Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Part and Parcel

                                                                  Reflections on John 13:6-11

So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, "Lord, do You wash my feet?” … “Never shall You wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."
                                                                                                John 13:6, 8

Peter couldn’t help his outburst.

Maybe he was first. Maybe he wasn’t. No doubt, the longer he waited for Jesus, the more he stewed. There was no way he’d let Him wash his feet. And he told Him so. The moment Jesus knelt in front of him, Peter erupted.


And that was the problem. He knew too much. He knew He was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” With his own eyes, He’d seen Jesus transfigured in glory and majesty. With his own ears, he’d heard the voice of God from heaven above declare, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”  1

“You wash my feet?”

Not Him. Not after seeing the winds and waves obey Him. Or seeing Him walk on water; or the way He healed multitudes of people; or raising Lazarus after four days in the tomb. No, the Baptist was right. We’re not worthy to come to His feet. Let alone unstrap His sandals and wash.

Jesus calms him. “You don’t understand. But you will. Later.”

“Never!” Peter retorts. But it’s an odd, confusing response. He’s being humble. He’s telling Jesus he’s not worthy. His voice keeps accenting, “You?” and “my?” How can “You” the greater wash “my” feet the lesser? The answer, “Never!” He refuses Him – bold, brash, and in control. The lesser dictating to the greater. 2

But what kind of humility is that? Peter is sending mixed signals.

And yet, Jesus is patient with him. In simple terms, He tells Peter this washing is everything. It’s the only way to be “part” of Jesus and His eternal kingdom. If he wants to belong, if he wants “in” -- fully in -- this is it.

"If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." 

Which meant Peter was faced with a hard reality. How does he let go of his bold, brash, in control pride that pushed Jesus away? If he recoiled his feet so Jesus couldn’t touch them, does he give them back? Does he let Jesus wash him?

Yes! His reaction is instantaneous. Yes! A thousand times yes!

Peter explodes with exuberance. “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.”

He still doesn’t understand. Not yet.

But for Jesus, it’s okay. He takes Peter’s feet and begins. Peter is not like Judas – who is clean on the outside and unclean on the inside. No, Peter is different. Peter is why He came. Tonight, He washes his feet with water. Soon enough, He will wash his soul with His cleansing blood.

And that’s why He can say it – and say it strongly, “You are clean!” 3

“You are completely clean!”

*       *       *

As I said, we visited John and Harriet in Rwanda in the spring of 1998.

We flew into the capital city of Kigali, got our luggage, and hoped to see John waiting for us. Instead, he’d sent a clergyman by the name of Ephraim to pick us up. He had a round, gentle face with brightness in his eyes, a gracious smile, and a warm, pastoral disposition that seemed altogether kind.

He greeted us with a handshake and an apology that English wasn’t easy for him. He immediately handed us a note from John:

You are most welcome in Rwanda…I am very sorry for not being at the airport to meet you. I have an important national meeting to attend. I was asked to give a talk. I will explain on arrival…I have sent Archdeacon Ephraim Semabumba to meet you. The way is well-protected. Be at peace.
                                                                        Yours in Christ,
                                                                                    Bishop John Rucyahana

We got in the car, drove out of Kigali, and took the major roadway to the mountainous northwest. For an hour and a half, we had front-row seats to witness the magnificent beauty of Rwanda’s lush terrain, the meticulous architecture of terraced hills and cultivated valleys with rivers cut deep into the landscape and meandering gently on their courses.

This road, this beautiful road, is where John nearly lost his life in an ambush several months before. I’d just read on the Internet that infiltrators had attacked a mini-bus only weeks ago -- killing everyone. On this very road.

John had written: The way is well-protected. Be at peace. And maybe we would have been if it hadn’t been for Ephraim. He was nervous. His eyes kept moving back and forth from the road to the mountainside in an unending, annoying rhythm. He was obviously watching for infiltrators. He was – like us – scared.

The drive couldn’t have ended soon enough.

That night, as we sat for dinner with John and Harriet, we learned that John had barely escaped death that afternoon.

He was heading home after work. As he got in his car, some workers asked him for a ride. They didn’t want to walk home due to an impending storm. He agreed, drove them to a certain street in town, and dropped them off. Twenty minutes later, after arriving home, the phone rang.

Rebel forces had just attacked that same street with open gunfire.

“Had we walked home, Bishop,” one of the workers said, “we would have most certainly died today.”

And for John, it was the same story. He was there – on that street – only minutes before the shooting. What if the timing had been different? What if he’d stayed there, got out of his car, lingering in conversation with the workers? Or what if he saw someone he knew and stopped to talk?

He would’ve been there when it happened.

His emotions were mixed. Yes, the Lord rescued him. But people had just died. Loved ones were mourning. Fear was now spreading to towns and villages as the news got out. This place was not well-protected. It was not safe.

As we got into bed that night, tired from a long plane flight from the U. S., it all came too close. John and Harriet lived in the center of town. With our windows open, we could hear sounds everywhere like a thousand echoes bouncing off the surrounding hills. There was music. Voices. Sometimes shouting.

Then – Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

Gunfire. Shots, real shots. We both sat up, eyes wide open. It sounded close. It could have been miles away, given the mountains around us. It could have been down the street. Was it the infiltrators? Had people just been shot?

Were they coming for us?

There was no movement in the house. We wondered if John and Harriet had heard it. Were they awake? We sat there – our hearts racing, scared, waiting for more. But nothing. Some time passed, maybe an hour or two, and it happened again. In the long hours passed midnight, our minds tormented us. We kept thinking, at any minute, they’d break into the house – into our room.

We prayed. We waited for the first light of dawn.

“No one ever gets used to it,” John told us at breakfast.

Who lives like this?

We spent a week there. We traveled to schools, medical clinics, churches, and memorial sites of the genocide. And everywhere we went, we had military escort. Three men dressed in fatigues, carrying rifles, sent by the local government. They feared we, as Americans, might attract infiltrators. They wanted to protect the people as well as us. They wanted us safe.

In a world that wasn’t safe.

They made us feel like outsiders. We weren’t part and parcel of the people’s lives, or their suffering, or the fear that terrorized their hearts every time the rebels attacked. No, we were visitors. We’d soon be gone. But what if we stayed? What if the Lord called us to be part of their lives?

“How do you do it?” I asked John before we left.

“It may not be easy,” he said. “We may not feel comfortable. It may mean we lose things we hold dear. But we do it because we love Jesus. We follow Jesus.”

I could see the hurt in his eyes as he said it. I knew he was still grieving Madu and her family. But even then, in his pain, he’d never dream of leaving here. He’d go on suffering for as long as his people were suffering.

But me?

I couldn’t help the feeling inside, the ache. I’m not like him. I didn’t want the Lord calling us here. I didn’t want to live where shots ring out at night and where people live in constant fear. I didn’t want “in.” I didn’t want “part.”

I just wanted to go home.

1 Matthew 16:16; 17:5
2 Leon Morris comments that when Peter says “You” it is “emphatic, and in the Greek is followed immediately by ‘my’, thus placing the two in sharp contrast.” See p. 617.
3 In verses 8 and 10, we see two aspects of foot-washing. First, it is a saving act. We must receive the Lord’s washing to have “part” with Him. Second, it is a sanctifying act. As Christians, we grow in Christ by regular confession, repentance, and need for His daily cleansing in our lives (see 1 John 1:7, 9, 2:1-2).
3 Barnum, Never Silent. This story can be found on pages 69-76.

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Building the character of God’s mercy in the Christian soul

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Savior’s Love

                                                                          Reflections on John 13:3-5, 12

Jesus…began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

So when He had washed their feet…
                                                                                                John 13:3-5, 12

Whose feet were the first feet?

John only records the conversation between Jesus and Peter. But did they all talk to Him? Did they all, like Peter, try and stop Him too? Was Peter first? Or maybe Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas?

And how long did it take? He was the only foot washer that night. To each one. Around the table. So how did He do it? When He finished with one, did He pick up the basin and move to the next on His knees? Or did He stand up each time? How long did He spend with each one? More than usual?

Andrew, James, John.

Did He have to get up from time to time, empty the dirty water, clean the basin, and fill it with fresh water again? Did He have to change towels? How often? And was there any sound in the upper room but Him? Who could eat? Who could talk while their Lord, their Teacher, washed their feet? Was He quiet? Did He talk to them at all? Did He speak out their name when He came to them?

Matthew, James, Thaddaeus, Simon.

He didn’t do a few. He did them all.

At some point, He came to the feet of Judas. Was he first? Was he somewhere in the middle? No matter – He did not single Judas out. What He did to the others, He did to Judas, gently taking his feet and washing them. Even though, Jesus already knew Satan had come to him. He’d “put it into the heart of Judas” to betray Him. And then, before supper’s end, it would happen. The unimaginable.

Satan “entered into” Judas.

The Eleven had no clue. They had no idea who Jesus was talking about when – after the washing -- He announced, “one of you will betray me.” Again, “you are clean, but not all of you.” This can mean only one thing. Our Lord treated Judas as He did the others. He washed, He loved, He cared – each one the same.

How is that possible? How can anyone wash their betrayer’s feet?

But He did.

And this one moment is forever fixed in time. It is remembered by all who know the Savior’s love. For there He is, kneeling in front of Judas, holding his feet in His hands and washing. Spending just as much time. Giving just as much love.

We never forget.

And we do the same. We wash feet. All feet. It doesn’t matter who they are. What they’ve done. What they will do. How they’ve hurt us. How they will hurt us. We wash as He washed. We love as He loves. We show no partiality, ever.

For we are a people who never forget.

*       *       *

On June 8, 1997, John was consecrated bishop in front of twenty-five hundred people. It was a day of quiet, unspoken miracle. In the land of the northwest, dominated by Hutus, the Lord had called a Tutsi to lead His church.

But how does he do it?

Too many people were homeless. Too many widows, orphans, men roaming the streets without work, families locked in their homes afraid to work in the fields for fear of being killed by infiltrators. People needed food, clothing, medical treatment, education, vocational training, post traumatic counseling, and a tiny flicker of hope that peace and stability were close at hand. 1

Where does he start?

Making it worse, the church had lost its standing in the nation. There were too many stories of church officials, bishops, pastors – across denominational lines – who openly supported the Hutu government. Some of these church leaders, the world would later learn, actually participated in the genocide.

The church had become unsafe.

The people knew it. They experienced it. During the genocide, thousands ran to their local church thinking it was the only safe place left in the country. They locked the doors. They bolted the windows. But it didn’t help. In came the mortar shells, the hand grenades, killing them all. It’s one thing if the clergy died with them. It’s another if they took sides with the killers.

And that image stuck. Like a cartoon, dark and foreboding, there stands a priest dressed in a torn, dirty robe, holding a machete drenched in blood.

John had to change that image. How else would his nation recover? Where would it find the power to heal, forgive, and reconcile if not in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? Something had to change.

John had to do different.

He traveled the northwest. He met with the clergy, preached in the churches, and assessed the needs of the people. Nothing concerned him more than the vast population of orphans. He knew, before genocide, roughly 60% of the Rwandan population had been kept illiterate.

To effect lasting change, these children, these orphans, needed schools. The best schools with the best teachers and curriculum.

He dreamed big. He wanted one of these schools, The Sonrise School, to be one of the best in the country. 2 He wanted it to produce a new generation of leaders who’d lead Rwanda into the future. And in the heart of those leaders, they’d know Jesus Christ as their Lord. That prayer – God kindly answered.

John was off to a good start.

Until the news came.

A few months after John was made bishop, his niece came for a visit. Her name was Madu. She was a sixteen year old high school student, about the same age as John and Harriet’s own daughters. She’d often come by. She and her cousins were close friends. Her visits always brought joy to the family.

But this particular time, she was scared.

She told John that she and her mother, her sister and brother, were afraid of the infiltrators. Ethnically, they were a mixed family. Her father was a Tutsi, her mother a Hutu. She feared the rebels had already targeted them. She wanted to know if her family could come and stay with John and Harriet. They lived in another town. Perhaps they could find a house nearby?

John later told me, “I was able to reassure her that the provisions for the move were cared for and that they should come immediately.”

Madu went back home and made preparations.

But that same night, the rebels came.

John’s description of that night was graphic and horrifying. The infiltrators didn’t just kill Madu. They tortured her. They raped her. They let her feel the machetes slowly dismember her.

“We could not conceive,” John said to me, “none of us could, the pain this dear girl went through. To this day, we deeply grieve her loss.”

And not just her death. They killed her mother, brother, and sister.

“Early the next morning,” John reported, “some of our Christians from that town came out of hiding and brought the news to us. We had to make burial arrangement but the soldiers would not let me attend the burial of my family. They told me, as a bishop coming to this town, I would attract public attention and many more people would die.”

John and his family were left to mourn in silence.

The war was not over. Everybody said it ended in the summer of 1994. But it did not. Three years later, in the northwest, the war raged on.

Killing their own flesh and blood.

The next spring, Erilynne and I went to visit them in Rwanda. The grief was still palpable -- as if Madu and her family had died only weeks before.

“It was a tragic and devastating moment in our lives,” they shared with us. “It was very painful for our children.”

It shook them, shook them deep.

They were Tutsis in a Hutu world. Their job was to preach Jesus to them because they knew that by His cross, forgiveness was possible. By His resurrection, reconciliation was possible. The Rwandan people could hear the message of reconciliation from secular leaders. But they needed more than the message. They needed its power and that power comes from Jesus Christ.

Power to comfort, heal, and cleanse the soul.

But how could they do it?

John and Harriet were suffering. Every time they traveled the northwest, the rebels – the infiltrators – could be anywhere, intermingled in the crowds. Maybe the same people who’d killed their family. And what if they were, could they forgive them? And how does that happen? How does the Savior’s love work? How do we love the people who’ve violently trampled and violated our souls? How do we do what our Savior did?

And get down to carefully, compassionately wash their feet?

1 Barnum, Never Silent. This story can be found on pages 51-68.
2 For more information about The Sonrise School, go to www.mustardseedproject.org

John 15:1-11, the Vine and the branches. "Is He everything to you?