The Road Less Traveled By

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 three 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 ingredients…

  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 into a victorious vessel where his evangelism would snowball into a cultural revolution. Once an adulteress, now a mouthpiece with testimony and a message to share. That, my friends, is the Kingdom in motion…

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…and the main reason I find John 4 so captivating. 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: 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

Jethro Principles: Structures for Organized Relationship (Part 1)

Central Thought: The Lord provides a structure in which intimacy with God is nurtured through a system of organized relationships.

Central Theme: The practice of multiple shepherds; the concept of communal shepherding.

Central Culture: A sense of ‘connection’ among members of the Body.
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When I say ‘Jethro’ what immediately comes to mind? A husky high priest embracing Moses, guiding him from fugitive to family? A fatherly shepherd in the middle of nowhere?

Perhaps you recall that ‘Prince of Egypt‘ scene when a jovial Jethro leads the Midianites in a festive (“you must learn to join the”) dance around the campfire.

To be honest, I imagine most first impressions of Jethro involves at least one of these things.

But what if I told you Jethro wasn’t just a hospitable father-in-law but a strategic advisor with a depth of business savvy? Would the idea of him being more than a pastoral shepherd cross your mind?

If not, dare to consider Exodus 18 where Jethro advises Moses how to manage two million people, essentially giving him a promised way to the Promised Land.

Let’s set the stage:

After wondering to the wilderness, Jethro finds a swamped Moses settling disputes among the thousands of freshly delivered Israelites. Cloaked in experience, Jethro asks Moses what he’s doing knowing full well what is going on. Moses then replies he’s judging the people as they come to him inquiring God’s will. Immediately, Jethro responds by giving Moses a system and structure for accountable relationship:

Look for able men…who fear God, who are trustworthy…and place them over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So, it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.” ~ Exodus 18:21-22 (ESV)

Heeding Jethro’s advice, Moses appoints a team of elders for each group size in v. 24-26. From there, a relieved Moses finds the flexibility and mobility he needs to meet God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19) and receive the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).

Now, I know what you’re thinking: But Cam, I’m low on the totem pole in my not-so-large company. How can this possibly apply to me?

Good news! These Jethro principles, while ancient, are timelessly paramount to the foundations of leadership and character. For starters, not only do they serve as a template for stewarding organized relationships, but also reveal how we, as Kingdom influencers, are to preserve our margins to experience and facilitate intimacy with God. In Moses’ case, he knew God was with him; he just didn’t know how this intimacy needed to be fostered. And I think for many of us, that’s the hardest part: While we may have the discernment, we can’t steer into the unforced rhythms of grace until we embrace our limitations (Matthew 11:20-24) and trust God’s entrusted.

As for Jethro, it’s interesting to note how his counsel reflects the Trinity in an organized relational context where each role is co-equal in value, diverse in function. One could say because of the Godhead, there’s always been a template on how responsibility, accountability, and stewardship operate since one can’t exist without the other. Either way…

…for God so loved the world, He gave us communal systems to be institutionalized so His mission could be realized.

Knowing this, we can see the heart of Jethro more clearly. While delegating authority was crucial in the moment, the intent of his objective wasn’t to establish hierarchy, but to help people discover God and to…

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Selah.

Study Questions

  1. As Jethro modeled, we serve community as we provide others what they need to receive life and godliness. While the church is a primary outlet, for most, our jobs are the hubs for our social interaction. That said, do you see Jethro principles at work? If so, how are they succeeding and/or where can they improve?
  2. How can one’s concept of authority benefit from the Jethro principles? How can one’s concept of hierarchy benefit from the Jethro principles?
  3. How to Jethro principles help us deal with conflict management and resolution?
Cover photos creds: Simplify the Message; written as mini-devotional for The Gate Community Church (request at or under 500 words)

Work as Intimacy: Scratch Notes on Hebrews 13

Core References: Hebrews 13:2; 13:15-16

Supportive References: 1 Peter 4:9, Romans 12:13, 1 Timothy 5:10, Acts 28:2

Key Word: Hospitality

Communal Goals of Hospitality

  1. Making God accessible to people
  2. Helping people connect to God’s love/see their ‘loved by God’ identity
  3. Extending fellowship to all men (i.e. weary, broken, lost, searching, etc.)

The Contexts of Hospitality

There are several contexts behind hospitality in Scripture. For today, we’ll mention three of them: welcoming, intimacy, and suffering.

In the context of welcoming and receiving, our hospitality should radiate and reflect eagerness, enthusiasm, and intercession – the kind of heart that says…

We’re ready for you when you get here because we thought about you before you arrived.”

By embracing this posture, we allow prayer to invade both our heart to serve and our anticipation to serve (more on this in future posts).

In the context of intimacy, especially when engaged corporately, our hospitality is a lead-in helping people realize God is closer to them than they think. Likewise for many of the saints, we are more wired to touch people than we think since we’re not only close to God, but IN Christ IN community.

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In the context of suffering, our hospitality is an overflow of having received our ‘made in Christ’ identity and the renewing of our minds (Hebrews 12:1-2). We see this through the Jesus pattern in Scripture. From pre-ministry to Cross, Jesus continually allowed suffering to define new depths of intimacy. Even when He didn’t understand or lacked the strength, Jesus never stopped pursuing the Father’s heart knowing it was key to serving and saving people.

Applied to real world, we may not always sense the fullness of God’s presence, but this doesn’t mean our grief is the stronger reality or that our souls are being abandoned (Psalm 16). Rather, as we see in Gethsemane, when God’s presence lifts, we should see it as an invitation to reach up…to stand at the door and knock (Revelation 3:20) into deeper places of vulnerability. How awesome to think this moment in time not only provides a hospitality word picture, but emphasizes the direction of our worship at the same time!

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In Jesus’ case, when He asks God to remove the cup (Mark 14:36; Matthew 26:29; Matthew 26:42; Luke 22:42; John 18:11; Isaiah 51:22), He finds the strength to embrace grief as an instrument of redemption. To him, not only was preserving through suffering a joy but the suffering itself.

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As to how this applies to hospitality, consider how our ‘new nature’ identity connects to God’s ministry of reconciliation. In this life, we know trials and tribulations will come; however, we also know divine appointments often come with them. Accordingly, the joy set before us can manifest as hospitality through pain even as we’re transformed into Christ’s likeness. After all, to serve one another should not be a means we endure pain, but a way we love in pain.

PainThought

Core Scriptures on Hospitality 

I love how Hebrews 13 captures the sacrificial aspect of hospitality.

Hebrews 13:2 (AMP) – “Do not neglect to extend hospitality to strangers [especially among the family of believers—being friendly, cordial, and gracious, sharing the comforts of your home and doing your part generously], for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Hebrews 13:15 (ESV) – “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”

Hebrews 13:16 (MSG) – Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship—a different kind of “sacrifice”—that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets.”

Concerning my point on suffering, note how v. 12-13 (AMP) threads these passages connecting back to v. 1 (MSG):

“Therefore Jesus also suffered and died outside the gate so that He might sanctify and set apart for God as holy the people who believe through His own blood. So let us go outside the camp holding on as He did when we are abused.” 

“Stay on good terms with each other, held together by love.” 

Again, I’ll come back to this due to the amount of series potential in the giving/suffering relationship.

For now, let’s combining core and supportive references…

Contribute to one another’s needs through grateful giving. See compassion as a fragrant offering (Ephesians 5:2) and sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15). Don’t worry about your reputation, but let selfless care speak for itself. Wash the feet of the saints and keep the door open for strangers. Whatever they’re going through, you have something to offer as partners in the divine. What can’t be seen, you are making it seen. Even when you’re outside your element, let extraordinary kindness kindle a fire for the dreary and heavy laden.¹

The Bottom Line of Hospitality

Through practical acts of kindness, whether intentional or random, realize the table you’re setting for God to show up and showcase His greatness – the parts of His nature we’re to taste and see as good (Psalm 34:8).

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Paraphrased by Cameron Fry
Cover photo creds: XCHM; content inspired by September staff meetings @ The Gate Community Church

The Feel Deal: Why ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ Isn’t That Romantic

Sooo…I wasn’t initially going to write anything on this, but after cutting a pod earlier this week, I’m calling an audible.

‘Cause truth is: I’m surprised how much a feel good movie in ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ has me feeling, well, not that good.

While the film, in itself, is charming full of laugh out loud moments and clever wit, to say the film lacks irony would be an understatement.

*Spoiler alert*

For instance, when contrasting real life to rom coms, our protagonist is clear she hates happy endings since they hinge on plot convenience more than anything else.

The funny thing: This is exactly what ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ does on the issue of self-love which begs the question…

Does self-love actually exist?

To be fair, the answer can’t be addressed in a vacuum since real love can’t be compartmentalized. That said, while secular voices can only go so far in their quest not to offend, one must wonder if we, as a culture, are synonymizing love and esteem as much as we are love and tolerance.

This in mind, I want to tackle the question by un-blurring the lines between self-love/love and self-esteem/esteem. As for love versus tolerance, don’t worry. I’ll come back and do a ‘part 2’ once the right movie comes along.

Before we define any contrasts, let’s define some terms.

First, what is love?

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For starters, the most central answer can be found in 1 Corinthians 13:

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not [a]love [for others growing out of God’s love for me], then I have become only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal [just an annoying distraction]. And if I have the gift of prophecy [and speak a new message from God to the people], and understand all mysteries, and [possess] all knowledge; and if I have all [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love [reaching out to others], I am nothing. If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body [b]to be burned, but do not have love, it does me no good at all.

Love endures with patience and serenity, love is kind and thoughtful, and is not jealous or envious; love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant. It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; it does not take into account a wrong endured. It does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening].

Love never fails [it never fades nor ends]. But as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for the gift of special knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part [for our knowledge is fragmentary and incomplete]. 10 But when that which is complete and perfect comes, that which is incomplete and partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God]. 13 And now there remain: faith [abiding trust in God and His promises], hope [confident expectation of eternal salvation], love [unselfish love for others growing out of God’s love for me], these three [the choicest graces]; but the greatest of these is love.”

Granted, most are familiar with this passage; however, what’s often missed is the reason why we struggle grasping it.

Consider this great DC Talk chorus

Hey, tell me haven’t ya heard? Love is a serious word. Hey, I think it’s time ya learned. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care care what ya heard. The word love, love is a verb.

…and while we’re at it, let’s hit the bridge as well…

Back in the day there was a man who stepped out of Heaven and he walked the land. He delivered to the people an eternal choice with a heart full of love and the truth in His voice. Gave up His life so that we may live. How much more love could the Son of God give? Here is the example that we oughta be matchin’ ‘cause love is a word that requires some action.

Yeah, yeah…I’m starting this exegesis with the most popular ‘love Scripture’ and one of the most iconic 90’s Christian rap songs ever. Nevertheless, the content is 100% certified truth; specifically, love isn’t love without action…without a transitive nature.

Speaking of which, allow me to get nerdy for just a second…

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In math, the transitive property is expressed as the successive members of a sequence of at least three, where if A is larger than B, and B is larger than C, then A is larger than C. Interestingly, from a theological perspective, this confirms the existence of the Trinity (more on this in a future post).

In this case, let’s use the metaphor to compare us to ‘B’ with the people we love as ‘C’. If ‘B’ (love median) and ‘C’ (love recipient) are given, then who represents A?

In fewer words, God (i.e. love giver). But the big picture point is this: The reason love exists is because there has always been a giver and receiver for all of eternity. Thus, whenever we talk about self-love, it’s only fair to reference the concept as intransitive since the act is not only internal, but immobile.

But Cam…Matthew 22:39 says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. Certainly, self-love isn’t a bad thing?

And to that, I’d have to agree…wait for it…in a vacuum. But as mentioned, we can’t address this topic in a vacuum so let’s zoom out further and ask another question…

Is the self-love culture conveys the same as what Scripture describes?

‘Cause when we reference the Word, we find love, in every use, to be a direct response to receiving love. For example, before we can confess God as love (1 John 4:8), we must first believe the preceding verse: “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

1 John 4:19 paraphrases this in fewer words:

We love because He first loved us.”

Therefore, the difference between self-love (culture) and loving yourself (Scripture) is one is contained and the other can’t be. One is restricted, the other depicted. One is incomplete, the other complete. One is achieved, the other received. One looks to preserve, the other looks to subserve. I could go on.

For now, let’s discuss esteem.

As Webster defines, esteem is a regard involving an admiration, adulation, and/or appreciation of another. A derivative of gratitude, esteem molds an ‘I respect you’ statement into an ‘I value you’ declaration.

Unfortunately, most learn esteem as self-esteem, taking that ‘I value you’ and reforming it into ‘I value me’. Again, this is appropriate in moderation; however, we must be careful not to abuse the practice as how we love. Reason being: like self-love/love, for self-esteem to exist, there must first be esteem and for esteem to exist, not only must there be a giving entity, but authentic community surrounding it. Put another way, the necessity of esteem isn’t rooted in feeling valuable, but in sharing praise.

As Hebrews 13:15 and Psalm 66:4 capture…

“Through Him, therefore, let us at all times offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of lips that thankfully acknowledge and confess and glorify His name.” (AMP)

“All the earth will [bow down to] worship You [in submissive wonder],
And will sing praises to You; they will praise Your name in song.” (AMP)

…for praise to have any purpose, it must be expressed as unrequited adoration. For if the affirmation of self is what focuses our esteem, then what we think is love is pride in disguise…or as I like to say, a vehicle for validation.

And it’s here where self-esteem goes off the rail for many people. Yes, self-esteem has a place, but can we say it has purpose when it’s narcissistically misappropriated? For example, we see in entertainment, politics, even health, the cultural message of self-esteem being a barometer to success and worth. Ironically, the same voices are also surprised when such pathways are met by insecurity, stress, and burnout. Keep going, they say. Don’t give up, they say.

Of course, Christ in us, we see how this is done the right way. In context, we tie esteem to love through the nature of God which then allows us to see anxiety as the bypassing of holy residence to feel significant. Sadly, for most, self-esteem is and will forever be detached from its Creator, leading many to strive for desirability through skillsets, passions, even status.  How sad is it that many discover strengths without wondering or questioning how they got there in the first place? No wonder so many struggle with voids given they’re pursuing meaning without reason!

But getting back to the movie…

After our protagonist’s comatose catharsis, she finally comes to the pay off: While love is not a fairytale, it doesn’t mean you can’t love yourself.  True, the happy ending might not exist, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. As long as you’re not depending on others for acceptance, you can love yourself to determine your destiny…and at least come close to a happy ever after.

Now…*cracks knuckles*…I have much to say to this moral discount morale boost.

But being I’m already near 1300 words, I’ll be short. The problem I have with this movie (and others like it) is how it conveys love as being stronger when it’s independent.

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While I agree that our sense of value should be detached from what others think, if we’re constantly generating love out of self-preservation (i.e. an egotistic approach to void filling), there’s no way we can sustain love in any capacity.

Essentially, the movie’s tagline fits the “moral” of the story.

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To love yourself, complete yourself. Don’t possess your emotions, numb them! To feel esteem, don’t rely on others to affirm it, provide it for yourself. Don’t just be indifferent to what others think, but be different to what others do. That way you can love you without the sensitivity to others’ needs getting in the way. After all, love isn’t given; it’s a personal choice.

*Sighs*                                                                                                                                  *Sarcasm subsides*

I guess what I’m trying to say is…

  1. The reason we love is because it has always existed.

  2. The reason love has always existed not only points to the existence of God, but to the reality of a Godhead.

By this, we can accept the truth that though we were made for love, we weren’t made to ignite and sustain it by ourselves¹. Accordingly, as the object of love and not the subject, let’s be careful with any cultural messaging suggesting the contrary. In the same way we create because we’ve been created and design because we’ve been designed, we love because we were and are forever loved.

Again, God didn’t generate us; rather He formed and fashioned us uniquely with delicate precision before the beginning of time (see Isaiah 44:24, Isaiah 49:15, Psalm 71:6, Jeremiah 1:5, Galatians 1:15). And while we can’t possibly fathom the eternity of such love, we can accept its presence as constant sovereignty living and breathing outside ourselves.

How sweet is it to know we can experience the Gospel as the greatest romance in history:

We love because we were first loved and we love because it was first given.

Finally, we can answer our original question, ‘Does self-love exist?’

In short, outside of God, loving anyone or anything is impossible. Sure, we can admire, cherish, and enjoy the people in our path and the companies we keep. But if ‘our way’ is more important than any other, we can’t possibly know the origin and intricate delicacies that make love what it is. This doesn’t mean a lost concept of love and/or esteem can’t be based in self; it just means if what’s good for us is the gravity, the epicenter of perception and paradigm, the idea of crazy, crave-able love is a mirage via the transitive property.

If a) God is love, but b) God isn’t a part of our love, then c) is what we think is love really love at all?

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Okay…enough preaching already; time for one last thought…

Next time you’re discouraged about a situation with no happy ending in sight, remember…

  1. You’re not alone…
  2. You’re not your own…
  3. Because of a + b, you don’t have to express how you feel to know your love is real.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. By our own means and terms
Photo creds: What’s on Netflix