April 2010


 

John 4

Countercultural Jesus

 

Teaching through the Gospel of John, I have been dealing lately with some of those beautiful pictures of personal encounters with Jesus. A couple of weeks ago it was Nicodemus and this week the woman at the well. One of the things that I’ve been reminded of again is just how countercultural Jesus really was…and is. Nicodemus might have been considered Jesus’ safe zone. The people we would expect Jesus to reach. After all, at 12 years of age he was already teaching guys like this!

But now he goes way outside what was considered culturally safe in this encounter with the woman at the well.  Jesus started something big with these encounters; he broadened our vision and gave us a model to follow in Kingdom work. And while at times in the Church’s history we have become myopic once again, I’m glad to see that in this generation we are becoming more like Jesus than at any time in recent memory. Here are just a few of the ways that Jesus crossed barriers and broadened our ministry outlook in these encounters:

RACE: Jew, Samaritan, Red, Yellow, Black, White… all are precious in Jesus’ sight.

GENDER: A common Jewish prayer at the time was, “I thank you that I was not born a Gentile, a slave or woman.” Jesus elevated the status of women to a degree that has been unmatched.  Just look at the other major world religions and how they treat women.

MORAL REPUTATION: Nicodemus was relatively morally upright, but the woman at the well was considered immoral. Jesus reaches out to those who think they are good enough to not need Him as well as to those who think they could never be good enough for Him.

SOCIAL STATUS: Nicodemus was socially prominent, but this woman is an outcast. Jesus reaches out to people across the spectrum of socioeconomic status. We all have equal status with Him.

RECEPTIVITY: Nicodemus sought Jesus out to discuss spiritual issues, but the woman at the well is initially indifferent, even cynical. Jesus reaches out to those who are more in tune to spiritual things as well as the “hard knots” who are just struggling with the physical aspects of life.

John 4 provides for us a ministry model established by the Lord Jesus Himself. As we build relationships and “do life together,” I hope we’ll dare to cross our own cultural barriers just as Jesus did… and does.

In the spirit of the 2010 census, I’ve come up with 4 questions of my own. Because (1) I don’t get out much (2) want to continue growing and becoming better at meeting your needs, we’ve initiated a month-long project in which we as a team will analyze and re-visit practically everything we continue to publish, are considering publishing, and have published in the past. In addition to our self-analysis, we will also be looking “out” in order to better understand the total landscape.

If you would be kind enough to take 3-5 minutes to respond to a 4-question survey it would be greatly appreciated by us on this end, and hopefully only helpful in the long run for you, the small-group leader, in the long run. You can get to the survey by pasting the link below into your browser. Thank you for participating—it’ll be a blast (I am prone to overstatement).

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/6TMJJ68

Have you ever felt beat up after reading something in God’s Word? Sometimes when I feel like I’ve been an A+ Christian, I read something that exposes the ungodly things in me that I’ve shoved way down out of sight. And it hurts. It hurts my pride knowing that I still struggle.

This verse gave me a black eye:
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20, HCSB).

When I read those words last week, I was overwhelmed with conviction. I began to argue with the Spirit: “I do love. I love God with a love so deep I don’t fully understand it. I fail constantly, I fall into the same things over and over, yes, but I can honestly say that I long to please God with my life. I want to know more about Him. I want to hear His voice. I want to worship Him without inhibition. I can’t imagine life without Him.”

But the voice of God stopped me in my tracks: “But you do not love others the way I’m asking you to. And if you don’t love them, then you don’t love Me.”

I was speechless. I couldn’t argue because He’s right. It’s so easy to love God. He’s good. He’s faithful. He offers grace to the most undeserving. How could I boast in something so logical, so natural? What I need to strive for is showing real love to my family, my coworkers, those I admire, and those I can’t in my own strength stand to be around; the poor, the wealthy, the tolerable and intolerable, seasoned Christians and those riding the fence—all of them. And not that fake love I’ve gotten so good at expressing. It’s got to be honest and as real as the love God has shown me.

I’m swallowing for the first time the fact that my relationship with God cannot be whole unless I love others the way I’m supposed to. Loving others doesn’t just impact those I’m loving; it affects the most intimate and significant relationship I have. Stepping outside myself and truly loving people allows me to draw nearer to God—and that is the profound desire of my heart.

Jesus in Gethsemane

Growing up Roman Catholic, Holy Week was one of the few times when the church drew my full attention. As repetitive a practice as the mass in general, I suppose the year that passed in between allowed for a certain sense of freshness. And speaking of “senses” mine were overloaded that week in particular! From the waving of my new palm branch, to the incense that burned while attending the “Stations of the Cross,” to the brilliant display of colors on Easter Sunday, Holy Week had much to make this Catholic altar boy wide-eyed with wonder.

After coming to a personal relationship with Christ through repentance and faith and rejecting for many years much of the tradition I had grown up with, I am now finding a desire in my heart for something of the Holy Week experience. Perhaps distance has made the heart grow fonder or perhaps I have simply tired of seeing the casual way that this significant week of reflection is treated sometimes by many of my Protestant brothers and sisters. Should there not be a time of deep-seated emotional reflection this week in particular?

Last night, I shared with the flock that God has granted me the privilege to shepherd just a glimpse of the significance of this week to me and how I will experience it. On Maundy Thursday as evening comes, I will be thinking of Jesus and His “Last Supper” with His friends. Of their somber stroll through the Garden of Gethsemane. Of friends who were restfully sleeping while their Saviour sweated drops of blood. Of a cup that would not pass. Of a friend who betrayed his Lord with a kiss which began a Satanic night of torture, lies, and abuse… that saw even His most faithful friend deny he ever knew Him.

And all of that before the crown of thorns, the via dolorosa, and the Cross. Before that day that we call Good Friday, which wasn’t good for Jesus at all, but meant absolutely everything good for us.

Easter will come soon enough and I will be full of elation. We’re going to go all out with fun for the kids and treats and a nice meal and so forth. It will be a day of great rejoicing as we remember the reason for the season and proclaim that “He is Risen.” But for now, I am drawn once more to the “Stations of the Cross” in my mind and in my heart. Only this time, I am more connected and understand at a heart level what it is really all about. I will weep with those who wept so that I may rejoice when the morning comes.