Principles from the Lord to help us resist fear, anxiety, and worry.
This is a message I want to add that is designed to be re-listened to. I want us to consider the possibility of revisiting and reconsidering it. In other words, I’m hoping it won’t be a one thought shot. It’s not really an express train. It’s more of a journey that’s filled with stops. Some of the stops along the way, invite us to get off, stop, linger, and reflect. They invite us to ponder things. Again, I’m hoping that some of us would consider revisiting this. The online services are different than the replay. In the replay, you can stop it, go back, move, and discover things that you missed the first time through. That’s the purpose. I want us to really take advantage of that. Let’s take this unconventional way of communicating and turn it into an opportunity. This is a message that has to do with Exhale. I want to use the great exchange in John 4, between Jesus and the woman at the well, as our focal point. I want to say a few things about Jesus and the way that He engaged people before I jump back in. Some of you may or may not be aware, but you have a digital handout. There’s an ability to take notes as well. That handout is designed to allow you to not only look at the scriptures, but I have a quote of something I wrote.
I wrote it as a reflection on the uniqueness of the method of Jesus with people. I want you to look at that with me. I’m just going to read it through. It’s a fairly large piece. I just want you to listen to some of it because it captures a little bit as it came out of my heart so that it helps illuminate this moment. It says, “A large portion of the criticism that was leveled against Jesus had to do with the fact that He mingled with the unacceptable of His culture, those who were on the social margin, the despised and the ostracized, the spiritually blind, the publicly maligned, and the non-religiously inclined of His day. The ones we might call outsiders, sinners, task collectors, rich men, poor men, beggar men, thieves, adulterers, and prostitutes. What’s remarkable is He was able to communicate love and acceptance.”
Think about this, “Without condoning destructive and immoral practice.” I’ll say that again. “He was able to communicate love and acceptance without condoning destructive and immoral practice.” In fact, change for the better always seemed to follow genuine interaction with Jesus. There was something about His way, that made people feel simultaneously at ease and yet disturbed about their condition. Think about that. Both, at ease and disturbed. It’s something remarkable. He did not patronize people or subtly communicate disgust. He was unafraid and so completely confident in the purity of His character and the singleness of His mission. He could move in love with ease, across borders and boundaries. He did so in such a manner that critics, casual observers, and even His own disciples were at times, stunned, amazed. In some cases, aghast, at the boldness of His method. It’s one of the reasons I love Him so much.
I love the way of Jesus and I love the way that He could do this. It’s just a stunning, remarkable, beautiful example of how to engage people. How to confront things, but in the most delicate of manners. I just find it remarkably beautiful, that’s all I can say about it. Let’s take a look because there’s probably no greater example of this method than what we were reading about here in John 4. This interaction with Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well is everything. It encapsulates the very best of the way of Jesus. It models for us how to engage others. In verse three it says, “He left Judea and departed again for the Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria.” The older version says it’s so poetically and I love it. “He must needs go through Samaria. The Lord had to do it.” He had to go through Samaria because the Father put it into His heart to do so. He didn’t literally have to pass through Samaria. Galilee is in the north and Judea in the South. That’s where Jerusalem is and where we derive the word Jew from, Judea. Samaria’s in the middle. It plays a big part in the Bible story historically, certainly at the time of Jesus. We know that a lot of times most Jewish people and certainly the rabbis of Jesus’s day would tend to completely avoid the region of Samaria.
That sandwich space in between Judea and Galilee is Samaria. What they would do to avoid going through the region of Samaria was cross over on the East side of the Jordan River. The Jordan served as the Eastern border of Samaria. They would’ve gone up, or down depending on which way they were going. Then, they would’ve cut back in. It was like a bypass. The reason for it was because there was this tension that everyone really wanted to avoid. It was long seated and abiding loathing of all things Samaritan by the Jews. The Samaritans were mixed-blood people which had resulted from inner marriage with Gentiles during the Assyrian conquest of the Northern kingdom.
The Jews of the Southern kingdom had also been conquered by the Babylonians. But, they had stubbornly used to intermarry. They viewed the Samaritans as traitors. The Southern kingdom had held out, even in captivity. They retained their identity, culture, and devotion to God. They felt like the Samaritans, the Northern kingdom, had allowed themselves to be assimilated. So there was this tension. In addition, the Samaritans had what we would call a truncated form of Judaism. A truncated form that was highly offensive to a true follower of the law. The problem is the blending of Jewish and Pagan elements. It should be mentioned that the tension, prejudice, and social discomfort, are the same today.
It went both ways. The Samaritans didn’t get along with Jews, Jews didn’t get along much with Samaritans. They each segregated themselves from one another. It wasn’t enforced, or anything. It wasn’t required. It was just the way. People assimilated with their own people. Honestly, I don’t know if things have changed that much. It’s one of the reasons I love the church. That’s one of the reasons why I love our church. There are all different cultures and people from socioeconomic places and ethnicities; we’re all just coming together in Christ. There’s great love and accommodation for one another’s distinctiveness because we share the most common thing and that is Christ. The fact is that Jesus insisted to His disciples that they return to Galilee through the more direct route of Samaria.
In other words, when Jesus said, “Hey guys, we’re just going to go straight through Samaria.” Remember, they were in the South, in Judea, in Jerusalem and Jesus said, “We’re just going to cut straight.” I imagine that it may have actually raised some of the disciple’s eyebrows a bit. They had learned not to question the master. I imagine that they looked at one another and said, “Well, all right, that’s what He wants.” They decided, “Let’s do it.” There’s something for us to consider. Remember I talked about how was not a straight shot? That there will be some stops along the way? Here is one of those stops. Something, I want us to consider right now in this time, as we’re dealing with the whole virus, pandemic, epidemic, and the way in which it’s really requiring us to change our pattern of life. The Lord’s ways will not always make sense to us.
His ways really do invite us into humility. I’m talking about specifically the way in which Jesus decided to go through Samaria. The disciples probably were thinking we’re going to bypass it, which was the common move. This is a time that is inviting us into humility for so many reasons.One, I think we may understand in a very new and real way, the truth of what Jesus said about where we place our priorities. Historically, in America, we’ve been insulated. We tend to not be affected as much by the calamities that other nations face. We have been blessed in remarkable and unusual ways. We are protected on two sides by oceans and given tremendous wealth in terms of the land itself. It’s just a remarkable country.
Having said that, this is something that has affected us. We’re not exempt from it. It’s a reminder of everything. I am saying move with humility. This is a reminder about everything that Jesus taught us about treasure, what’s important, and priorities. Remember what He said, “Lay it for yourselves, a treasure in heaven.” Think about this, “Where moth and rust do not corrupt and thieves cannot break through and steal it away. Where things are essentially incapable of being taken.” Two, one of the things we’re reminded of is that if situations hit us like this, we are more vulnerable than we realized. We are more fragile. Things are more fragile and that’s just the truth. We’re experiencing this right now. There’s no question that’s what we’re experiencing. The reality of what Jesus taught us is coming in vivid colors in front of our eyes. About how fragile things are. About the need to make sure that we are thinking through our priorities. What we build our life on and where our hope genuinely rests.
I think we’re called to be humble in our prayer. Some of us, on our own time, may want to check out 2 Chronicles 7:14 because it’s an amazing verse. It talks about the power of humility and prayer. Back to verse five, it says, “He came to a town of Samaria called Sakara, near the field that Jacob had given to his son, Joseph.” It’s historically rooted. Read about that in the book of Genesis. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus wearied as he was from His journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour we would say, is about 12:00 PM. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Hey, can you give me a drink? Can you give me some water? Can you share with me your water?” We’re told in verse eight the disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Think about this. He’s by Himself, sitting by the well, in the noontime. I imagine Him in my mind’s eye, in some reclined position. This woman makes her way with her water pot. It’s a lot of work to carry a water pot. Maybe, she had more than one, we don’t know. Maybe, she had a utensil to get water with, like a cup. As she’s making her way towards the well, she’s caught off-guard by this man who’s there, which was not common. She realizes He’s a Jew. There were certain things that would’ve given that away. She’s caught off-guard again by the fact that He initiates a conversation with her, on top of that, he’s making a request.
Jesus asked the question in part because He was thirsty. He wanted some water and didn’t have any way to get it, she did. We’re told that he was tired, weary, and was resting. Jesus in His humanity. I can’t ever see that image in my mind without reconnecting to what we’re told in John 1, where we’re told that the word God’s very thought, the son became flesh. The Word of God took on humanity. The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. There’s another passage in Philippians 2, “Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something He could cling to or something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges, took the humble position of a slave, and was born as a human being. Human and divine. Capable in the divinity of meeting His human needs and desires. Yet, He will work no miracle to His benefit.” Think about that.
Human in divine, fully capable in His divinity, He did miracles. “Fully capable in His divinity of meeting His own human needs. But, He will work no miracle for His own benefit.” I found myself thinking, “Wow, this is intense. The one who could turn water into wine will ask another for water. The one who could feed 5,000 with two fish and five loaves, would not make it happen for Himself, but would instead send His disciples into town to purchase food.” There will be no miracle self-provision. This is really good for us to consider and reflect upon. Especially at this time. Especially, when we feel like sometimes God isn’t coming through for us, it’s true. We are invited to ask and we should ask, because Jesus reminded us, “Don’t be afraid to ask, ask God to help intervene, to do things.”
At the same time, we need to do it with humility, submitting our requests, always to His larger purposes. This is partly, what I believe we are doing when we end our prayers in Jesus’ name. Every time, I end my prayer in the name of Jesus, I am essentially saying, “Your will be done, Lord.” I’m submitting it under that name. That’s why I like to end my prayers that way, in Jesus’ name. I often start off with Father or Lord. Then, I say, “In Jesus’ name.” As we were taught and that’s a way of saying, “I call in the authority of that name. I also submit into that name. I submit this prayer under the umbrella of the name of Christ, so the will of God.” Do you see that? I just want us to see this. I think it could be helpful in such a time as this, where we may wonder, where is God in this scary place? Why is it happening?
I’ve thought about that. Those are two very different questions. God’s ways are not our ways, number one. We see things through a temporal lens, God sees things from an eternal one. This means there is no time, as we know it, in the mind of God. It is timeless. Eternity has no beginning and no end. You and I, as time-constrained beings, finite beings have a hard time grappling intellectually with timelessness. We know beginning and endings. We don’t understand ‘no beginning and no ending.’ It’s something we can describe, but not understand, not really. God’s ways are not our ways, as for the latter, why is this happening? I think there are many reasons. I suppose, the first reason that I always fall back into is that we live as scripture teaches us, in a sin-impacted, broken world, where bad things happen.
This is an example of that. The place that we’re in right now is a direct reminder that we live in a sin-impacted, broken world. That’s the way it is. Jesus said, “It will be this way, until He returns.” When He does return, He said, “He would alter the universe and the human experience.” But, between now and then, there will be times like this. We’re just facing what generations have faced for hundreds and hundreds of years, thousands of years. As for the other question, where is God in all of this? For those of us who know Christ, we know one thing. You know it, I know it. We need to remind ourselves of it. I know where God is. I know where Jesus is. He’s right by our side, that’s just the fact.
You, Lord, are by my side, at this moment. Maybe some of us just need to say that. “You are by my side. You are by my side.” I have found that He is even closer in times of fear and suffering, times of questions and pain. In a unique way, He was closer to us when He hung on the cross alone in the darkness, utterly forsaken. I don’t know if we were ever closer to His love than He at that moment. That was the epicenter of the expression of God’s love as He hung there for us. He paved the way for intimacy. The veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. God’s presence would no longer dwell in a house made with human hands, but in the believing heart of a man, of a woman, of us. The relationship is possible in a way that was impossible before God gave us His own son as a propitiation, a covering for our sin.
There’s so much beauty there. Perhaps it would be helpful when we start to wonder where God is in all of this, to see Him with us, sitting at the well, sharing in our thirst. I try to get my mind to think about it in all of this. I try to think of Jesus sitting at the well with us, at this moment. Sitting and waiting, asking questions, and offering water, inviting us to explore our lives. Even as we’re going to see the shameful parts, to find our deepest purpose and truest selves in our interactions with Him. Is this not one of those times where we can sit with Jesus by the well and have this conversation with Him about our lives? Everything that’s happening here with the woman at the well is an invitation that Jesus is making to us, right now, at this time, and in this place. He’s inviting us into this conversation. He’s inviting us to know our true selves. Let’s use this time as a time to grow deeper in our souls.
Back to the Samaritan woman, this woman at the well. She seems to have been an outcast to her own people. She probably was a bit of a pariah. Normally, the women would’ve come daily to the well. The time that they would’ve come, would’ve been in the cool of the evening. It was obvious why you would want to do that without the sun. You would carry heavy things with you. You didn’t want to have the sun beating down on you when you did it. You better do it, at dusk. Some of us may not realize this, but still today, it’s true in some developing countries. Well water, which is why I’m such a supporter of the whole well movement, giving people the opportunity for clean water, is so huge. In those days, well water was essential for ancient life. It was critical. That’s been the case for all of history. Typically, that water was drawn with a clay pot or an animal skin. It could be a pot or jar that was dropped in. Or, it could have been an animal skin that could get filled up, but either way, it had to be dropped into the water. Usually, it was tied to a rope.
Wells, because of that, were places of socialization. Oftentimes, it was the women who would come and hang out. In that culture and time, that would’ve been the case. The women would’ve hung out and talked. Sometimes, the men would come. But, most of the time, it was the women who would come. Here we see that she has come at the sixth hour which is at noontime. It’s in the heat of the day. We know she came by herself. Maybe she preferred to come when the good women were absent because she had a reputation. We’re going to see this later in the passage. We’re going to, in the coming weeks, wherever we’re meeting, most likely here, we’re going to adapt. We’re going to see that she didn’t go with the other women because she had a reputation as a loose and immoral woman. It would’ve made it uncomfortable for everyone. Maybe she just wanted to avoid that whole thing, as sometimes we’re prone to do. Who wants to go into a place where you just feel like you’re going to be judged by everybody? Maybe, something come up that threw her off her normal routine. What we do know, is that there was a divine appointment that had been set up. She was right on schedule for that divine appointment. From a Jewish perspective, she would’ve qualified as an outcast of outcasts.
The idea that a Jewish rabbi would have a personal interaction with such a person was unconscionable. Bordering on scandalous. She was aware of that divide. In fact, she was caught off-guard by Jesus’s initiative. Look at it with me in the couple of verses that we have left. Verse nine says, “The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew asked for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. We don’t do this.” Jesus answered, and I love the answer. “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would’ve asked Him, He would’ve given you living water. If you really understand, who is interested in the opportunity, it wouldn’t be me asking you for water. You’d be asking me for water, but different water. You would be asking me for a drink of that water because it’s the living water.” The woman said to Him, “Sir.” Look at that. “You have nothing to draw water with. This well is deep. Where do you get this living water?” Now, living water probably had a dual meaning for her. It would’ve meant fresh water, pure water.
Jesus obviously had a different meaning. He really meant something much more profound. I just love the way He wraps that into her heart and begins to engage her imagination. She says, “Well, you can’t have anything to draw water from, how can you give me any living water?” Now, they’re in a conversation. “Would you give me a drink?” He had nothing to get the water with. Think about this. When Jesus asked the question, “Would you get me a drink?” He had nothing to get the water with. He had no cup, as far as we can tell either. Could it be that the request He made was for also a drink of water from her cup? We don’t know for sure, but it was not inconceivable that she would’ve had some type of a drinking utensil, in addition to the water pot itself. Jesus asked her for a drink, “Would you give me a drink?”
if you really think about it, He was asking to share the cup of an unclean Samaritan woman. At the very least, it was asking to share water from her bucket. I was struck by a couple of things and it almost made me cry when I first thought about it. The idea that the Lord, the Lord of glory, would humble Himself to drink from a cup from someone like me. A cup such as mine, for it too, is an unclean cup. I remember when I was writing this down, I thought, “Oh Lord, you’re willing to drink from my cup.” All of us have unclean cups. It’s true. That He would be willing to drink from our unclean cups, is astonishing to me. That he would be willing to cross such a divide to reach you and me is amazing.
What wonderful love that God could love. I quote, “a hymn of days gone by, that God could love a sinner such as me, a sinner such as I.” How wonderful is love like that? That He is willing to share my dirty cup, overwhelms me. This is what I mean. He loves us despite our flaws, our willfulness, and our shame. Should I not, in response to that love, be prodigal and give Him back my love that is given, the best that I have? Should I not also forgive, as I have been forgiven? Is there anyone that is unclean, that we cannot extend something of Christ towards? If He who was beautiful and perfect, was willing to engage us in our imperfections, sin, and willfulness, and think if He forgives me, how can I hold back from forgiveness for others? I don’t know. His example reminds us to be aware of putting people into boxes. Instead, see them with grace-filled eyes, which is the title of this message.
I remember reading something from Philip Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew. He wrote, “In His own social interaction, Jesus was putting into practice, what He called the great reversal.” Harold did in the beatitudes. Normally, in this world, we look up to the rich, the beautiful, and the successful. Grace, however, introduces a world of new logic, because God loves the poor, the suffering, and the persecuted, so should we. God sees no undeniable, neither should we. By His own example, Jesus challenged us to look at the world through what the ancient church father, Irenaeus called, grace-filled eyes. Grace-filled eyes. Perhaps, this is one of the gifts in this unwelcome time of ours. It allows us an opportunity, a choice, to see with either eyes of fear, or eyes of grace.
We have space to welcome His grace, to sow seeds of grace, to water them, and to watch them grow. Instead of seeing only a calamity and dropping into negativity, let us see this as a time to model optimism and gratitude for blessings in the past we may have taken for granted. Instead of feeling paralyzed by the situation that none of us wanted, and by things that never even happened, because some of us are already imagining things not going well. Part of us needs to think about the future, but maybe we’re being paralyzed by stuff that’s not even happened and may never happen, but it’s happening in our minds. Instead of holding onto those things, may the Lord help us to look at things through grace-filled eyes and to be creative blessers? To become spiritual artists, yes. Life givers and smile-makers. Yeah, that’s what I want to be. Instead of getting irritable, let’s get irresistible.
Remember this one. So good, so God. So good, so God, that’s what He does. I want Him to do that in all of our lives. Let me pray. Lord, I want to ask for you to bless all those who are sharing in this time together. Of course, we continue to pray for our nation. We continue to pray for our leaders. We continue to pray for the world that is in pain and we continue to pray for healing at all levels. Physically, in the bodies of people. Yes, in the minds, in our minds. Also, in our economy as well. We want people to have a sense of value and we don’t want things to fall apart in ways that would then hurt people in a different way. We’re just welcoming you in Lord. In the meantime, we’re going to grow. We’re going to stay hopeful. We’re going to trust you and we’re going to be courageous. Most of all, as we’ve settled into this day, reminds us to keep looking at things with grace-filled eyes. We thank you for the time we’ve shared, may gratitude be our song, and may His blessing be yours this good day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.