Monday, November 29, 2010


If we are looking at John 4 through the lens of religion, there is a whole lot wrong with Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time asking the wrong question lead to a wrong perception of who Jesus is and what Jesus wants.

Check this out. Jesus is talking to the woman with the worst reputation in town, right? But as far as she knows, He does not know the extent of her immorality when He says, “Go, call your husband and come back.” But notice her response, “I have no husband.”

Why does she answer Jesus this way? I wonder if her statement, roughly translated, “I’m not married,” might have been an invitation to something more than just a drink of water?

Think about this from her point of view for a minute. Here was a Jewish rabbi who was where He should not be – Samaria, talking to someone He should not be talking to – a Samaritan woman, asking for things no good Jew would ever ask a Samaritan for – a drink of water. And now he tells her to go and get her husband.

It is at this point that I believe she perceives that Jesus is in Samaria for less-than-honorable purposes. I think that she thinks Jesus is in Samaria, “looking for love,” why else would she say, “I have no husband.” She rightly assumes that He has come here looking for her but she is woefully mistaken as to Jesus purposes with her. You see Jesus needed to come to Samaria because he needed to show real love to this woman.

Too often we allow the opinions of others and the perceptions of those around us to keep us from loving others well. “I can’t go there. I can’t do that. I can’t talk with her. What will people think?” “What will people think,” is that even the right question? What did Jesus’ disciples think? They thought He was crazy! What did the woman think? She probably thought Jesus was her next “client”.

Here is the reality, if we choose to go where Jesus went and do what Jesus did; religious people will think that we are crazy and sinful. Am I (are you) willing to be thought an immoral fool for the sake of those who need me (us) to go though my (our) “Samaria”?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Be wary of sermons which promise "4 easy steps for..." or "3 keys to..." Life is complex and it demands that we think hard about some things.
Being simple and choosing to live simply are two very different things.
Listen when you pray
Invite a few Godly friends into your life while you are young. Spend your adult life living in community with these people. Love them and be loved by them. Allow them to challenge you, your spouse, your children and grandchildren.
Remember that Christians worship the Triune Creator not the Bible

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


“Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7-9) If Jesus was in the wrong place – Samaria, and He was there at the wrong time – around noon, then in verse 7 He is certainly asking the wrong question. When Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink He was in essence asking her for something which would immediately render Him ceremonially unclean.

Is it any wonder that she responds as she does in verse 9, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” Was this Jewish man actually so thirsty that He would risk His acceptance within His religious community for a drink of water? She couldn’t quit figure it out.

Whatever else this says about Jesus, it tells us that this woman was more important to Him than ceremonies or rituals. You see, she thought that Jesus’ mission in life, as a Jew, was to keep the rules of Judaism, but Jesus the truth. He had not come to keep rules but to usher in a kingdom within which the significance of titles, heritage, and times and places of worship (John 4:19-20) give way to the Spirit and the Truth of who God is.

In this moment Jesus affirms the fact that this woman is an image bearer of the Almighty. With this simple yet radical request Jesus tells her that in His eyes she is more than a heretical half-breed, more than a second-class citizen, more than the town tramp. With this question Jesus tells her that she matters more to Him than His “religion” does.

Today as you journey through this life don’t look away from the eyes of the hurting. Consider the scandalous example of Jesus and love the unlovely. Stop being so sanitized and love the sinner more than you love your religion! After all, it’s not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick, (Matthew 9:12-13) right?

Monday, November 22, 2010


The scriptures tell us (John 4:6) that at about noon Jesus came to Jacob’s well and sat down to rest. Jesus was tired, alone, and hungry. The text goes on to say (John 4:7) that while Jesus was resting a woman came to draw water. What the text does not tell us is that it was very uncommon for someone to come to draw water in the mid-day heat.

We cannot know for sure the reason(s) for her untimely errand. Did she have a sudden need for water? Was her day-time journey prompted by shame and rejection? Did her vocation or life-style demand an odd sleep cycle and daily routine? Whatever the reason(s), the fact that Jesus met this woman at noon tells us something about her; it tells that she was probably an outcast who was shunned by the other women of the community. But Jesus didn’t shun her. The text says that even though she was at the well at the wrong time Jesus looked past all of the reasons why he should not talk with her:

• He was tired

• She was a Samaritan

• She was a Woman

and asked her a simple yet shocking question, “Will you give me a drink?”

Jesus had every reason in the world to look the other way when he saw her coming to the well but He chose not to. He had every excuse to keep his distance but He knew, even as weary as he was, that the woman standing in front of Him was why he was there. He saw past the fatigue, he saw past the prejudice, and he saw past the religious expectation.

When Jesus saw this woman coming to the well, he did not see a Samaritan or a woman or a tramp he saw a daughter. And who wouldn’t feel comfortable asking their daughter for a drink?

Friday, November 19, 2010


As I ponder what Jesus did by going through instead of going around Samaria, I wonder what the church might look like if in addition to asking ourselves WWJD (What Would Jesus Do), we would begin asking ourselves WDJG (Where Did Jesus Go).

What would the world look like if God’s people decided that the irreligious message of Jesus demanded that they go to those who most need God’s love? What would the church look like if we chose to lay down our prejudices and headed into the places we typically walk around? What would happen if, instead of hoping that the harvest comes to us, we went to where the harvest is?

Several years ago, while pastoring in Ohio, I saw how being in what many would consider the wrong place can mean being right where the Lord wants you to be. One of my favorite eateries in our little town was a bar called Flappers. A couple of times a week I would go in for lunch. After a few months I became a regular.

After several months of building relationships and cultivating trust I was in Flappers with a pastor-friend when an elderly lady fell while getting up from her table. John and I jumped up from our meals and darted over to see if we could help. When we got to her she began to cry and started pouring her heart out to us. She was battling cancer and she was tired of fighting. She had lost her husband and she was lonely. She was embarrassed that she had fallen and wondered what everyone would think of her.

A couple of minutes into her impromptu confession she looked at John and me and said, “I don’t know why I just told you all that.” We smiled and told her that we knew why she had. We told her who we were and she was a bit surprised that two pastors were eating lunch in a bar. We told her that Jesus loved her and that He had not forsaken her in her pain and loss. She broke into a fresh stream of tears as we reminded her of His love and care. And with her still sitting on that dingy floor I asked if we could pray with her and she said yes.

I can still see the scene. Two young pastors, surrounded by the wait, kitchen and bar staff, kneeling beside of and praying for an elderly woman in a little bar called Flapper. To my surprise, all of the employees bowed their heads as we prayed and at the conclusion of our prayer they all thanked us. In that moment I knew that John and I needed to be right where we were because right where we were was right in the midst of the harvest.

So, I have to ask, where is your harvest? Who are the wrong people in your world? What prejudices or pre-judgments do you need to overcome in order to minister as Jesus did? What places do you continually walk around rather than go though? Are you; am I, willing to risk our sanitized idea of what it means to be a Christian in order to follow the example of Jesus? It just might be that the “wrong place” is the very place you need to be.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


It sounds odd to say that Jesus was in the wrong place, doesn’t it? It sounds like Jesus stumbled down a dark side street and was confronted by a group of unsavory hooligans. When I say that Jesus was in the wrong place in John 4, I simply mean that this narrative puts Jesus in a place where no good and respectable Jew would ever want to find themselves, Samaria.

At first glance we might shrug our shoulders and wonder what this bit of information has to do with Jesus being in the wrong place. It might not mean much until we begin to understand the animosity and bigotry between the Jews and the Samaritans.

The reason for this animosity can be traced back to the time following the fall of the northern kingdom around 722 B.C. It was during this time that the Jews who had not been deported by the Assyrians began to intermarry with imported Assyrian settlers. The sons and daughters of the intermarried leftover Jews and Assyrian imports soon began to intermingle elements of Jewish worship with pagan worship practices forming a new religious system within Palestine.

When the exiles from the southern kingdom returned from captivity in Babylon to resume temple worship under the law more than 150 years had passed. During that time the religious corruption of the Samaritans had grown and solidified into a full-blown cultish system. The returning Jews found the Samaritan corruptions both religiously and ethnically reprehensible. As the centuries passed, the animosity and hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans increased until, in the time of Jesus, Jews generally considered the Samaritans heretical half-breeds who were worse than dogs.

Because of this engrained generational prejudice it was very common for good and pious Jews living in the northern region of Israel known as Galilee to take one of the longer routes around Samaria as they journeyed to Jerusalem for festivals or worship. One reason a longer route would be preferable to the northern Jews was ritualistic cleanness. The Jews were not permitted to have any contact with that which was “unclean” and still be acceptable for festival participation and temple worship. Since contact with a Samaritan would render them unclean they would avoid it if they could.

It is into this ethnically, socially, and religiously tense setting that the text tells us, “But He (Jesus) needed to go through Samaria.” Why would Jesus need to go through Samaria? As we ponder this thought it might confound us if we are thinking like religious people. The answer is only found as we recognize that Jesus was not thinking about His own ritualistic piety; He was thinking about the thirsty people living in Samaria who needed Him.

He needed to go through Samaria because He needed to meet this woman, He needed to preach in this village, and He needed to teach His disciples something about the harvest. Jesus needed to go through Samaria because it was the only way to minister to, and teach His disciples to minister to, a group of the people whom He had come to save. Meeting this woman, teaching in this village, risking ritual uncleanness and subsequently becoming ritually unclean was something Jesus had to do for the sake of His calling. He needed to go through Samaria. But where do I need to go? What prejudices do I need to get over? Whom do I need to forgive? What does the harvest look like in my world?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Irreligious Message of Jesus

Last time we talked about Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana and then discussed the effect this miracle had on two groups of people: the religious and the thirsty.

To carry on with that theme I would like to look at another passage (John 4:4-26) where Jesus’ concern for a thirsty person overrode his concern for ritual adherence. But in order for you to understand what I am saying you need to understand a bit about who I am and where I am from.

The reality of my upbringing can be summarized this way: if life is a five-step race, by virtue of my parents, I had a four step head-start. Mom and Dad (Linda and Delmas to their friends) loved the Lord authentically, they loved each other passionately, and they loved Chris – my younger brother – and me unconditionally. Mom and Dad worked hard to model good morals and ethical behavior for us and they, as much as any two people I have ever known, really desired to live lives which conformed to the image of Christ and the standards of the Scriptures.

One of the ways Mom and Dad attempted to model the Christ-life for Chris and me was to diligently be in the “right” place, at the “right” time, with the “right” people, for the “right” purpose. What I caught from my parents and other important people God has subsequently brought into my life is that the “right” place isn’t just church and the “right” time isn’t always convenient and the “right” person isn’t always clean or sober or morally principled.

It’s hard to explain but Mom and Dad – Mom especially – had a capacity for turning the wrong place into the right place and the wrong time into the right time. They had a knack for living out the principles which Jesus models via His Samaritan missional adventure in John 4 and in so doing taught Chris and me something about God’s perspective on right and wrong.

Over the next few days let’s see what we can learn from Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman. Let’s observe how Jesus

1. Turned the wrong place into the right place

2. Was right on time by arriving at the wrong time

3. Exuded the love of God by being willing to compromise His ability to participate in religious rituals for the sake of this less-than-desirable woman

4. Kept His mission the main thing in the midst of temptation and misunderstanding

5. Saw the harvest in spite of religious and racial prejudices

Ready or not, here we go down the irreligious rabbit whole.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Keeping Religious People Happy

Have you ever looked in the mirror on Monday morning and asked yourself, “What are we (the church) doing? Or better still, what am I (a professed follower of Jesus) doing?” Have you ever wondered if you are simply keeping religious people happy instead of doing what you see Jesus doing? If not, then you may stop reading now and go about your business. Have a great day. If so, then keep reading because you and I are in the same boat and need to encounter the irreligious message of Jesus.

This morning I had the opportunity to speak to several employees here at RBC. We talked about the irreligious message of Jesus found in John 2:1-12. As I shared John’s account of Jesus’ first miracle, the irreligiousness of what Jesus did crashed afresh over me like a shockingly powerful wave of conviction.

In John’s account of Jesus’ first miracle several things make me stop to ponder:

1. Jesus’ reluctance to “come-out” as the Messiah (John 2:4)

2. Mary’s insistence that he involve himself in this particular instance (John 2:3 & 5)

3. The Master of the feast and the wedding couple seem to be oblivious to the fact that Jesus has just spared them a great deal of shame. (John 2:8-10)

4. Jesus’ disciples had not yet put their faith in him. (John 2:11)

But the phrase which captured my attention as I prepared for this particular devotional time was the one which describes the pots which would hold the water Jesus was going to turn into wine as, “the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washings.”

Here’s the scene. Jesus and his disciples are at a wedding and Jesus’ mother Mary comes to him and tells him that there is no more wine for the wedding guests and that he needs to do something. Jesus is reluctant, telling his mother that, “my time has not yet come.” Mary then in true mom fashion totally ignores Jesus’ hesitation and tells the servants, “do whatever he (Jesus) tells you to do.” I can totally see the exasperation in Jesus’ face as, at the behest of his mother, He tells the servant to fill up the stone pots with water.

The servants follow Jesus’ instruction and fill the water pots with water which promptly turns into wine. Problem solved, right? Well, sort of. The problem with this action by Jesus is that filling these particular pots (the ones used for ceremonial washings) with wine rendered them useless for religious/ceremonial washing. Do you see the problem?

I suppose some people at the wedding, probably those who were really religious, got very upset with Jesus because when he preformed this miracle he made it very difficult for them to follow their formulaic religious rituals. Conversely, I bet those in attendance who were thirsty were probably really pleased.

Here is a stark reality. The religious people at this wedding could get more water to cleanse themselves of their ritual uncleanness but the thirsty people could not get more wine without the presence of Jesus.

As I processed this passage I came to the following conclusion. If I am really serious about living according to the mission of Jesus I need to be more concerned with giving thirsty people a drink than I am about keeping religious people happy.

Today let’s follow in the footsteps of Jesus and allow ourselves to be moved by the situation of the “thirsty” around us and, in the name of Jesus, buy a round for anyone who wants a drink. Religious people can find more water but the only way to get a taste of the Christ’s new wine of reconciliation and redemption is to have Jesus at the party.

How would this look in your life and in mine? What would it look like if we let religious people get their own water for the ritual and the ceremony but spent our energies to provide thirsty people with a drink?