Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Drink Up!

"So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”" (John 4:1-26)

Segregation is not a new idea. It occurred all throughout the ancient near east during the time of Jesus- perhaps none stronger than the separation of Jew and Samaritan. Those who hear of this account in the biblical culture would have been appalled at the thought of Jesus (a Jew) initiating a conversation with a Samaritan (a Samaritan woman no less!). It would have been a scandal no less offensive than the thought of our President sitting down to have dinner at a nice New York restaurant with Osama Bin Laden. The public outcry would be huge. The same would be true of the encounter with the Samaritan woman and Jesus.
So why would Jesus risk it? Why threaten the integrity of his reputation and ministry? Maybe it was because Jesus did not come to promote his own reputation. His mission was to offer something that would change the reputation of others, not only in the eyes of man, but more importantly, in the eyes of God.
The Samaritan woman was thirsty. Like everyone, she came to a well to draw water. But unlike everyone else, she avoids the convenience of the city well and she travels a significance distance outside the city to avoid the ridicule of her neighbors. By all accounts, she was ashamed.
And Jesus knew why. He breaks the social tradition and asks her for a drink. It was a way to introduce a conversation and her surprise could not be over estimated. This is the reason she so boldly asks Jesus, “Why are you, a Jew, speaking to me, a Samaritan?”
Jesus tells her the reason. He explains that she is coming to quench the thirst of her lips, but He has come to satisfy the thirst of her soul. She is seeking water, Jesus is offering life.
But the woman does not understand at first. In fact, she is distracted by the thought of her reputation. If she did not have to come to the well, she could avoid the ridicule of others who judged her. “Please give that water so that I don’t have to come to this well,” she tells Jesus.
In what seems to be a rude interruption, Jesus tells the woman to go get her husband.
“Here we go again,” she thinks. “My reputation precedes me and I must once again reveal that no one wants me. I don’t have a husband and have been abandoned more times than I can count. Don’t remind me…I know. I am worthless and completely empty inside.”
“You mean you’re thirsty inside?” Jesus probes.
“I am,” she says. “And I have been seeking answers in the only way I know how. I know the Messiah is coming and perhaps He can give me what I am looking for.”
“He can,” says Jesus. “I who speak to you am He. You have worshiped what you do not know. Now you know.”
All creation worships God. The only difference is that some worship God in ignorance and others in truth. The woman at the well was thirsty because she was ignorant of the only source of life that would satisfy her soul. Jesus reveals that He is the one sent to satisfy the thirst of every soul.
Now He turns to you. What is your reputation? Do you have something to prove? Do you have something to hide? Jesus continues to make the same offer as He did to the woman at the well. Satisfy your soul in Him. Worship Him in Spirit and truth. Drink up my friend.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Rude Awakening

Eugene Peterson pastored the same small church for almost 30 years. He has a wealth of wisdom and insight which demands our respect and attention. His book, The Contemplative Pastor, has an obvious target audience. However, the insight he provides extends well beyond the borders of those in full time ministry. For that matter, we are all in full time ministry, so by definition, we all have something to learn. Allow me to share what impacted me most and I pray it will be the same for you.
To begin with, I must admit that I was slightly offended in reading this book. As far as I am concerned, there exists an unwritten rule between author and reader to delay the impact of the most painful content until the reader has had a chance to ease into the material. Peterson violated this unwritten rule when he spoke adamantly against the “outrageous scandal” of busyness in the life of a Christian within the first few pages of his book.
Busyness, in Peterson’s view, is not a “symptom of commitment but of betrayal.” In a metaphorical one-two punch, he talks about the vanity of busyness and laziness as its source. Busyness, argues Peterson, often exists in order for us to appear important. It is vanity. The culture insists that a crowded schedule is a measure of significance and all too often the we all buy into this lie. If not for the reasons of vanity, Peterson suggests the other option is laziness (as if that makes me feel any better!). We become busy because we let others control our time instead of resolutely deciding for ourselves. In either case, the negative results of a life without margin which constantly meets the demands of others will inevitably render all of us harmless and unable to complete the work for which we have been called. It is a dangerous trap. Beware!
Peterson does offer the antidote, however. He encourages us to remain committed to prayer, meditation and listening. Prayer, at its core, is the cultivation of intimacy with God. It is the language of relationship. Meditation, says Peterson, must finds it’s source in the immersion of scripture. Time dedicated to meditating on God’s word which cannot happen in the midst of busyness and "sound bite study obligations". Richard Foster says that one hour one day a week is preferable to 10 minutes segments of time in God's Word every day. I tend to agree. Peterson continues by reminding us that we must learn to listen. But listening requires “unhurried leisure”. A quality of spirit, Peterson says, not a quality of time. Busyness is a theif of quality time.
I was impacted by Peterson reflection when he writes, “The question I put to myself is not, “How many people have a spoken to about Christ this week?” but “How many people have I listened to in Christ this week?”’ What a poignant reminder for us all.
One of the realities of my transition is the common question: “So…When are you taking over the church?” This has always unsettled me and it is the very thing Peterson seems to address as he reflects on his friends comment about “running the church.” Although the church activity on Sunday has not changed much through the centuries, what happens between Sundays is radically different. Peterson suggests that it has “not been a development but a defection.” Pastors (but not only pastors) have inherited an attitude of ownership where the success of the church (as determined by our culture) is falsely assumed to be based on our leadership ability and skill. This attitude centers around the belief that if we do not take charge, the church will fail and the people will drift into apathy. Our skill is in our programs and our organizational prowess of motivating people to get things done for the business of the kingdom.
This is the reality of the business world from which I come. But Peterson has reminded me that it is not the way of the church. The church does not need a successful business plan with a penetrating vision and a motivational mission. I am not the CEO. Neither are you. Instead, we are the servants of souls. As such, we recognize that it is not us but God who takes the initiative. He gets things going and He is on the scene before we ever arrive.
Peterson suggests that the better questions for us to ask are: “What has God been doing here? What traces of grace can I discern in this life? What has God set in motion that I can get in on?” Instead of carrying the burden of leading positive change, I must seek to discover what He is doing and live appropriately with it. I submit to you that the counsel given by Peterson applies not only to pastors but to every follower of Christ.
Living with this humble perspective should direct what we say and how we listen. Instead of persuasive speech and a drive to motivate others to get things done and to get on with growing in faith, we must learn the language of relationship. A personal language of love and prayer. Spontaneous language that is unhurried and unforced. Peterson describes it as “the leisurely language of friends and lovers.”
Our job, as Peterson reminds us, is not to solve problems. As an Administrator, this is my job. It is my responsibility to develop better procedures, organize and administrate. But the church is different. Much of what is done in the context of the body of believers is, and should be, a mystery. It is mystery that makes room for faith. If everything has an answer and the direction is always clear, the need for faith is removed.
We live in a world of experts where everything has an explanation and a solution. But the Christian life is a pilgrimage of prayer. A submission to the Soverign and a willingness to leave unanswered questions in His capable hands. As a Christian, we are not called to answer on His behalf as much as we are to direct others to discover Truth for themselves. When it is personal, lives are changed.
Good reminders, although slightly unfair in his tactics. Every once in a while, we all need a rude awakening.