Well, Well (…or, “Oh Well” Part 2)

I my last blog post, I discussed the Bible narrative of The Woman at the Well from the Gospel of John. As I noted then, this narrative is rife with wisdom; I chose to focus on the fact that God’s grace is available to all of us regardless of our sin, gender, ethnicity, etc. In discussing this story in a bible study late last week, a very wise friend and mentor of mine reminded me of something else that goes hand in hand with God’s free gift of grace and that is the awareness of our sin and our repentance.

Certainly, the woman in the story was aware that what she was doing was socially taboo and was therefore ostracized, but she was not fully aware of the severity of her sins and their eternal consequences. She continued to look for meaning and satisfaction in the same places where she failed so many times before. What happened to the woman in her encounter with Jesus is that she was confronted with the hopelessness of her prior choices and in recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, she was humbled and she repented (literally meaning turned away from) of her sins; she saw them for what they were – offenses against God, she accepted Jesus as Lord, repented and was granted God’s grace (forgiveness of her sins) and the gift of eternal life. True, the Holy Spirit was at work here, so human effort is not really the point I’m focusing on, it’s more the fact that for salvation to happen, a change of heart must take place.

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Oh Well!

There are so many lessons that can be gleaned from the Bible narrative of The Woman at the Well, (John 4:1-42); in the interest of space, I will focus on one of them in this post. If you’re not familiar, the story goes that Jesus rested at a well while traveling through Samaria which at the time was hostile territory for Jews. When a Samaritan woman came to the well shortly after to draw water, Jesus asked her for a drink. Such was the relationship between Jews and Samaritans that the woman was taken aback that Jesus, a Jew, would even speak to her, let alone ask her for water. Over the next several minutes, Jesus would reveal himself as the Messiah, the Christ to the woman, who as it turned out, was a person who was ostracized by her own community for her habitual sin. Nevertheless, Jesus made it clear that he came to save her and people like her. The woman was saved that day and in fact, was instrumental in leading many of the Samaritans in her village to Christ through her testimony.

A big lesson here is that your past, indeed your present, doesn’t determine your eternal future. Jesus intentionally spoke to that woman that day, knowing her sins, in order to show his apostles, the Samaritans and all of us that God’s grace is available to everyone if they seek Him. He pursues liars, adulterers, thieves, and murderers – sinners – in other words, all of us. We only need to be willing to get caught by Him – to surrender to His will.  

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“What Is Truth?”

This week’s post dovetails with the one on assurance from last week in that it addresses a similar question. I often hear people say things like, “I am a realist” or “I believe in the truth”, which on the surface sounds reasonable. The problem is, which/whose reality do you believe and to paraphrase Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)? In the world, the truth is often a moving target and perhaps this has never been more prevalent than now.

So with this in mind, I am going to take a shot at answering Pilate’s question. Pilate uttered his quip in response to Jesus’ claim that he is “witness to the truth” (John 18:37), indeed, that he is the truth! For Christians, this is not much of a stretch. I think most professing Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God, a large percentage believe that he was fully man and fully God at the same time and that He died on the cross to reconcile us to the Father (God). These are basic tenets of the majority of Christian denominations. What we sometimes forget is that this is the ultimate truth and all other “truths” must be viewed in this context – God’s truth must inform all of our words and deeds in this life. The appropriate posture we must assume is that of sinners who are hopeless without Jesus’ gracious, loving sacrifice. What we “think” ultimately does not really matter, only God’s truth does.  

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How Do You Know?

One of the aspects of Christianity that I struggle with is that of assurance. In other words, how do I know that God chose me? For me, having been educated in the reformed tradition and being a member of a Presbyterian church, this pertains mostly to the question of election (I feel like I’m chosen, but how do I know?), but I think many of us ponder assurance in a broader sense.

What has been helpful for me is to remember that God through the Holy Spirit changes our hearts, gradually transforming us in this life to more Godly people, and eventually perfecting us in our eternal lives. Indeed, the Apostle Paul writes that the Holy Spirit himself bears witness that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). Paul also writes that we should test ourselves throughout our walk with Christ, to make an honest assessment of where we are versus where we were (Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 13:5). Of course, this makes sense but I would caution that if after such an assessment you don’t see any real progress, to first dig deeper; are you more patient, less prone to anger, generally more at peace, more kind towards others, more humble, etc.? These all count! You can be assured that the Spirit is doing a work in you that God will finish (Philippians 1:6). If you still don’t pass the test, don’t worry, go back to God’s Word, speak to your pastor (if you don’t have one, get one) and in get involved Christian community. God is pursuing you, you may just need to be willing to get caught.    

I Will Never Forgive That!

One of God’s commands to us that could be filed under “easier said than done” is that we are to always forgive one another. In Jesus’ Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), he teaches in response to a question from Peter that that we are to essentially forgive unconditionally. In other words, if we are wronged, no matter how serious the offense, we are obligated to forgive.

So why are we to do this very difficult thing (besides the fact that we are commanded by God to do so)? Going back to Jesus’ parable, he tells Peter of a servant who had an insurmountable debt that his master graciously forgave him of. The servant then went out and demanded that a much smaller debt owed to him by one of his peers be paid immediately or he would be thrown into prison. This news got back to the master and he punished the ungrateful servant by forcing him to work of his enormous debt. The point Jesus was trying to make is that God does not put any limits on His forgiveness for our sins, which is way more than any human being deserves  – and He does this out of His love for us. Therefore, we need to keep in mind the scale of God’s grace towards us and our helplessness to rid ourselves of sin, whenever we are confronted with a situation where we need to forgive someone. We should especially be mindful of this the more hurtful and serious the offense is.

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Disclosure: The inspiration for this post came from a wonderful Bible study that I attended at my local church last night. A special thanks to our group leader Brian and for the authors of the study, A Gospel Centered Life, Robert H. Thune and Will Walker.    

Jesus In Disguise

Jesus is God. He came to Earth in human form so that our relationship with Him can be reconciled. So that the penalty for our sins since the fall of mankind would be satisfied; He did this by dying for us on the cross. This is Christianity 101. What may not be so obvious is how deep and thorough the notion of sacrifice is to His character – especially as demonstrated in the person of Christ during his earthly ministry. Though Jesus was the Son of God and the Creator of the Universe, he repeatedly humbled himself and positioned himself as our servant. Doing so showed his followers and anyone else who was paying attention how we should position ourselves toward others.

It is important to note that Jesus served everyone, including and perhaps especially the downtrodden and oppressed. He healed lepers and lame beggars, he offered salvation to prostitutes and criminals. In his eyes, nobody was/is too lowly for the Kingdom of God. Indeed, he specifically instructed his followers to endeavor to see him in the faces of the poor and destitute (Matthew 25:40). A great quote from one of my favorite people, Mother Teresa (Saint Teresa of Calcutta) is, “in the poor, we find Jesus in distressing disguise.” With this in mind, I would challenge anyone reading this to remember Saint Teresa’s words and especially the words of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and look upon those in need, regardless of our personal feelings, opinions and biases, and simply serve them – even dare to love them.  

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Too Judgey?

One of the biggest turn-offs to the Christian faith is that by many (most) non-believers, we are seen as judgmental and self-righteous – and I think there’s a lot of truth to that; I have certainly been guilty often of this charge. One of the teachings of Christianity, particularly in reformed theology, which has helped me to come down off my pedestal is to remember that the indicative comes before the imperative – I will explain.

In basic terms, an indicative is a stated truth and an imperative is a call to action; in our lives and in many different faiths, the command comes before the truth. For example, if you do your job, you will be paid, or if you obey, you will be rewarded. In one of the many ways that Christian teaching can seem counter intuitive, the Bible turns this around; we (Christians) are granted eternal life and given God’s righteousness as a free gift from Him. We are made holy because God declares us holy and for no other reason. Along with this status, our sins are forgiven and the Holy Spirit lives in us. This is where the imperative comes in – because of the vastness of these gifts we are naturally grateful and desire to serve God. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are transformed into servants of our fellow human beings and not judges of them. Focusing on the scale of these gifts – given to me (of all people) – by the Creator of the Universe, helps me to remember to revere God and to stay humble.

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Talking Snakes and Donkeys

For hundreds and hundreds of years, people have turned away from religion and spirituality over the question of “natural” versus “supernatural”. Tales of miraculous events that can’t be explained in natural, regularly observable and measurable terms have always had their sceptics, perhaps never more so than now. I get that. There was a time when I lined up with the critics and rejected Christianity on the grounds that these events could not have really happened. In my case, God produced an undeniable miracle right in front of me – it was His way of reaching this cynic, but not everyone has been so blessed.

The power of the gospel however, does not lie solely in the veracity of the events documented in the Bible but, more importantly, it’s in the wisdom that God’s word imparts on those who read it. The Bible is the main way that God speaks to us and behind just about every passage, there is a message of profound wisdom that we are meant to absorb. Sometimes, the message is a literal command, more often it is conveyed through a story; either related as an historical account or as allegory – in either case, God is speaking to our hearts, edifying us, transforming us.

As for me, I believe that the Bible is true, though I think that we do not know all we can about how to interpret it. When viewed as God’s wisdom imparted on the reader, the Bible is true – for everyone.  

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Why Worship?

Why are we commanded by God to praise and to worship Him? This very legitimate question is often asked and this topic is often written about and preached on, but I have found in my research for this post that satisfactory answers are hard to come by. I would guess that just about all non-believers, and indeed many believers, struggle with this concept, yet it is clear in God’s word that we are so commanded, so how are we to come to terms with this?

What I found to be the most cogent response to this question was from C.S. Lewis who struggled with this issue himself. Lewis was a devout Christian (a late convert) who believed in the God of the Bible who is omniscient, omnipotent, creator of everything and perfect in every way; nothing else can be compared to Him. Lewis noted that God is not being egotistical when He calls attention to this fact. His call to worship Him is not to stoke His ego, but rather, like everything else He does, is meant for our benefit. Lewis said that when we obey God’s command to praise Him, we assume the proper posture in the creator – creature relationship, but more importantly, we are brought closer to Him, the only perfect being. We are better able to enjoy Him, to feel His undying love for us, to learn how to better love like Him. There is no one else in Heaven or on Earth to whom the most appropriate response is worship and that by doing so, we are swept up in His glory.

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Love? What’s That?

God is love. This truth is often repeated and has been for a very long time almost to the point of sounding trite. Often, the interpretation of this phrase is simplified to mean that God loves everyone and everything, always, no matter what. Though there is some truth in this interpretation, there’s a lot more to God’s love than that.

The forms of love that most of us know are romantic love, love for our families and friends, love of our jobs, hobbies, pets, food, etc.; though there are similarities, these are all somewhat different from God’s love which, as human beings, we can’t fully comprehend. God created us out of love, He desires to be in a special relationship with each of us out of love and ultimately, He gave His life out of His love for us. It’s important to add that, like a good parent, He disciplines us out of love. In addition, He does get angry, but like His love, His anger is different from what we typically know as anger. God’s anger is righteous, it’s about injustice against others and is based solely on His interest in achieving His will for us – which is our best possible outcome.

Though we can’t love exactly like God, He commands us to love others as ourselves and indeed to put their needs ahead of our own. He sent Jesus Christ to live in our hearts and He gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us in loving more like God. So speak to God in prayer, listen to His voice by reading His word – the Spirit will move you steadily in the direction of Godly love.