Word of the Day

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.

A Memorial

Happy Memorial Day

May your day be blessed as you turn your thoughts to the great gifts we enjoy and those who bought them for us.  All God’s best to you and yours this day!

Bless You

Psalm 103: 1

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.

When you think of the word “soul” what do you think of? David spoke to his soul telling it to bless the Lord. What did he have in mind? The most common definition these days for soul is your mind, will and emotions. One way to think of your soul would be that which is not your body or your spirit. It includes your personality and your memories. It is shaped by your past experiences. It is the interface through which you connect your internal self to the world. So, when I think of blessing the Lord, especially in directing my soul to bless Him, it boils down to blessing Him in all of my ways. I want every word I speak and every act to bless the Lord. Every thought and plan can be lifted up to the Lord. We always want Him to bless our plans but this verse turns it around. Let our plans bless Him. Let our thoughts bless Him.

David always calls us into deeper relationship with the Father. Here he challenged his soul, and thereby us as well, to bless the Lord with every ounce of his being. It is one thing to say, “All that I am I give to you Father,” but a different thing entirely to make each day an offering to the Lord with every thought you think, word you say or action. Not only is it an offering but David endeavored to bless God with everything within him, actively bless the Lord.

This expands my mind beyond its current boundaries. How about you? Does it challenge you to ponder how you can bless the Lord? How can your soul bless His holy name? I know you want to be a blessing the Lord, as do I. Imagine a whole body of believers who try to bless the Lord every day. I hope you will give David’s words some consideration. I would welcome your revelations. Post your thoughts on our website on the Word of the Day page and perhaps, we, as a body of believers, can help each other become greater blessings to the Lord.

Emulate

Ezra 7: 6, 9, 10

. . . the king granted him all he requested because the hand of the Lord his God was upon him. [T]he good hand of his God was upon him. For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to practice it….

Some years ago I heard a speaker tell his audience that if they wanted to be successful to observe successful people, find out what they did and then emulate them. That sounds like pretty good advice. Here we have an example of a very successful man. He had great favor with the king. Because of that favor he was able to be successful in what he did. But it was the favor of the Lord that brought him favor with the king. King Artaxerxes saw that the hand of the Lord was upon Ezra and because of that he granted all of Ezra’s requests. It all began when Ezra turned his face towards his God. Ezra set himself to studying and practicing the word of God. The rest followed from that. So, do you want a formula for success? Pick up your Bible and start studying it. Then do what you find in there. Let the Lord speak to you through those pages. You will have favor with the Lord and good success in whatever you set your hand to.

Beyond Expression

Psalm 112: 1, 7 – 8                Living Bible

Praise the Lord! For all who fear God and trust in him are blessed beyond expression. Yes, happy is the man who delights in doing his commands. He does not fear bad news, nor live in dread of what may happen. For he is settled in his mind that Jehovah will take care of him. That is why he is not afraid but can calmly face his foes.

Allow me to rephrase this, “All who revere or respect the Lord our God and trust in Him are blessed beyond words.” Surely, praise is in the house. Those who delight in following God’s words and His leading, and the title “God” here would include Father, Son and Spirit, are happy. They live in the joy that comes with unity with God.

There really is joy in following Jesus and delighting in his words. This verse goes on to say that these people do not fear bad news or live in dread of what may happen. Doesn’t that sound good? It is horrible and stressful living in fear. Jesus certainly wants you free of that. People who really trust God, believe He will take care of them. They even expect Him to look after them and to meet their needs.

These verses are joyous and they are not very complicated. To love God, to live according to His purposes, following His leading is to live a blessed life, a life free of worry and fear. We work ourselves into a deeper place of trust as we go. Each day you can enjoy more freedom than the day before. All of the keys are in today’s verses to help you go deeper. There is no reason for you to live in fear and dread when God has paved a way out for you. Delight yourself in His ways. Increasingly trust Him. Revere and honor Him. All of these lead to comfort and ease.

You may want to ponder these verses. There is great assurance in them and bold promises. Wrap your will, heart and mind around them and claim them, and their meaning, as your inheritance. Be blessed beyond words!

Schizophrenia

John 8: 15

You judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone.

I didn’t expect my supper last night, to stimulate theological query. However, my table was next to some men who had apparently gathered for a men’s Bible study group. “How wonderful,” I thought as I began my meal. I was excited to see people gather in the name of the Lord and even more so to see it happen in a public place. So, good for them!

Unfortunately, that was the end of the good feelings. We could not avoid hearing a good amount of their conversation and they were serving up a volatile theological cocktail for the appetizer. They began by talking about one group of people who they can’t and won’t accept because they have classified them as sinners. Within just a few minutes, though, they were talking about another group of people whom they also classify as sinners but for whom they recognized the grace of God. One guy even said something like, “The same grace that saved us is given for them.” What??? How is it that God’s grace is good enough for you and your pet sinners but not for everyone? Are you kidding me with this?
The problem they were having was that they really don’t know how to judge people. Guess what! Neither do I. That is exactly why God didn’t give me the job of judge. I really didn’t see the badge of God on them either and I couldn’t help but think, “You who are without sin, cast the first stone.” Would that have reframed their thoughts? How about the one about the log that is in our eyes. Jesus tried to teach us to judge ourselves instead of others when he told us to take the log out of our eyes so that we could see to help others. He knew that when we looked at our righteousness we would find it impossible to pass a negative judgment on anyone.

I don’t judge these men either. We are all going along on this journey and we struggle with difficult questions. That is a good thing. However, if they could hear how sanctimonious and self-righteous their comments were, I think they would have been embarrassed. At least they are trying to learn Jesus’ ways but who is their leader? Who is teaching them about judgment, self-righteousness and condemnation? There is no more condemnation. Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death. We’ve heard the words now we must grasp the truth.

I remember thinking, “Who has made you lily white?” Better still, see my crimson robe and the blood that was shed because I was a wretched beast. If we don’t learn to appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice at a very personal level it becomes easy to believe that we had something to do with our salvation. The more we understand what Jesus did for us, the less inclined we are to extend judgment towards another. Love is the only branch Jesus gave us to extend to the lost or even to the saved whom we believe are in sin. He did not give us a gavel. How are we going to bring all people to He whom we call a loving God if we continually condemn and criticize?

I think the church, that is you and I, need to have a hard look at ourselves and ask if we are following the course Jesus laid out for us. Are we lifting him up or are we just trying to bring others down? Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” (John 12: 32). There is the protocol for evangelism. It’s called love. Lifting up Jesus is the way to salvation. It reminds me of the song, “Love Lifted Me.” What grace and beauty are conveyed in those words. Let us not only remind ourselves that this is the model Jesus gave us but let us also begin to lead others. This is the way and it is the only way. Let us not be a Schizophrenic body but one devoted to one ideal. The truth in Christ and the God of love. We must believe God’s love is good enough and big enough for all people.

Reflection

Hebrews 1: 3

And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Do you find this verse big and full? I do. We could meditate all day solely on Jesus being the radiance of God’s glory. That statement fills the mind with wonder. We are also, perhaps, intrigued by the statement about Jesus being seated at the right hand of God in that we know David prophesied this very thing a thousand years before it happened. Then there is this amazing statement that Jesus upholds all things by the word of God’s power. Ruminate on that for awhile. As if all of that is not enough to occupy our thoughts, here is a most intriguing thought. Jesus the exact reflection of who God is at the most basic level. I want to talk about that piece of this verse because I think it is a very important concept.

I mentioned, last week, that it is not uncommon for Christians to have a good relationship with Jesus but almost no relationship with Yahweh, our Father. That seems odd, doesn’t it? We read a Bible which is about God but our personal touch with the trinity sometimes does not reach beyond Jesus. I think the reason this is the case is because we have a better sense of who Jesus is. We feel we know him better because the gospels give us insight into his ways.

Take heart, you actually know God better than you think you do because Jesus is the exact reflection of God. All of the traits we appreciate about Jesus he got from his Father. Jesus’ compassion is a God thing. God is gentle and kind. So, if we want to see God, all we have to do is look at Jesus. Jesus said it this way, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father, how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14: 9). If you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. If you love Jesus, you ought to also love his Father.

I hope this brings you comfort today and encourages you to seek the Father more urgently. If you seek Him, you will find Him and, you will like what you find.