vast vast majority of what you’ll hear will be kind, encouraging, and uplifting. You cannot be thinskinned. You cannot be overly sensitive. You cannot please everyone. But you can do your best. You can try, improve, let stuff go, and move on. In fact, there’s really nothing else you can do.

If you want to dwell on something, don’t choose the rare negativity or frustration. Dwell on the good, pure, exciting parts of ministry. Dwell on the funny stories. Dwell on the unique, encouraging experiences. Dwell on that recent baptism. Dwell on that young child being raised by godly parents. Dwell on that faithful lady whose funeral just passed, whose goal is being achieved, who is experiencing bliss after a life of struggles.  Dwell on that member who serves anytime you ask. Dwell on Jesus. If you focus on the right areas, you’ll remember how incredible a life of ministry can be.

2. You have to remember what really matters: that breakfast you advertised but no one showed up to may have been a bummer, but that’s not ultimately what really matters. When you had that guest speaker, and people prioritized other things on that Monday night, that’s discouraging, but it’s not what really matters. When you told the elders about your new plan to encourage visitation, and they say it’s unfeasible, that’s frustrating but not what really matters.

There are so many things. So many jobs. So many ideas. So many words spoken. There are so many distractions that can cause us to forget the main goal. Don’t let the peripheral disappointments distract you from the job at hand: The glorification of Jesus Christ through His people. Remember to preach and encourage and rebuke and exhort and do it all for the glory of Jesus. Remember the good and work for more.

1. Be a sincere servant of Jesus: This is what really matters. People care about this. This is the most important part of any ministry. I have grown as a Christian because of the ministry. I didn’t make “Pray” one of the top 10 (although it deserves it), because I have referenced it so much in the others, and I’ll reference it here again. Talk to God. Pray about the ministry and your own spiritual well-being. It’s essential to serving Jesus well. Spend time with your family. I also didn’t list that one, because it fits right here. Be a godly example. Prove yourself an example in word, conduct, love, faith, and purity. Love Jesus and let others know. Show them how to let discipleship to Jesus manifest itself in all you do. Study, pray, be kind, encourage, disciple, teach, be pure, deny yourself, be selfless, be sacrificial, love your enemies, turn the other cheek, do good to those who are cruel to you, pray without ceasing, in all things give thanks. That will cover up a lot of other flaws. People will love you even after a bad sermon if you get this one right. People will forgive you even after you messed up if you get this one right. Get this one right for yourself, for others, and for God. Seriously, that’s your primary ministry. That’s what matters.

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