Can You Dig It: A SOAP Study on James 1:19-21

Scripture: “Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.” ~ James 1:19-21 (MSG)

 “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” ~ James 1:19-21 (ESV)

Observations/Applications: Before we analyze these verses, we must first note the context of James 1. In this letter, Peter is discussing two things:

  1. How believers should persevere during trials.
  2. How to receive wisdom from God.

After converging these points in the intro, Peter provides a powerful series: Lead by listening, be slow to speak to ensure discernment, and be slower to anger so peace may abound.

Essentially, Peter pulls inspiration from the Proverbs and converts it into an endurance tutorial.  

Are you weary and weak? Be still and know He is God.

Are you experiencing pain? Let God bridge your hurt and emotion.

Do you find your faith tested? Again, be still, listen, and know God is for you.

After all, faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). 

As for our listening, Peter isn’t saying we automatically replace speaking with hearing. Rather, He is channeling a similar vibe from Ephesians 4:29-30

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” 

Often times, we perceive this passage through the lens of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel use words if necessary.” However, we must remember while the man meant well, his words aren’t Scripture. We don’t determine what’s necessary through free will but through what is good and true as God defines; hence, why engagement in God’s Word is critical for growth and the life that results.

‘Cause truth is: There are many times at work or in house when we must communicate. Especially in certain professionals, we can’t always afford to be silent or plow behind the comfort of a screen. As such, it’s important we as Kingdom influencers speak life when we speak up or out. Again, it’s not about what we have to say but rather what needs to be said. If our aim is to make God’s love known through truth, we must remember timely stillness, not perpetual quietude, is the road to this reality. 

Now, before I continue, let me be clear. I’m not saying St. Francis of Assisi was wrong; I’m not saying those who advocate the phrase are wrong. Rather I am cautioning us to consider what ‘if necessary’ means as we reference God in the moment, on the clock, etc. Obviously, don’t be silent when you’re supposed to speak and call it ‘wisdom’. Instead know the purpose of your perseverance, in silence or in speech, comes down to aligning to God’s love in faith and His will in prayer.  Remember the ‘how’ bows to the who; not the other way around. As great as our execution can be when given the green light, God’s light is all the greater.

I love how the ESV and MSG translations dance in v. 21:

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.”

Like the implied soil, the imagery here is rich. As Lord of all creation, God by proxy is the master gardener of our hearts given His Word is designed to root and yield fruit. Yet, while we know the way we live should reflect what we belief, in the minutiae of work, it’s not always easy. Crazy clients, detached supervisors, secondary natter…the challenge of our character’s consistency never stops.

Thankfully, Peter gives us a straight-forward example of how we can engage space for faith to mature. As we turn from pride and abandon fear, we can receive God’s Word with meekness knowing it’s already been planted in our hearts. This doesn’t mean God is one-and-done with what He sows; contrarily, it means when we come to faith in Christ, God never stops pursuing more room in our hearts to hide His Word. From there, God by His Spirit stirs us closer to His heart by encouraging us to His Word.

Now, here’s where it gets fun. First off, why would Peter conclude his point with an earthy metaphor? Or better put, how can we receive something from God that’s already been buried?

To answer this, let’s review Philippians 4:8 (AMP):

Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart.

This leads me to a key point:

Just as God is faithful to plant His Word, we likewise must be faithful to implant it.

For many who believe Jesus is Lord and Savior can the accept the idea God sows truth by His Spirit. The question is when push comes to shove in our darkest days, when the chaos of enterprise is sapping our strength, are we focusing on what is perfect, pure, and honorable? Or are we setting before us the way of surviving and striving? 

Think of this way: If God entrusts us with His trust, then we can implant what He plants. What He sows, He renews, and what He renews we can reap in confidence. My encouragement to you, my friends, is to not separate your daily work from your daily walk. Let gratitude pave the way for humility and let humility mark the efforts of your heart and mind. Care for each other with sincerity knowing what you do is secondary to who and how God has made you. And as you reference God, know you approach Him as more than a conqueror. As you resist fear and anxiety, as you cast your cares on the Lord, understand you’re giving Him room to landscape your heart with inspired truth and perspective straight from His Word. Don’t just think about things that are good, but let God cultivate His good into a harvest shared with those around you. Whatever you do, whatever you say…let your work be a testimony of God’s Word continually renewed in you. By committing to these soul goals, these divine purposes, not only will you ‘fertile’ your heart but discover the seeds you’re meant to sow back as a co-gardener unto the Lord.

Selah.

Prayer: Lord, in times like these, what can we do but thank you? To stand in awe of your goodness and faithfulness despite our frailties and fragilities? As we digest this Word, we’re reminded of your master plan as created by master hands. Of anything that made new, we know it comes for you. As such, help us to treasure your Word as daily bread, as branches clinging to the vine. Plant new words, ideas, and visions into our hearts today. Teach us how to be faithful stewards of the rich seed you give us. May they take root for your glory so we, as humble, fearless workers, can tell your story. Landscape our ‘now’  so we may calibrate to your ‘wow’. We ask this in Jesus’ mighty, precious name. 

Cover photo creds: experteasy.com

3 Ways to Overcome Labeling at Work

Labels.

They can be tough to handle. As one who has endured his fair share, my heart is sensitive to those wrestling with identity, to those struggling in the shadow of slander and prejudice. While some people know the truth of who you are, the fact is many are in the dark to what makes them unique. And if we’re to mature in wisdom and influence within our communal arenas, how we stand firm when assailed by this demographic is worth discussion.

Regardless of what we do or where we’re at, whenever vulnerability strikes, having a game-plan is vital in our quest to be more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). Accordingly, here are three ways we can bust the boxes people put us in and prevent their labels from becoming our tags.

1. Anchor Your Belief

Before we take any action, the best way to deal with backbiting is to resist fear through the Scriptures. While how we respond as follow-through is important, how we react in the moment is just as, if not more, crucial. Here’s a check-down of some verses I quote when I sense typecasting, favoritism, or neglect:

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control].” ~ 1 Timothy 2:7 (AMP)

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” ~ 1 John 4:18-19 (ESV)

I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” ~ Psalm 34:4 (ESV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” ~ Philippians 4:6 (ESV)

Note how this is merely a shortlist; obviously, you can customize your ‘fear resistant’ prayer guide however you please. Just be advised when you’re on the clock in real-time, our tendency to misread and misjudge what we observe is constantly tested; hence, why it’s important not only to know what you believe but also how to take captive what doesn’t align.

Bottom line: When you suspect attitudinal shifts, be slow to believe what you perceive. Don’t be afraid to resist unnecessary judgments, labels, and deceptions. Even if all you can do initially is defer, defer in faith with the hope of casting all anxieties on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7)

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2. Pray into the Offense

When we suspect people are labeling us, it’s hard not to take offense. Even if we can’t prove a typecast, the temptation to rationalize what we’re sensing is real, sometimes tantalizing. I know for me, when I perceive a relational distancing from colleagues or co-workers, I start to crave reconciliation before it’s necessary. On one level, I feel a surge of self-perseveration desperate to find a reason why; on another, I’m frustrated to have to own anything in the first place. It’s like a winless tug-of-war: I want to be heard, understood, and not given up on, but in case those fears verify, I want to, at least, be the next best thing…to be right. Not exactly a sustainable formula if community is to be a pure pursuit.

For those wondering why the transparency: I have no problem being vulnerable because I know I’m not alone. The fact is in most cases, insecurity fuels our offenses and if we don’t acknowledge and repent of them, they can pollute our view of relationships, identity, place and purpose, etc.

So what then? If people are nice one day and suddenly stop acknowledging our existence the next, we’re supposed to keep our mouth shut and be okay with it? Well, no, I’m not saying we neglect the opportunities to bridge divides. Conversely, I’m saying if grudges or walls emerge, we must first lean on God’s understanding to accurately see the situation. From there, we can take rest knowing we’re proactively sowing peace as opposed to reactively striving for peace. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Through Him, we can persevere in prayer and thanksgiving that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-5).

Bottom line: Seek correction before direction. Let God be the space between your hurts and emotions. Release the want to control, manipulate, and be a victim. All the while, pray into the offense and don’t be overcome by the absence of good. Rather be the good in the voids you sense, real or imagined.

3. Turn the Cheek…and the Tide

For most of us, we’re familiar with Matthew 5:38-40:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is . But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

While the general meaning of this passage is to approach evil in the opposite spirit, the concept of turning the other cheek can still be confusing. Is Jesus suggesting we tolerate the presence of malice, gossip, passive-aggressiveness, even silos in our workplaces? Is he hinting we embrace suffering and survivalism as socially acceptable? Not at all. Au contraire, he’s implying we encourage all people through a double portion of his nature.

For instance, if we encounter a void of good, when people are intentionally forsaking us, don’t respond by doing the same. Why lower your standards and behaviors to a level outside your faith? Instead, know your power source and abide in the current of his grace. In this way, you defuse offense, inspire virtue as a contagious overflow, and preserve what needs to be said in a spirit of love.

Bottom line: In the presence of evil, in the absence good, you can’t turn the tide if you don’t turn the cheek. Don’t live in defeat in a moment’s heat but be true to what is right as you stir others to do the same.

Selah.

Stay tuned next time when I’ll dive back into my ‘Trinity as Structure‘ series to discuss the Trinity’s influence on teamwork. For now, I bid you adieu with an inspiring video from New Hope Church:

Cover photo creds: https://medium.com

The Renew in You: How to Refresh, Restart, and Reset with God

Well, folks. We’ve made it.

The summer solstice, the midyear equinox, the halfway point, whatever July is to you, we’re here and still in one piece. Who would have thought making it this far would feel like such an accomplishment?

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Memes aside, as some of know, this is a special time of year for me – a time when I reflect and consider adjustments for the year moving forward; however, this year, I want to shake things up a bit. Rather than share reflections on lessons learned, I want to focus today’s post on finding rest through refreshing, restarting, and resetting with God. Yes, I get how the series sounds similar. Outside of our personal computers, I bet most of us use these terms interchangeably. Still, there are critical differences worth discussing as they relate to our emotional and spiritual well-being. As such, I encourage you to keep an open mind and a sensitive heart as we explore the depths of this topic.

Without further ado, let’s dive in…

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  1. Refresh

When I say ‘refresh’, what immediately comes to mind? An emerald beach resort, snow-covered slopes, a sparkling beverage?

Okay, okay…so these are some of my favorite things. But to an extent, you can see the common denominator. Generally, when we consider what refreshes us, our minds gravitate to what instantly gratifies us. Whatever can elevate our spirits in the heat of the moment, whatever can distract us from despair, chances are we receive it as refreshing.

Yet, while there is an interim component to refreshment, from a biblical standpoint, refreshment isn’t refreshment without sustaining momentum. For example, if you’re in a desert and find an oasis, the kiss of water to your lips is just as much refreshment as the long-term fill you carry on with. While the express relief is undeniable, it’s made more powerful through the restoration of heart, soul, mind, and strength to its original design.

Perhaps this is why the theme is threaded through all Scripture:

“And I will bring a piece of bread to refresh and sustain you; after that you may go on, since you have come to your servant.” And they replied, “Do as you have said.” ~ Genesis 18:5 (ESV)

“The law of the Lord is perfect (flawless), restoring and refreshing the soul; The statutes of the Lord are reliable and trustworthy, making wise the simple.” ~ Psalm 19:7 (ESV)

“He refreshes and restores my soul (life); He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” ~ Psalm 23:3 (ESV)

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation].” ~ Matthew 11:28 (ESV)

“Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink.” ~ 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (MSG)

Upon further review, these passages tell me four things:

  1. Refresh is not only a footstool to rest, but can be the rest itself ¹.
  2. Refresh is often the next step towards righteousness (in particular resisting fear, receiving grace, and stilling our inner being).
  3. Refresh is designed to lead us towards places of freedom, health, and unity.
  4. Refresh is centered in the abiding of God’s nature.

Therefore, if you ever feel like a stalled webpage, don’t just receive God’s ‘refresh’ as momentary rest, but embrace it as sustenance taking you deeper into His love. ‘Cause truth is: Refresh is not simply what you take in, but what you allow to put out. All the more reason to rest in knowing even when there’s a setback, there’s a kickback with God to pursue. 

  1. Restart

Rolling with the browser analogy, as many Mac users know, a ‘refresh’ is not always a surefire cure-all to the ‘death spiral’.

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Sometimes, you need a hard restart to reboot your system to access files more quickly; think ‘have you turned it on and off again‘ but next level.

Assuming you can relate, consider the parallels to mental peace. Like refresh, restart implies calibration, alignment, and engagement to a higher form and by proxy, an ideal intent. Granted, a restart is more disruptive but it can also lead to more enlightening outcomes.

Take this year, for instance. These days there’s no question we’re experiencing unprecedented disruption. While we’re not encountering radical crises such as world wars or great depressions, we’re still seeing almost every nation being impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. On the surface, this captures a historic screenshot, but digging deeper, look at what it’s inspiring. Despite so much on hold, we’re seeing people revising their priorities, pursuing dormant dreams, and encouraging their way out of complacency. Even in the most unlikely scenarios, people are beginning to care again at fundamental levels once taken for granted. An exciting, if not, thrilling development in a year many have thrown the towel on.

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As for how we ‘restart’, I submit we first take inventory of what we’re clinging to. Ask yourself, ‘What and where are those internal points of desperation? Are they guiding me to Jesus or pulling me away?‘ Be honest and know your wilderness is not the problem, but rather your commitment to the road God has made in it. From there, remember the secret of being content in every situation is God as your strength providing all you need for good work, faith, and life in abundance. Where you need to ask for purity, ask for purity. Where there’s past to surrender, surrender it.  Where there’s pleasure in stronghold, ask God to orientate your perspective. No matter where you are, what situation you’re in, you can pray, ‘God, I long to see not only what you see, but how you see‘ so I may not lose sight of your faithfulness and the ‘why’ to which I am called.

Of course, this is just a proposed template; obviously, be Spirit-led and discerning in your approach. For now, I pray and trust this guide can help start your ‘restart’.

  1. Reset

Finally, we come to reset, which if you think is similar to ‘restart’, you’d be correct. To reset is to essentially restart, but with one caveat: A reset requires change; a restart doesn’t.

You see, unlike the glorified mulligan that is a restart, a reset goes beyond a redo and into the realm of upgrade. To upgrade anything, you have to put it all on the table. Every detail, every piece, every character…every little thing must be re-examined in the spirit of inevitable revision.

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Now, if you think I’m taking a scenic route in describing repentance, I’m not trying to per se, though it is certainly applicable. Rather, my takeaway with ‘reset’ is the context of the action. Specifically, all of us should regularly take time to get away with God – to retreat with Him for the sake of being intentionally disrupted.

Consider this the full-circle moment of this post: To be disrupted is to know God has a message for you. Whatever the message is, you have to first position yourself to receive it. Hence, why resetting often can’t happen without a break from the ordinary. To receive from the Lord, you have to eliminate potential interferences including innocent routines. It’s not a knock on your daily rhythm, but a call to push to pause knowing God is more important.

My encouragement to you, my friends, is to heed these differences to know the season you’re in. For some of you, God wants to refresh your moment. For others, He wants to restart your walk and/or reset your faith. Whatever the case, don’t hide in the shadow of uncertainty or anxiety. Instead, know the time has never been better to supplicate – to ask God in earnest, ‘Is there a new idea, a fresh work you want to begin in me? Is there a lost truth you want to illuminate in me? Is there anything in my heart that needs to be uninstalled so you can install something in its place?”

And if it helps, think of this way: When you let go of the ‘me’, you can receive the ‘re²’; when you receive the ‘re’, you can find the ‘renew’ – the Isaish 40:31 – in each step:

“…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” 

 Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Or is the start of rest itself
  2. Whether it be a refresh, restart, or reset
Cover photo creds: Generals.org (edited in Canva by Cameron & Lyssah Fry)

3 Ways to Elevate Others at Work

I don’t know about you, but I find the ironies of Scripture fascinating.

Weakness as strength, the overturning of human wisdom, redemptive reversals…there are many to choose from.

But I suppose the one gripping me most intensely right now is delayed revelation – how one can read the same verse ninety-nine times, but on the hundredth one, the light bulb goes off…as if you’re reading the verse for the first time. Call it God’s faithfulness. Call it maturity meeting an inspired moment. Whatever the reason, I believe it justifies our call to continually renew our minds in the Word. After all, in the space between passage exposure, who says God can’t work new grids and frameworks into the mix?

Prelude aside, I want to share a recent instance during which I was studying Philippians 2 when all of a sudden, I hit an accelerant taking me deeper into new territory. A familiar read, now a profound resonance. Let’s dive into v. 3

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (NIV)

“When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves.” (NCV)

 “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” (NKJV)

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” (NLT)

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (ESV)

Now, before I continue, permit me to share some context.

A couple of weeks ago, during a Foundation Group team meeting,  a colleague mentioned how we should honor one another by assuming other’s loads as “crazier” than our own – an agreeable notion given our corporate desire to serve. While I couldn’t remember the Scriptural reference offhand, I knew it took residence in one of Paul’s first imprisonment letters (i.e. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians). Accordingly, I couldn’t help feeling satisfied having found the source a week later.

As I drilled down, it made sense why this colleague would allude to Philippians 2:3. For starters, the verse captures how corporate love looks in a team construct, particularly in vocational settings. To respect colleagues and clients alike, it’s essential we surrender pride, embrace selfless motives, and integrate humility into everything we do. The reasons this constitutes wisdom are many:

  1. It yields no breathing room to arrogance or self-righteousness.

  2. It emphasizes and prioritizes advancing the needs of others.

  3. It inspires a place for the radical middle to thrive. Spiritually, we know this as living in Spirit and Truth, but vocationally, this often manifests as finding common ground to agree upon.

  4. It creates a spirit of safety and enhances camaraderie/team unity.

  5. It converts corporate ladders from vertical hierarchies into horizontal matrices where all roles are equally valuable (though diverse in function).

However, there are deeper layers to be discovered as we consider occupational application.

Case and point: The allegory of the long spoons –  a regarded illustration, but one seldom tied to marketplace principles.

 

For those unaware of this illustration, the allegory of the long spoons is a parable that shows the difference between heaven and hell wherein each location,  inhabitants are given food with oversized utensils incapable of self-service. In hell, the people cannot cooperate and wail in torment. In heaven, the diners use the spoons to serve food across the table where all are satisfied.

This in mind, we can ‘carpe diem’ the application. If our mission is to maximally serve one another, then self-seeking ambitions will fade as humility builds in places they once occupied. As Romans 12:1-2 states, when we present ourselves as living sacrifices, we position ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds to discern the will of God. Yet, to do this, we must also be committed to living securely in our ‘loved by God’ identity.

‘Cause truth is: If we know who we are, not only will compassion be the hallmark of our efforts, but the overflow to how we shepherd relationships. In a sense, we won’t have room to compare or prove our worth because we know we are loved by God; therefore, we have nothing to lose valuing others above ourselves, in pursuing others’ needs ahead of our own.

As for how this looks in the business world, these truths often reflect in collaboration, communication, and correction:

With collaboration, any time a team comes together to fine-tune or streamline a process, the goal is to make critical functions more efficient…for the sake of service. While economical outcomes are practical, it’s the customer bond, not the bottom line, where equity accrues over time. Consequently, if leadership is intentional in anchoring pursuits to critical needs over critical mass, odds are the organization will validate its authenticity and purpose.

Likewise, with communications, a team is reinforced when ideas and individual strengths are integrated into its corporate dynamic. Once in rhythm, a leader can then create environments of safety where those will more experience can speak life into those with less. And though the balance may require calibrating with new hires, as long as space is giving to professional and personal growth, the ‘unity in community’ element will flourish. Again, the goal of workplace communication should be to elevate the ministry of servanthood in advance of performance metrics; however, if verbal success is to be realized, a leader must differentiate their aim and the overflow to come.

Lastly, with correction, a team leader should always employ honesty with understanding and prudence with patience. Here the principle is straightforward: If a leader is to speak discipline effectively, he/she must exercise transparency constructively. For example, if a leader/supervisor rushes to grace without understanding, then cultures of security may be compromised as opposed to strengthened. Granted, this can be a fine line to walk; then again, that’s the beauty of Philippians 2:3 – One doesn’t have to try to be right, but aim to do right in tending the good in others…

…which brings me to my last point…

If we’re to use our spoons to serve others, we must be intentional to clean them regularly.

Think of it this way: You may love pot roast and mashed potatoes, but if the utensils are dirty, you’re going to hesitate to eat them. Most likely you’re going to wash the serving spoon or request a different side item. Unless you’re really, really hungry.

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In theory,  the same concept applies to ministry, work, and all points in between. While what you serve is important, how you serve is all the more. For instance, not only does ‘how you serve’ shape your influence but answers the question as literally considering Jesus.

As such, if you ever wonder how to serve with clean spoons…lock on to Jesus. Specifically, look to Him as your example in selfless humility (v. 5), empty yourselves as servants of all (v. 7; Mark 9:35), and honor each other with enthusiasm (v. 12). Dare to work in a manner worthy of your calling (Ephesians 4:1), in a way that points to Christ’s sovereignty. And from there, cultivate it, bring it to full effect, and actively pursue spiritual maturity (v. 12) in community, in unity…with humility.

You got this, my friend.

Selah.

Cover photo creds: Terryberry.com

The Road Less Traveled By: A SOAP Study on John 4

Written 2/15/14; revised 6/1/20

Back when I was a young buck studying the Word, I had a bad habit of downplaying settings. Geography, time, historical backdrops…I figured by skimming the peripherals, I’d discern the passage more quickly without distraction.

However, as I now know, when we consider the Scriptures, we find every word, pronoun, and article carrying strategic purpose and placement.

Take John 4 for instance…

In this chapter, not only do we find Jesus ministering to a woman at a well but [literally] going the extra yard in finding her.

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Yet, before the encounter takes place, we’re given important context retroactive to John 3:22-23:

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized.” 

This in mind, let’s flash-forward to John 4:1-5:

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.”

In these two passages, we’re given three regions as backstory to John 4: Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. With Galilee and Samaria, we’re given specifics; with Judea, the reference is less clear. Still, we have enough detail to discern the relationship between the communities.

Note the maps below as they will come in handy in a minute…

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Going back to v. 2, we find Jesus leaving Judea for Galilee from a somewhat debatable departure point. Assuming Jesus started where John was baptizing, we can deduce Sychar not only as a sensible midpoint but a contrast to how Jews traveled given the cultural climate between them and the Samaritans (see black/white graphic above). While traveling through Sychar made sense in terms of mileage, it’s only fair to wonder:

Why Jesus did go there in the first place?

To answer this, we’ll need to examine two more components…

  1. Relational dynamics

  2. The timeline

Relational Dynamics: Back in Jesus’ time,  it was culturally unacceptable for a Jew to enter a Samaritan town. As we see in the Good Samaritan parable, Samaritans were widely considered half-breeds (half-Gentile, half-Jew). If a Jew was departing Jerusalem on route to Galilee, he likely would have traveled east of the Jordan to avert Samaria (a difference of a marathon give or take); however, in Jesus’ case, he took the road less traveled by for two reasons:

1) To shatter the mold of social norms through his message of unity.

2) To share the Good News and preview the Spirit as part of an emerging worship culture (more on this in a future post).

The Timeline: Additionally, we must consider the timing of this passage as v. 6 indicates:

 “Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.”

Again, it’s worth wondering why John would emphasize a topical detail like the “sixth hour”. At first glance, one would think the “sixth hour” to be 6:00 am; however, according to the Jewish clock, the “sixth hour” would have, in fact, been 12:00 pm. Like the location, the ramifications of this observation is significant. If Jesus arrived at noon, then he would have appeared during ‘peak heat’ – a time when many were indoors. With well activity peaking during dawn hours, had Jesus wanted to preach, he would have needed to arrive in the morning or evening. Accordingly, one must wonder: Did Jesus arrive at random or did he time his journey to Sychar? 

In short, ‘yes’, Jesus had every intention of meeting the woman exactly when he did; however, the longer answer integrates the ‘why‘, specifically why Jesus came to inspire this particular woman at this particular time in light of her history (v. 16-19).

Based on these verses, I submit the ‘why‘ is as follows…

Jesus came to change a woman’s life through the revelation of his divinity so she could inspire a town through the revelation of his compassion.

As the Spoken Word attests, Christ so loved this woman at the well, he couldn’t help but transform her from an ostracized outcast to a victorious vessel. From the very beginning, this woman had been tapped to speak life into a cultural revolution. And now here she was – once an adulteress, now a mouthpiece with testimony and a message to share. If that’s not the Kingdom, I don’t know what is.

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Bottom line 1: When we consider Christ’s intentionality, his strategy to free this woman from bondage and ignite her hope through his identity, how can we not get excited? Like Jesus, we should want to restore life amidst the broken hearts and dreams we encounter. We should want to ignite change in those who doubt their worth. But above all, we should want to accept the call to lead others to a greater understanding of who God is. Because at the end of the day, God’s love is contagious and captures why we’re here: To encourage the discouraged, to be salt and light, to be unity in community, and stir love as the root of faith.

As the story concludes, the woman accepts Christ, his prophetic declaration (v. 21-24), and fearlessly saves many Samaritans as a result:

“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.‘ After the two days he departed for Galilee.” ~ John 4:39-43 (ESV)

Not bad for an ex-social leper who wasted years trying to find her identity in relationships and social status.

Bottom line 2: Scenic and demographic details are valuable in studying the ministry of Christ. As this chapter reminds us, God can use the lowliest of men to sow the highest good for His glory and in bringing communities closer to Jesus. As for being that catalyst of change in your arenas of influence/expertise, dare to seek God like no one else so you can live intentionally like no one else. By believing God has established your steps, you can trust him to help you get to where you need to be even if it’s mean a few extra minutes or miles along the way.

Selah.

Looking ahead, I will look to build upon this post by examining the worship culture aspect of John 4. I’ll also break down what the ‘radical middle’ (i.e. living in Spirit and in Truth) looks like as present-day Kingdom agents in the marketplace.

‘Til then, you got this.

~ Cameron

Cover photo creds: Million-Wallspaper.com