The Last Supper: more than history, more than a painting: it’s the living example of how to go through stressful times. There are at least five diamonds shining out from the darkness of John 13. I’m sure you can find more, but I’m struck with these reflections:
He showed them the full extent of his love (v1). Jesus demonstrated that sometimes the grand gesture is important. What more perfect love is there than the love of God? Yet Jesus determined that night to show them the “full extent” of his love. He washed their feet. Earlier in the week Mary had broken open a jar of fabulously expense perfume and covered his feet with the sweet-smelling ointment. He had received extravagant love and now he showed the same. The service due him he gave to others. In the middle of incredible stress Jesus lavished his attention on others.
The devil had already prompted Judas to betray Jesus (v2). The backdrop of the evening was betrayal. Jesus washed Judas’ feet as well. The very one who objected to Mary’s outrageous act of love was apparently willing to receive the full extent of the Jesus’ love. Jesus knew the score and chose to serve even Judas. But should we be surprised? Before sunrise all the disciples except John would flee for safety. Peter would deny the Lord again and again (and again). Jesus served them all. In a setting of betrayal Jesus determined to pour forth his love and care. Under incredible pressure he met betrayal with love--he cared even for his oppressor. Perhaps that’s why the early church sang, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power (v3). Does it seem strange that set in between love, betrayal, and service that the gospel reminds us of Jesus’ power? In stressful situations many people think of power as the ability to make things happen, to gain control of the situation. Yet Jesus allowed the events of the night to play out completely. On that difficult night Jesus did not grasp for control, even though he had power to do so. What if true empowerment expresses itself in terms of the confidence to obey the Father?
Jesus took off his outer clothing (v4). Jesus was secure in his identity. He had been given the Father’s power. Accordingly, he took off his outer garment, stripped to the waist and strapped a towel about himself. Can we understand the shock of the moment? Jesus became a picture of transparency, humility, and service. The Jewish culture of the day associated nakedness with shame-we have no equivalent emotion today. The most powerful man in the room was the one engaged in the work of a slave, bare to the eye, bowed before those who would worship him in just a few days. Of course, it was too much for Peter, who could not comprehend that a leader leads by serving. While the pressures of life may tempt us to cover up our real selves, Jesus demonstrated the way of transparency, humility, and service.
He asked them, “Do you understand?” (vs 12-17). Still, Jesus did not abandon his role as a leader that night. After he put on his clothes again and returned to the table, he resumed his role as Rabbi: this moment was too important to be left to mystery. He instructed them in the meaning and importance of his actions. Having led by serving, he served them by leading as well. Jesus was about to give a “new commandment” which would only make sense in the context of a servant’s heart. He explained the example he had set and clearly expected his disciples to attain to the same standard. Jesus’ answer to the worries of the night was to display power clothed in service. He became the standard for “love one another as I have loved you.”
These five gems shine for us. The stress of everyday living can be met with the example of Jesus, who conquered not only the grave but earth-bound responses to betrayal and hard times. Who could be content with learning about Jesus without the deep desire to become like him? Can we imitate the Master? His love in the face of betrayal is a call for us to love as he loved; to lead by serving and to serve by leading.
I’m faced today with an insurmountable task, the natural conclusion of talking about the glory of God. Last week’s posts covered the topic, and generated a request to put up or shut up. (The commenter was more politic, something like, “please share the times you’ve experienced the glory of God.”) A second commenter gently chided me with the reminder that God’s glory is on display nightly for those with eyes to see. It was a valid correction. But the topic of these glory-posts is about personal experience—our need to encounter God, to see, feel, and breathe whatever degree of glory he is pleased for manifest. So here is a back-in-the-day story of how and when my life was forever altered because of an encounter with the glory of God.
In 1975 I saw the glory of God. In an era of leisure suits and lapels wider than the Mississippi, the presence of God broke through the foolishness of men and appeared to an assembly of 3,000 men in Kansas City. I was among that crowd, a 19 year-old college kid who had played at the God-game for the past four years the way a four year-old plays with a herd of buffalo. On the final night of that conference the buffalo stampeded directly into my mind and heart. My senses where overwhelmed. As Ezekiel reported, I saw visions of God’s glory.
The interior of Kansas City’s Memorial Auditorium began to turn a chalky white. From my place in the upper deck I looked across the auditorium and, while I could still see the other side of the vast room, it was whitewashed with what might be described as a cloud, or possibly a luminescence. The men in that place had been worshiping for nearly an hour, the week had been filled with revelation, and this was the last night of meeting.
I blinked my eyes to wash the whiteness away, but there was nothing wrong with my eyes—they were reporting what they saw. The room changed in some felt way I still find difficult to describe except to say that the air became heavier, as if something was pushing down from above. It was a presence; I sensed the presence as plankton might sense the presence of a great blue whale. In the passing of a moment that presence was all around me.
Somewhere in the auditorium someone suggested we take off our shoes, because we were standing on holy ground. Moments before the auditorium was a facility, now it was a place of meeting. I took off my shoes, stepped into the aisle, and bowed low like a Bedouin welcoming a Raisuli. All over the hall, where we had previously stood in worship, we prostrated ourselves. Men groaned with utterances too deep for words. To repent would have been foolish because it would have put the focus on me, when clearly the moment was about Someone Else. The proper response was awe.
How long were we in that state, prostrated before God’s Glory? I dunno. Ten minutes or forty years. Take your pick. I can only tell you it changed me forever, and the memory of it is more than nostalgia, it is a visceral response. I feel it still.
To have been in the glory once was enough, but in the 37-plus years I have come to understand this is not meant to be a one-time event. Nor was it simply a subjective experience. It is our destination, and somehow in God’s economy we can live in the glory even as we travel toward it. It would not be too much to say that everything in my life since has flowed from that moment, one of several moments in my life when heaven met earth in an unforeseen kiss.
As Steve and Nancy Peifer painted the nursery for their newborn son, they also planned his funeral. Their son, Stephen Wrigley, had been born with Trisomy 13, a genetic defect described in the medical literature as “incompatible with life.” This suburban family of four welcomed Stephen into the world March 4th, 1998, and said good-bye to him eight days later, March 12th.
Amazingly, Stephen’s funeral was the beginning of the Peifer family’s story, not the end. Steve and Nancy, along with sons, JT and Matthew, found God’s loving restoration as they forsook their middle-class American life and poured themselves into the hungry children of Kenya. Their story, A Dream So Big, Our Unlikely Journey to End the Tears of Hunger releases tomorrow from Zondervan publishing. It’s the story of how this grieving family followed God’s lead to Kenya, and today feed 20,000 Kenyan schoolchildren—enabling these children to stay healthy, and get an education.
This is a breath-taking story. The Peifers made a one-year commitment to work as dorm parents at Rift Valley Academy, a school for missionary children tucked in the high elevations north and west of Nairobi. During that one-year posting their attention was gradually turned beyond themselves and toward the children of Kenya. The process was a gradual awakening, but one significant turning point was when Steve visited a Kenya school shortly before he was scheduled to return to the United States. He saw schoolchildren, in the classroom, lying on the dirt floor. He asked why. The teacher said, “This is Thursday. Most of these children haven’t eaten since Monday. If they try to stand, or even sit up, they will faint.”
The Peifers returned to the U.S. only long enough to realize their hearts had already taken root in African soil. The one-year posting became a calling, and the calling reached beyond the walls of the school for missionary kids to the children of Kenya. A Dream So Big describes the growth their inspiring ministry and mission—to break the back of poverty in Kenya within a generation by feeding children through their local schools. Over the last 13 years the ministry has grown to include solar-powered computer centers—enabling children in the African bush to gain the skills needed to navigate the 21st century world.
I cannot recommend this book more highly: it contains Steve's wit and Nancy's wisdom. It never preaches but gently directs our gaze toward God's continual grace in our lives--even lives that have suffered unspeakable grief. If you want to discover the path from selfishness to selflessness, A Dream So Big will point the way.
Moses saw the glory of God. The encounter was transformational—it changed him so much the people of Israel asked him, “Please, cover it up, you’re freaking us out.”
Glory is a strange word these days. It has the feel of movies like Gladiator, or the hyped opening to an NFL game. Religious people use it, too, but I’m not sure we know what it’s all about. It conjures up notions of Pentecostals run amuck shouting “Glory, Hallelujah!” or even that God’s glory is in the sunset—which is true, but not very useful.
But what if the glory of God wasn’t the stuff of Old Testament stories, Hollywood hoopla, or religious delusions? What if glory was a substance so real it burned our skin, or killed cancer better than chemo? What if God designed his glory to be an agent of change? Apparently the Apostle Paul had such a notion: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Another what if: What if, in quoting Romans 3:23 we focused on God’s intention instead of our sin? The famous verse reminds us “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But we have walked the Romans road so often we think only of our shortcomings, but not the destination. In this case, that we were made to live in his glory, to reflect his glory, to interact with his glorious, manifest presence. That’s a game-changer for me, and the possibilities are quite literally, endless.
If we dare to circle back to the 2 Corinthians verse quoted above we are faced with the question, "What would it mean--in real-life, practical terms--to progress from glory to glory?" What would it mean in real life if our expectations were focused on an infinite path, a path designed to transform us more and more into his image? How would it change things if we awoke to our destiny to be conformed to the image of Christ?
One of the unspoken needs of the western church is to rediscover the stuff of Biblical legend, called glory. We, too, could ask (as moses asked) “Show me Your glory!”
Someone has seen that day. He spoke of what he saw when he said the sons and daughters of the kingdom will shine like the sun, but we thought he was just being poetic.
I’ve fallen asleep at my desk twice this morning, and it has nothing to do with Daylight Savings Time. I’ve been reading entries in theological dictionaries and books on systematic theology, trying to see if anyone understands the word Glory.
John, the close friend of Jesus, can’t get away from the word as he struggles to describe Jesus: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John can’t get away from what he has seen: he uses the word 19 times in his gospel, more than all three of the other gospels combined. John records the great prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, and Jesus seems pretty concerned about glory—he mentions it six times as he talks to the Father.
But counting words doesn’t lead to knowing words. Nor, apparently, does using textbooks. They can beat the glory out of a glorious, life-filled reality. I think I’ve seen God’s glory twice during my lifetime—actually seen it. Try bringing that up at a small group Bible study. It shuts the party down real fast.
My first mentor C.S. Lewis wrestled with the word in an essay The Weight of Glory. He chose his own ignorance as his starting point. “Glory suggests two ideas to me, of which one seems wicked and the other ridiculous.” I won’t steal his thunder, or deprive you of the joy of discovery when you read this great master for yourself—but ten sentences from Lewis is better than all the academic drivel I’ve put up with today.
You want something to think about? Here's a meditation: I give you “Glory,” the word used more than a hundred times in the New Testament, the desire of Moses in the Old, and the hope of Jesus. It's the kind of word us moderns have lost completely, and the word without which we miss a great part of knowing our Lord.
Go ahead, I dare you: share your understanding in the comments—or better still—your experiences. But be brief, because God’s glory is anything but boring.