Outcasts and Samaritans

John 4: 9 – 10

Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

It is rare that I can read this passage without stopping to consider all that was going on here. Truly, it is difficult for us to appreciate how strange the setting is for this exchange. Clearly, the Samaritan woman was surprised that Jesus even condescended to speak to her.

Jesus cared little for the prejudices of the day. If you look at his own crew you will find women and tax collectors. It may be hard for some to appreciate this, but women were considered property, even in this, the land of the free, until just two generations ago. They were chattel, the property of a man, like a mule or a cow. They had no right to vote and had no say in their own governance. This was the very reason the colonists rebelled against colonial England, but the reasoning did not extend to women. For all that the former Africans were held in slavery and mistreated, their men ended up faring better under the voting act than did women. They became “Free men” but women, all women, were still considered property.

It may be quite hard for you to wrap your mind around the lowly existence of women because now we witness successful women in almost every walk of life. That is not the way of the past though and Jesus well knew that women were considered a sub-class of humans. To compound things, there was great dissension between Jews and Samaritans such that Jews didn’t even speak to Samaritans. Jews would usually detour around Samaritan towns so as to avoid contact with the disgraceful Samaritans.

Yet, here we find Jesus asking water of a Samaritan, and a woman to boot and even asking at a Samaritan well. There is nothing “right” in this scenario. He did everything a “good” Jew shouldn’t. The woman was stunned, as well she might be. “Why are you even speaking to me,” she questioned. “I am a woman and a Samaritan besides.” None of that mattered to Jesus. Remember too that Jesus told us that he did nothing apart from his Father. He only did those things he saw His Father do, said only those things his Father said. That necessarily means that this entire encounter was approved and ordained by God, the Father. God wanted an encounter with this woman. Yahweh arranged this meeting. At first glance it appears that Jesus was at the well seeking water but Jesus was there to offer water, living water. What is this living water? The exchange between this woman and Jesus is the Kingdom of God in a nutshell. Jesus came to earth to offer the healing, living water that is the Holy Spirit to all the lowly, oppressed, marginalized, ostracized and forlorn of the world. He came to give himself to those whom society wants to cast out. He is the meekest of all human beings, reaching out to those whom the world finds little value for. This woman was not a member of the right caste, group, economic strata, gender or even race. Still Jesus stopped and conversed with her. He offered himself to her though she was not privileged, did nothing to earn his attention and was not even of the chosen race. The Jews had reason to expect his graces but she had no standing to attain even the smallest blessing of the Father. Do you see how out of bounds this exchange was?

Jesus constantly aggravated the religious folks by fraternizing with people they considered beneath them, people they considered undeserving. They thought he should sup with them but he was hanging out with the riff-raff, those whose hearts were open to him and who needed the touch of the Lord. He knew the religious folks’ hearts were stone having, in their own minds, ascended to the status of worthiness. We now know, though sometimes fail to recall, that none of us is worthy. None of us are entitled to anything apart from Jesus’ grace and the kindness of the Father. We are all as lowly and useless as a Samaritan woman. Those who hold themselves above this standard, are the Pharisees of today. Jesus’ hand reaches out to us all, even the most lowly and it is in our acceptance of our own unworthiness that we find the grace which lifts us up to kinship with Jesus and heirs according to his promise. The great paradox of worthiness is that in my unworthiness, I became worthy. In my unrighteousness, I became the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing in myself made me in the least worthy of his kindness but like that poor Samaritan woman, we are all lifted up in the simple act of taking his hand. There is none worthy, no not even one, except in him and then we are shining jewels, the very luster of which is glimpsed in the Father’s eyes. Though none is worthy, all are welcome.

Whomever we wish to restrict or cast from our congregations are the very ones Jesus is associating with to this day, the ones he seeks. They may be like Zacchaeus whom Jesus called down from the tree to entertain Jesus and his friends. They may be like this Samaritan, seemingly with no rights to salvation or access to Jesus. We must understand that Jesus has come specifically for those people. Those who look amazingly like we did at one time. He is the God of the underdog, the downtrodden, the disfavored and unworthy. This story has great import for us because we risk becoming like the Pharisees if we fail to recognize Jesus’ heart, meaning that which is most important to him. He came to have dinner with the people we don’t want in our churches or in our homes. We must take care that we do not become hard hearted like the Pharisees of Jesus’ times or we may find that we, too, are on the outside looking in.

The Gift

Matthew 5: 23

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar . . ..

This week I wish to bring you Christmas themed messages. I have been especially touched through Christmas songs and movies this year. One of my traditions is to gorge on Christmas music and I love, also, to watch the old Christmas cartoons of my youth. I find such beauty and inspiration in their simple but profound messages. Today, I want to tell you the story of the song, “The Gift.”

The story goes that a young orphan girl was on her way to the market when she stopped by the roadside to rest. There, where she paused, she found a small bird which had a broken wing. Maria, picked up the little bird and carried it with her to the market where she spent her last peso buying a cage for a home and corn to feed it. Over time, the little bird grew stronger and under Maria’s kind ministrations, healed.

This was the time of Christmas and everyone in the town made their way to the manger, offerings gifts of love and adoration to the baby king. Maria, poor and without resources was embarrassed that she had no gift worthy of the king. She waited until just before midnight to go in when no one would see her. As she knelt at the manger she cried for “her gift was unworthy of him,” but then a voice out of the darkness spoke to her. “Maria, what you brings you to me? If the bird in the cage is your offering, open the door let me see.” Maria opened the cage door and the little bird took flight on its healed wing. Just then the midnight bells tolled, and the little bird began to sing. The song was beautiful beyond words, a song fit for a king. This is the story of the very first Nightingale’s Song.

I was struck, as perhaps you were, of Maria’s desire to present an offering worthy of the king. Perhaps you too are grieved, as am I, that you have no offering worthy of our beloved Jesus. All we have to offer him is ourselves. In my heart I know my offering is a gift less worthy than a little bird. My offering is so insignificant that it is embarrassing to lay at the feet of the savior and king. And yet, it is all I have. As I recoil at the very thought of offering Jesus and the Father such a useless, unworthy gift, I am lifted by love Himself who says, “Thank you. This is the gift I have always wanted. The only one I wished for.”

His graciousness and acceptance is beyond humbling. He creates whole universes but the one thing He cannot get for Himself is my heart . . . and yours. If you want to give Father the one thing on His Christmas list this year, I know what it is. He wants us to strip away all of the trappings of who we are, what we do, our successes and our failures and just give Him our unadulterated hearts. He wants the heart of the child within you.

I pray that you will be overcome with the joy of the season and immersed in the love of the Father. I hope this week’s devotions will help you share your love with Jesus, the Father and with all people you come in contact with. May you be blessed beyond measure.

Custom Requires

Acts 15: 1

And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

What do you say about this teaching? Is this teaching true, accurate? How would you respond to the teachers?

This was a major point of contention in the early church and yet I believe that not one of you would buy into this ideology. Salvation is in Jesus and his sacrifice and nothing else will do. It seems to be human nature for us to try to earn the gift of salvation through some act of our own. We may even raise the standard as we apply it to others. There is something about us that requires a sacrifice or some outward demonstration of what Jesus has accomplished inside us. Notice, though, that their requirement was a requirement of custom. Our customs can kill us.

We call salvation a gift because it is free. There is nothing, emphasis on nothing, any of us can do to earn even an iota of the grace which flows to us from the cross. I have never been worthy and I never will do anything that makes me even a little bit worthy of all Jesus and the Father have done for me, EXCEPT believing in Christ. Putting our lives in his hands and in his blood is the only thing that will ever make any of us worthy of any of the blessings of our Lord.

I, for one, am happy that I never have to worry about earning anything or being worthy in any sense. It was my unworthiness that brought Jesus to the earth. I couldn’t even earn 25 seconds of blessing on my own and since that is the case, I can release all striving and anxiety and just be grateful for the unblemished lamb that God, my Father, sacrificed for me. Jesus knew we could never earn even the slightest bit of the grace our Father longed to bestow upon us so he willingly shed his blood for us. Isn’t that completely amazing? Why would he give his life for creatures that could never attain even a nanosecond’s measure of worthiness? It was because of love. God so loved that He sent His only begotten (John 3: 16) and Jesus so loved that he gave himself for us.

Still, just like the teachers from today’s verse, man’s nature is to try to put conditions and requirements on the gift from God. First, who is man that he should proclaim a condition for something God has done? Second, it is an insult to the grace of God to suggest there is anything we need to do to obtain salvation. If God and Jesus were unable to accomplish salvation, what can a human do? How can we add anything to the blessing of salvation? And if it is a gift, why should we have to do anything? If I give you a present and then make you perform for it, it wasn’t free and it wasn’t a gift.

I find it personally offensive for someone to suggest that there is anything we could or should do to affect salvation in our lives other than to receive it with gladness. Paul and Barnabas were equally incensed. They understood that freedom is free to us though it cost Yahweh and Jesus a great deal. As long as we have to perform for salvation, then we will always have a hand in saving ourselves. The effect is that to some degree, even if it is a small amount, we retain lordship of our lives. That is one of the reasons God is the complete author of salvation, so that we will be free from having to be lords of our lives. We can only be free when we completely release those responsibilities to Him. So rejoice! Your Father did all that needed doing for you to receive salvation. There is no more striving, no more earning. Just relax and accept the gift of the Lord.

Honor and Esteem

Isaiah 43: 4

You are honored and I love you.

This quote is part of verse four. I left out the word “since” because it is italicized which means the translators added it. There is another part I left out which I really do wish to share with you. It reads that you are precious in God’s sight. So, let’s see if we can really take this in. God is saying to each one of us that we are precious, honored and He loves us.

At some point you have to wonder why the ruler of the universe would even stoop to say such crazy stuff to us. Why does He really care? I mean, look around. Are we really such a great prize? You would think that the guy who made everything we can see, the one for whom miracles are common place could do much better than us.

At one level, He loves us because in the beginning He chose to. He made a decision and He hasn’t backed off of it. Are we worthy? No way! But God knew what He was doing. He knows, even now, who we will become. When we finally see His face, we will be transformed and we will become the family He has long desired. He sees who we are on the inside and He knows the journey we are on. There is no mystery to Him. We may be stumbling around now but He will lead us in the way and we will finally see in ourselves what He has seen all along.

There is something about you that made you worth sending Jesus into the earth as a ransom. God loves us. It sounds silly when you really think about it but the sooner we can accept it, the better for us all. If we are honored and precious, it is because of whose children we are and in the end, our love for Him will shine like the sun, perhaps even like the “son.”

God knows you and even so, still loves you. He sees how precious you are. He sees in your heart and you are a delight to Him. Okay, we mess up routinely but He knows we are growing and we will outgrow all of this foolishness. We have been made completely worthy, even as we are now, in Jesus. There is nothing more precious than the blood which has redeemed us.

Today, start this week as the honored, precious and highly esteemed child of the Lord. Let Him raise you up in your own eyes, not because of anything you have done but because of who you are – His child. Be humble, but be accepting. Let God love on you. I tell you the truth, if you will let His love permeate your being, you will grow and you will find His manifested presence with you constantly. If you have been looking for the secret, this is it. Let God love you. Accept His love. Believe in His lovingkindness towards you. There is no greater power in the universe than His love and nothing better you can do to live in power than to surrender to His uncompromising love. Go, highly honored, precious child of the King, and have a great life.

Accepted

Isaiah 41: 9

You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its remotest parts, and said to you, “You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you.”

I suppose most people have dealt with rejection or the sense of rejection at some time in their life. Many have felt insecure in their relationship with God too. The good news is that God has accepted you. No matter what the world may say about you; no matter what your negative brother-in-law says about you, God loves you and accepts you; even as you are.

I am not trying to say that most of us don’t need some transformation in our lives but we have been chosen by God. We really need to meditate on this scripture and let it sink down into our spirits. We need to have such a rock solid understanding and recognition of God’s favor over our lives such that nothing and no one can cause us to doubt our acceptance by God. 

This is a really big deal. There are books and books on the topic of rejection because so many of us have dealt with feelings of unacceptance and rejection. Sometimes we feel that we can never be what others want us to be but God is here shouting loudly that you do not have to change for Him to love you. Even before you were born He saw you and you were, and are, lovely in His sight. No matter how many mistakes you make, He still sees the beautiful you and He would say to you that you are wondrously made in His own image.

I feel like I could and should write much more on this so that you hear time and time again that God considers you lovely and worthy of His affection. However, He has said it best, “I have chosen you and not rejected you.” Hear the word of the Lord.

Enough is Enough

Titus 3: 4 – 5

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.

Brother this is the good news of the gospel. We were not saved on the basis of our deeds, our righteousness or our worthiness. God’s sweet mercy saved us. God sent His own Spirit to wash us clean. The Holy Spirit has regenerated and renewed you. What is so interesting about this is that he did this for you before you were ever born. That is why no amount of future sin can steal your salvation. Only you can give away your sanctification. Jesus has already paid for the sin that you commit tomorrow or next Tuesday. He has already paid for the sin of the person who is right now unborn, even unconceived. No one has to earn this salvation and no one could. We know that intellectually but we sometimes stumble over our day to day application of it.

It was God’s kindness and His love for humanity that saved us. Some people who have already been saved run around trying to be worthy of that great and awesome gift. Stop! There is nothing any of us can do to merit all that the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit have done for us. This is simply an expression of our guilty conscious. Why are we trying to earn what they have already given us for free? We should want to be a blessing to God’s kids because of the happiness which overflows as result of all God has done for us. None of that, however, will ever make us worthy of the great sacrifice God and Jesus made for us. So, we just need to get used to the idea that despite our unworthiness, our Father loves us and He sent His beloved to save us. That was enough for Him and should be enough for us.

Preferred Placement

Romans 12: 10

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.

Can you imagine a pastor standing up in front of the congregation and delivering this message today? It just doesn’t sound like a modern message to me. I wonder how well it would go over. Brotherly love isn’t something we discuss frequently and I don’t think I have heard many, if any, sermons on showing preference to one another. I am not being critical. I am just saying that this might not be the way we think and dialogue these days.

You know, this really is a tough scripture when you think about it. We live in the “Me” generation and are working on getting our own needs met. Then we move into getting all of our desires met above and beyond all that we can think or ask. That’s Bible, it’s scriptural so how do we reconcile this passage with all the teaching on God wanting to bless us supernaturally?

I think the reconciliation is in our “getting”. When our eyes are on others and we are putting their needs ahead of ours then we are in the will of God. We don’t strive in order to get. That is the key. We allow God to be the giver rather that for us to labor in the getting. But this goes way, way beyond money and things. This is about humility in human relationships. 

When you are in a body of believers who all subscribe to this philosophy it really can be heaven on earth. The difficulty comes when you are constantly forced to interact with those who are not only carnally minded but self-minded. They are always seeking to fill their own desires so the human inside of us feels compelled to push back some. These self-oriented people may make you feel like they will swallow you whole. Therefore, your internal man attempts to defend itself. Don’t we wish we just didn’t have to be around them. Their dialogue is always about what they want and they really don’t care what anyone else wants. I can appreciate that if you have some of those people in your life it can be very taxing. It may be too obvious if you send them today’s Word of the Day.

Here is what we have to do. We must begin to pray for them. Notice I didn’t say about them. Praying “about” people means we are praying our agenda. Praying for them allows God to apply His will. Clearly the love of God is not perfected in any of us yet. Their self-centeredness is the revelation of their heart that they have not received the love of God. They do not yet have a inward revelation of God’s love for them personally. They may intellectually know that God loves them but the tape in their head of their unworthiness is probably playing louder. It is our unworthiness, though, that makes the love of God so profound. Once we accept our unworthiness and reconcile ourselves to that truth then we are finally free to receive the unmerited love and favor of God. Then we humbly give to others and make preference for them with honor because we know at such a personal level how Yahweh and Jesus have done the same for us. This is called “loving the unlovely” and it is really hard because your natural person resurrects its ugly self. However, the more we can receive the truth about the love the Father has for us, the more we will be able to make others needs and wants a higher priority than ours. I don’t say it is easy but if we can all make a little shift in that direction, then all will be better and easier.