redeeming the woman at the well

Every sermon I have heard about “the woman at the well” (John 4) has made her out to be some kind of notorious sinner. Now that I am studying and preaching through the book of John I have finally come to this text.   I try to look at the scriptures in a fresh way each time I study, but most times you cannot help but bring your pre-conceived notions into your study time.

While dissecting the text and reading commentaries I expected to find that this woman was steeped in sin, and Jesus came to the rescue and saved her from that sin. What I found was quite different. After studying this passage, I found myself wanting to apologize to this 2000-year-old woman for judging her and speaking ill of her nearly every time that I had previously preached this text.Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2015-06-02 15:51:36Z | http://piczard.com | http://codecarvings.com

Most preachers have cited that because this woman was there at noon, she was trying to avoid the other ladies of the town. She was ostensibly trying to hide her loose sexual morals. Further into the story we find out that this woman has had five husbands and the man she is currently living with was not her husband. To 21st century Christians this is damning evidence of a loose sexual ethic. She must be a notorious sinner.

However what every preacher I have ever heard has failed to mention is that this account of Jesus with the woman at the well was meant to be contrasted with the previous one, Nicodemus and Jesus talking about being born again. Many preachers do not take into account that John is one of the cleverest writers in the Bible. The account of Jesus meeting with Nicodemus happened at nighttime, which is a Jewish symbol of unbelief. The account of the woman at the well happened at daytime, specifically at the sixth hour, when the sun shined the brightest, this is a Jewish symbol for belief. John is trying to contrast this ultra religious teacher of Israel who didn’t believe with a woman who did believe but would have had a repugnant status among Israelites.

The fact that Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well happened at the 6th hour has a much deeper significance than most preachers have ever gone deeply into. We know that in John’s gospel that John is concerned Jesus’ “hour” of his most important work on the cross. (John 2:4, 7:30, 8:20, 12:23, 13:1, 17:1)

In John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”  In John 4 John alludes to when that will happen, John 4:6 shows this conversation happened at the 6th hour, the same time that Jesus was crucified (John 19:14). Could it be possible that this conversation is so much deeper and greater than whatever this woman may have done to offend God? I think this story points to something far deeper and greater, this woman is the living embodiment of what would be possible after the death and resurrection of Jesus.   After all John 4:4 tells us that Jesus had to go through Samaria. Wait a second…no he didn’t. At the time there were plenty of other routs around Samaria. So why did Jesus have to travel to this despised place? I think he had to find her. He had just spoken to Nicodemus about being born again and he wasn’t necessary ready to accept what Jesus was teaching. I think Jesus wanted to show us what it looked like to be born again. This woman is what it looks like for God to “so love the world.” This woman’s five husbands didn’t mean she was sinful; there were many ways to lose a husband in the first century: war, disease, accidental death, or divorce and in this culture, divorce would not have been her call. Many scholars say that if divorce was the reason for the many husbands than this woman was more than likely barren.

Having a child was everything in this culture.

In her encounter with Jesus at that well, she was born again. In her spiritual rebirth she couldn’t help herself. She had to go to her town and tell everyone who she had just met, a man who told the truth about her life because he is the truth. In the process this woman who was probably barren, birthed many spiritual children. She deserves a redeemed place in church history and in our consciousness, her sin whatever it was, is not relevant to the story. She did something that the teacher of Israel wouldn’t do. She put her confidence and trusts in Jesus and became the first missionary to her town.

When you hear the story of this nameless woman. I want to challenge you to see her the way that Jesus saw her. A lone woman who felt she was valueless, who probably was depressed because of her sad existence. A woman who was so marginalized in society that she essentially didn’t matter to the world. She became a woman of high value. She was the first new birth of the new creation. The first who was truly on mission with Jesus.

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make these words mean something: the lion is the lamb

For 27 weeks in 2016 I taught through the book of Revelation: The next few post are the main points of the book…So make all my work…make all of these words…make all of the hours I put into it worth something…enjoy. 

When John, the author of Revelation, had a vision of heaven he saw God almighty on the throne, holding a scroll, sealed up with seven seals. For the original reader they might have thought of the powerful Emperor of Rome, Domitian sitting on his throne giving out edicts.

An Emperor or a king with a scroll that is sealed up signifies the king’s wishes and only one who had the authority of the king could open that scroll. This is the image that John is setting up for his reader. So the question became, “who is worthy to preside over the opening of these scrolls?”

The scrolls symbolized all of human history; it symbolized the new heaven and new earth that was found in Revelation 21. The question of, “who is worthy” means, who has the authority of the king to open the scroll? Who is able to watch over all of human life? Who is able to preside over the new heaven and the new earth? John wept because no one was found worthy.

But all of the sudden we see these verses:

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…” 1024px-Josefa_de_Ayala_-_The_Sacrificial_Lamb_-_Walters_371193

There is one worthy! He is announced as a lion, but when John turns he sees a lamb, “looking as if it had been slain.” The author of Revelation is always pulling this little trick on us. We hear one thing and see another.

The Lion is the Lamb!

What the author John is trying to remind us of is that the only thing that truly wins in the end is the sacrificial love of the lamb. Only the one who displays true sacrificial love is able to preside over all of human history.

This is in stark contrast to our world, which has a lust for power and authority. Just this year a practical joker got Donald Trump to re-tweet this quote from The fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

“It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”

This isn’t just Trump, In the political world, you would never survive on sacrificial self-giving love.   Lambs just survive in a Machiavellian political world.

It is no secret that people envision themselves as the lion in all situations.

Want to tell off your boss? Be a lion!

Want to rise through the political ranks? Be a lion!

Want your employees to fear you? Be a lion!

Want to be the hero? Be a lion!

We love movies that are exactly the opposite of this verse. We love movies that the lamb becomes the lion. We want to see the ordinary guy become a super hero. We want to see Rocky bulk up and beat people down. Our world celebrates lambs that become lions.

However, the church is called to the very opposite. We are called to lay down our lion like tendencies and to be formed by the self-giving love of the lamb.  We are called to be self-sacrificial in our love for others.  We are called to be formed by the lamb.

The lamb wins in the end.

In fact in Matthew 27, Pilate asks the crowd to choose between saving two people.  “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

Jesus Barabbas was a rebel, fighting the Romans, taking their blood.  By all accounts he lead a bloody revolution.

Jesus the Messiah, lead a gentle revolution, teaching people to be kind to their enemies and forgive them.

Jesus Barabbas lived as a lion.

Jesus the Messiah lived as the Lamb of God.

Pilate asks then which is the question for the whole world today.  What Jesus do you want?  The lion or the lamb?

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eager expectations

Does our culture want the church to succeed? I mean do they even want the church around?  IMG_2997From where I sit, it does not look that way.  But what if the opposite were true?  There is this little line out of the book of Romans that has harassed me for at least a year.  It is simply this,   “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” In the context of what Paul is writing, “creation” is all of humanity and the “children of God” are those people who have placed their confidence in the person of Jesus.  The “children of God” are the church.  So what Paul is saying is that the entire world is waiting for the church.  The entire world is waiting for the kids that look and sound just like their father, Jesus.

The only problem with this is that the entire world seems a little burnt out of the “children of God.”  Instead of being the kind of people that others are waiting in eager expectation for, we have become atheism’s best argument.  We continue to find our identity in ourselves.  We continue to strive toward self-sufficiency, which is not wrong but if taken to its logical conclusion, exalts ourselves as our own deity.  We continue to embrace Christian celebrity as the de-facto leadership paradigm.  Our leaders continue to act like CEO’s, the good ones and the bad ones.  We continue to act like people who look nothing like the Jesus of the Gospels.  We have remade Jesus in our own image.  It is no wonder that the body of Christ really begins to look like someone else rather than the one who died for it.

So what is the world waiting for?  The world is waiting for church that has the grace of Jesus.  The world is waiting for the church that loves its enemies.  The world is waiting for the church that blesses its persecutors’.  The world is waiting for the church that is overflowing with generosity.  The world is waiting for the church that leads and heals with the authority of Jesus.  I am waiting for the church that doesn’t sit around and criticize the world but offers something better. We are all waiting for the church that overcomes structures of evil in a way that is life giving not life taking.  The world is waiting to be surprised by grace.

You can’t change an entire system, but God has given you authority over yourself.  You have the dignity of choice.  You know what and who are formative in your life.  There is a battle raging over your character and your formation.  Everyone wants a part of you, marketing firms, big business and even churches lead daily brainstorming sessions on how to get you in the door and smoke what they’re selling.  They want you to organize your life around them. What you allow yourself to be influenced by informs things that are very deep within, like your character and your identity.  We must be honest about who and what actually influences and forms us.

What if we each made a decision and a concerted effort to look more like Jesus? Jesus organized his time in such a way that he spent most of it with very few people.  He invested himself into others. Maybe you’ve accepted Jesus as your savior but you’ve never accepted him as your teacher. How might the trajectory of your life change if Jesus was your constant teacher?

If Jesus were your lifetime teacher it makes sense to me that your character would reflect his.  It makes sense to me that you would then make it your ambition to help form others as they follow Jesus.  It makes sense to me that as this happened more and more, we would begin to see our culture become happy that God made this world and put you in it.  Jesus’ life, being revealed in your life, is what all of creation is eagerly awaiting.

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thoughts on homosexuality, tolerance & christianity

A while back I sat and had coffee with an 18-year-old boy who had huge questions about gay_marriage-wedding_cake11life.  He had been thrown out of his house, his mother had died and he had been neglected and abused by his father.  With tearful eyes he told me that his treatment by his father caused many questions in his sexual orientation and that he now considered himself gay and was dating a man.

That same year I was working with a single mother who was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder because she grew up homeless.  She routinely had little sleep, feared for her life and was robbed and beaten.  When she found herself pregnant and eventually with a toddler, she found herself zoning out as a result of her posttraumatic stress disorder.  Her child was placed in foster care for the safety of the child.

I dedicated a lot of time to helping the young mother.

While this woman eventually got her son back, I am now faced with a dreadful question of my own morality.  Why did I rally more around this single traumatized mother than the 18-year-old kid who was hurting just as bad?  Neither of these people chose the state of which they were living, rather, admittedly it was from their experience in life.   Both were abused.  However, some would feel compassion for one and judgment for the other.

It is both bad science and bad theology to say that people are born gay.  It is bad science because science relies so much on proof and bad theology because we place a limiting factor on God when we assert this.  I believe that having posttraumatic stress disorder and being sexually confused are both distortions of God’s intention for us.  Both are a result of a fallen world.

Being a pastor at a church I get asked all the time what my position is on gay marriage, and more in general, homosexuality.  My position is that first I have some repenting to do for treating this young man any differently than the young woman.   While I never ditched him, my fear of dealing with the issue paralyzed me.  PTSD just seemed so much easier to deal with.

I will always handle anyone with the dignity that their humanity demands.  Regardless of the cultural labels people pick up along the way, people deserve to be loved.  This is a truth that I believe to be self-evident.  Gay or straight, your humanity means that you have dignity and deserve love.   I cannot tolerate the poor treatment of the homosexual community by anyone in the church.  It seems unthinkable to me that someone who had their mind centered on Jesus would offer hurtful and judgmental words to someone who doesn’t think like them. Unfortunately the organization that I am a part of has made mistakes over the years.  However I believe in the beauty and redemptive potential of this organization because ultimately Jesus is the head of this group.

Just as much as I feel sex outside of marriage is not God’s design for marriage, I also believe that homosexual unions are not God’s design for marriage.  As I have studied the entire narrative of the Bible I think it is exponentially clear that God’s design for marriage is between a man and a woman.  Not only does the original marriage highlight God’s love for us but also a biblical marriage will put the gospel on display.  While traditional marriage is failing at an alarming rate I have also seen the statistics that show that marriages between very committed evangelical persons who report a personal relationship with Jesus have about a 75% success rate.  Traditional marriage is still failing at an alarming rate and will fail for the same reasons why gay marriages will fail.  Because, love is not all that you need (Sorry, Paul, John, Ringo & George).  You need trust, commitment, consistent belief, a growing selflessness and a host of other things.  Either way you slice it, people are flawed in their humanity and when two selfish people get married, they are going to have problems.

I believe that what the gay community wants me to say as a pastor is that homosexuality is not sinful.  I can’t say that.  Because I think that homosexuality is not God’s design for human relationships, I know what is in store for me, I will be branded as a bigot and as someone who hates. I think that many have bought into a cultural lie that says if you don’t fully accept everything about me then you’re hateful.  This is simply a juvenile way of thinking.   There is no logic or reason attached to this argument. I love and want to include anyone.  Jesus himself did not tolerate sin, he ate with sinners, met with them, healed them and loved them, but when it came down to business, he had an agenda, he said go and sin no more.    An encounter with Jesus changed everything about who these people were.

I reject the notion that supporting traditional marriage is somehow hateful or discriminatory.   This kind of thinking is the opposite of tolerance.  Tolerance is the ability to listen to another person’s beliefs, respectfully disagree and still love someone.  I think that in order for any healing to be done between the church and the homosexual community, there needs to be more real tolerance and repenting on both sides.  Being called a hateful person because of what I believe to be true is just as intolerant as being called a slur because of one’s sexual orientation.

My aim in this post is not to start a fight or to alienate people.  I simply want to respond to all of those who have candidly asked me what I think on the issue.  Know that if you are reading this post and cooking up a firestorm of a comment, I probably won’t respond.  I don’t want a fight and I don’t need the last word.  I hope you can tolerate my beliefs.  However if you would like to have a civilized conversation, please leave a comment and I will be happy to reply.

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to be seen

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

-Matthew 6:1

The Christian Pastoral world is strange.  Much like any other profession, pastors work on building reputations.  In our digital age, pastors build reputations globally, using blogs, podcasts, facebook and an array of social networking.  In a certain sense, if we can have an influence around the world then more people can come to know God through us.  And hey, if Screen Shot 2013-06-13 at 10.24.52 PMsomeone sees your writing or if you build a larger than life reputation, then speaking opportunities, jobs or book deals could come your way.  I think many pastors (including myself at times) fall into the trap of religious respectability.

In our world today the temptation and ability to create a larger than life reputation is huge.  If you promote you own work because it points to Jesus, then that is one thing, but so many times that well meaning promotion creeps its way into promoting self.  I have been guilty of this with my blog, and honestly its one of the reasons I’ve slowed down with publishing what I write.  The question arises, whose glory is this for?

One of the most powerful and convicting things that I have read lately is from Dallas Willard.  He says, “Our intent is determined by what we want and expect from our action.  When we do good deeds, to be seen by human beings, that is because we are looking for something that comes from human beings.  God responds to our expectations accordingly.  When we want human approval and esteem, and do what we do for the sake of it, God courteously stands aside because, by our wish, it does not concern him.”

I would submit to you that working on your reputation as a Christian leader actually harms your relationship with God.  I doubt that God intrudes where he is not invited.   Often times we mask so much of our own bragging in Jesus’ words that it looks really admirable, but in reality it is doing even more damage when we teach the world that stroking our own ego’s through Jesus’ words is a good thing.  Jesus himself teaches that when our egos have died is when we really experience a full life with him.

Do we fall into the trap of disobeying Jesus, through shameless self-promotion because we have convinced ourselves that our ministry impact could be larger? I know of twelve men who would argue the counter point.  When we promote ourselves, is it to point to our own accomplishments or knowledge or is it to point in a far greater way to the knowledge of God?

I have been blogging for a few years now.  Every so often I have to stop, because I ask myself, “Whose glory is this for?”  Why do I always need to be the protagonist in my own story?    What are my motives in writing what I write? So if you are a Christian leader, the question of motive comes to mind.  What do you want and expect from your action?  Is it recognition, a job, sounding smart or having the power of authority, or is it truly to see people come to a fuller understanding in their life with God?

Donald Miller wrote a great post on this and I think he outlines some of the correct motives for self promotion: click here

 

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