An Audio Devotional for Maundy Thursday

My friend Tim Briggs asked me to help out on a Spotify playlist he was putting together for Holy Week. (Be sure to check out Folk Hymnal, the group Tim writes for!) The end product is fantastic. Each day features alternating spoken word devotionals and songs that continue the narrative or give space for reflection. I worked on Maundy Thursday (today). The recordings don’t feature my voice because my recording wasn’t good enough to use (sorry again, Tim!), but I wrote the material being spoken. I’ve included the text for the spoken word portions at the bottom of this post.

Maundy Thursday Devotional

(Here’s a link to the Maundy Thursday playlist in case you can’t see the Spotify embed, and here’s the master Holy Week playlist where you can find the rest of the week’s devotionals.)

Spoken Word Text

Devotional 1

Jesus knew he was about to be betrayed. Death was so close he could taste it. But instead of losing his appetite, he reclined at a table with his disciples. Jesus had loved these men while he was in the world. Now he was about to show them the full extent of that love. He rose from the table, laid his outer garment aside, and tied a towel around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began washing his disciples’ feet. In a day where you mostly traveled on foot and wore sandals, this would have been a dirty job. Only the lowliest of servants would have done it. Yet here we see the Christ, who created all things and for whom all things were created, stooping down to wash the very feet he made.

Devotional 2

When Jesus came to Peter, he declared, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet? … No, you shall never wash my feet.” Here we see two men — Jesus and Peter — with very different identities. Peter, who had not offered to wash anyone’s feet, saw himself as unworthy of the love and service of Christ. Jesus saw himself as a servant who ranked no higher than anyone else. When Jesus explained to Peter that he could have no part with him unless he could be served by his Lord, Peter replied, “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Though Peter had yet to understand what was happening, he was experiencing the kind of love and service that would set the tone for the Christian faith.

Devotional 3

Though he would soon taste death, Jesus wanted his disciples to taste life. It was the night of the Passover Feast, when God’s people remembered the time God passed them over as the angel of death swept through Egypt, killing every firstborn child and beast. Jesus held up a piece of bread and explained that it symbolized his soon to be broken body, and a cup that represented his blood about to be spilled. This must have confused the disciples; the body and blood had always been supplied by a lamb and a goat. But Jesus’ meaning is clear: He was about to become the lamb and goat. He was going to receive on himself the sins of the world and be cast outside the city gate. His blood would be poured out on the cruciform altar as the payment for our sins.

Devotional 4

“When [Jesus] had finished washing [his disciples’] feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord,” and rightly so, for that is what I am. 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.’” Remarking on this passage, Charles Spurgeon said, “Blessed is that servant who is quite content with that position which his master appoints him — glad to unloose the latchet of his Lord’s shoes — glad to wash the saints’ feet — glad to engage in sweeping a crossing for the king’s servants. Let us do anything for Jesus, counting it the highest honour even to be a door-mat inside the church of God, … for the saints even to remove the filthiness from themselves upon us, so long as we may but be of some use to them, and bring some glory to God.”

What the Bible Says About Second Chances

God is patient in giving us second chances—and not just one, but continual second chances. Micah 7:18 says, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” God savors opportunities to offer second chances and is eager not to punish us when we truly seek forgiveness for our sin (Joel 2:13).

We see this most vividly in God’s offering up His only Son—Jesus Christ—for the forgiveness of our sins. As the Apostle Peter explained, “‘[Christ] himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed'” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus lived the sinless life we couldn’t live and died the gruesome death we should have received, to offer us a second chance at life with God.

Both the Old and New Testaments bear witness to a forgiving God. Think of Moses, who murdered a man (Exodus 2:11-15); Jonah, who fled from God’s command (Jonah 1); David, who committed adultery and had a man murdered (2 Samuel 11:14-17); Rahab, who was a prostitute in Jericho (Joshua 2); and Peter, who denied even knowing Jesus after spending three years with Him (Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:55-62, John 18:15-17 and 25-27). Each of these—and dozens of other men and women like them in Scripture—stand as monuments of God’s grace (Hebrews 11).

None stands taller than Jesus, of course, who said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19). His ministry, he said, would be marked by fresh starts and second chances for those whom many view as outcasts.

And that’s exactly what we see when we examine Jesus’ life. We see how He redeemed and elevated people others convicted and condemned. We see that He professed the unfaltering power of redemption in their lives.

Zacchaeus the tax collector, for example, was considered a sinner by his neighbors (Luke 19:1–10). When Zacchaeus shows he has changed and is making amends by giving possessions to the poor, Christ responds by saying, “Today salvation has come to this house.” When the criminal dying on the cross next to Jesus asks for Him to remember him, Christ responds by saying He will see him in paradise (Luke 23:32–43).

But Jesus doesn’t envision His forgiveness stopping with Him.

Read the rest of my article on Prison Fellowship’s blog.

[Video] A Roadmap to Personal Renewal

I got called in to pinch hit for my pastor when he came down with something nasty and lost his voice. So I reworked an old sermon on Hezekiah’s renewal from 2 Chronicles 28-30. Here’s video of the sermon. (Note the now ironic intro mentioning Tiger Woods not winning a major for several years … which he did when he won the Masters yesterday.)

Brief Thoughts on Digital Minimalism and The Four-Dimensional Human

After seeing Tony Reinke’s high praise for Laurence Scott’s The Four-Dimensional Human, I decided to look it up through my local library, and found a free audiobook through Hoopla. I’ve been listening to it on my morning runs for the last two days, and already, I can see why Tony was so impressed.

Scott treads what is, at this point, well-worn ground about the limits and abuses of the digital tech we swim in today, but he does so in a fresh way. It’s hard to believe the book came out in 2015 (and equally hard to believe how long ago that seems in the scheme of the digital landscape).

The premise underlying the name of the book is that we now live in a four-dimensional world, one where we can easily operate outside of the previous limits of time and space — or at least it seems we can. Digital tech (think iPhones, social media, Skype, etc.) promise to put others in the “same room” as us, even though we are obviously in different ones. This ability to be both here and there at the same time is the fourth dimension.

He illustrates the title and concept by pointing back to a 1959 horror film called 4D Man. Here’s the film’s premise from IMDB:

Two brothers, scientists Scott and Tony Nelson, develop an amplifier which enables a person to enter a 4th dimensional state, allowing him to pass through any object.

You can probably already see the parallel to modern-day tech. Our screens are like that amplifier, allowing us to pass through the normal bounds of physical location to be present with others around the world.

But in the film, Scott soon discovers a problem with his newfound ability: Each time he passes through something, he ages rapidly. While he has found a way to enter the fourth dimension, he realizes he cannot do so without it taking a toll on his body.

And so it is with digital tech today, in my view. We can choose to enter into that fourth dimension through the screen, but we cannot do so without it taking a toll on our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls, and on others. While we feel as if we can be both here and there at the same time, we were made to be here. The fact that we can operate outside of that parameter does not make it untrue, and just because we can be here and there does not mean it is good for us.

My question has always been: “If we limit the amount of time we spend in the four-dimensional world, can we limit its negative effects and live an improved 3-D life?”

This question is also at the center of Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, which I’m reading right now. I’m 100 pages in, and so far, Cal’s answer seems to be yes, but not without the limits. The limits are everything, he explains, because there is a law of diminishing returns with tech use, just as with certain processes. There are real returns (rewards, benefits) with a certain amount of use, but beyond that point, the returns start to diminish. The input increases but the output decreases.

I find this to be true in my own life. When I use helpful services, tools, or software in small, healthy doses, I typically enjoy the returns, in terms of time saved, connecting with others, etc. These are the times when I understand the fourth-dimensional tools to be in service of my three-dimensional life.

But when I forsake my third-dimensional world for the fourth-dimensional one, those returns begin to erode, until I am giving more and more of myself to something that returns less and less (sounds a lot like idolatry).

I’ll probably be writing more about these two books as I go along, but those are some initial thoughts and reflections.

The Importance of Reading the Bible as One Big Story

The Bible is not primarily a book about morals. Though Scripture has a lot to say about how we live and act, it’s not primarily a manual for moral living.

The Bible is not about us. It’s about God.

Edmund Clowney, who was a professor and theologian, said that if we read a particular story without putting it into the bigger story about Christ, we actually change the meaning of the particular event for us. It becomes a moralistic exhortation to try harder rather than a call to live by faith in the work of Christ.

In the end, there are only two ways to read the Bible: as if it’s all about us or all about Jesus. In other words, is it basically about me and what I must do, or about Christ and what he has done?

Who Is the Book About?

If we read David and Goliath as a story that’s giving me an example to follow, then I’m reading the story as if it’s ultimately about me. And I have to muster the strength or courage to face my giants and win my battles. But if I read about David and Goliath as basically showing me about salvation through Jesus, then the story is about him. Then I can see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin and death) for me, which is the only thing that will give me the courage and strength to face my giants.

The Bible is not a collection of fables; it is not a book of virtues. It’s a story about how God saves us. That story works out in the four movements of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.

When we read stories disconnected from the whole, we lose their grounding in the redemptive arc of the Bible and place the significance solely in the events or details of that one story.

For an example of how this works out, let’s look at John 3:14-15 where Jesus says,

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Jesus is referencing the story of the bronze serpent found in Numbers 21:4-9:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

In this passage, Jesus puts the serpent story into the bigger story with himself at the center. The serpent story sheds light on how Jesus saves us (it only takes a look to be healed or saved, and that he is made to be like the sin that’s killing us) — but it also means that we can’t understand the serpent story without realizing it’s pointing us to Jesus.

Jesus is the truer and better version of all the characters and stories we read about in the Bible.

A Word of Caution

Now, we do have to be careful of allegorizing when we read the Bible as one big story. Allegorizing results in strange interpretations that require a stretch in a text’s meaning.

Allegorizing has two bad effects:

  1. It results in arbitrary interpretations. It’s a way of getting a text to say almost anything we want, instead of living under the authority of God’s Word.
  2. It fails to honor the author’s original intended meaning.

We guard against poor interpretation and allegorizing by doing a proper inductive study of a passage before looking for Christ in the text and trying to connect it to the larger story of the Bible. When we keep both things in mind, we’re able to see how a passage is part of the larger story and points to Jesus. And when you understand that God has been pointing to Jesus from the very beginning, your study of the Bible becomes a whole new adventure.

Reading the Bible with the “big picture” in mind is much more than a good skill or approach to reading the Bible. The ultimate goal of reading Scripture with the one big story in mind is to grow into the image of Christ as we realize that we are a part of the Bible’s one big story.